Massachusetts rail planning
MBTA, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, runs commuter rail, subway and light rail in Boston, and bus services, while the Massachusetts Department of Transportation supports other rail services elsewhere in the state. (Separately, the Charlie Card transit fare card in Boston also works on bus systems across the state.)
WRT Greater Boston, advocacy groups and foundations like the Conservation Law Foundation, the Barr Foundation, A Better City, MassInc Gateway Cities project, and Transit Matters (Regional Rail for Metropolitan Boston) have produced studies, reports, and articles about ways to better utilize the area's transit infrastructure, in particular the commuter railroad system.
There are four rail planning initiatives underway.
Rail Vision is looking at repositioning the MBTA commuter rail service both to provide more frequent service to and from Boston, more along the lines of European passenger rail systems such as in Berlin, Hamburg, London, and Paris.
The initiative outlines 7 different alternatives.
The website includes a link to a "peer rail systems" report, Peer Systems Review: For Domestic and International Rail Systems, which includes both North American and international examples. It's mostly all data and not much narrative. Having more narrative would have been helpful.
I didn't realize how many lines MBTA has--14--more than all the peer systems, except for London, which has 15 rail routes.
A cursory look at the data shows the impact of population density and geographic reach. European systems tend to cover a much smaller area and have greater ridership, leading to better financial outcomes, more frequent service, etc.
The second initiative is the South Coast Rail expansion project which will restore commuter rail service to Southeastern Massachusetts, including the cities of Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford, which are within 50 miles of the city center.
Service is supposed to start by 2023, by extending from the Plymouth Junction station on the Middleborough line.
The second phase, to open by 2030, will be electrified and extend the Stoughton Line to Taunton and East Taunton, and then provide through service to the two branches being built in phase one, disconnecting them from the Middleborough Line. (All told though, this will provide service to fewer than 10,000 additional daily riders.)
Springfield. Last year more frequent rail service to Springfield, Massachusetts from Hartford and New Haven Connecticut was launched by extending CT Rail train service north into Massachusetts as well as extending commuter rail service to Amtrak trains serving this corridor. The commuter rail fare schedule has been extended to the parallel service from Amtrak along the corridor. For service to New York City, there are connecting services in New Haven, but also some Amtrak trains provide through service.
Springfield Republican photo by Frederick Gore.
Later this summer, train service on the line will be extended on a multi-year test basis, from Springfield, to Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield, Massachusetts ("Greenfield to see extended passenger rail service by end of summer," Greenfield Recorder).
Greenfield is about 40 miles from Springfield. This will be done by extending Amtrak trains in each direction, where currently service from New York City terminates at Springfield Union Station.
-- New Haven – Hartford – Springfield Rail Program (NHHS), MassDOT
-- Trains in the Valley rail advocacy group
East-West Rail Study. This planning process aims to provide rail service from Boston, westward to Pittsfield (from which service could be extended further west to Albany thereby connecting to New York area services). The process is in its earliest phases.
This op-ed ("Keep East-West Rail on Track," Springfield Republican) criticizes an interim proposal for express bus service on the Massachusetts Turnpike, seeing it as competition for a superior train service. It makes the point that the Turnpike route is somewhat distant from the core of the cities that would be served by the train, making the bus service more indirect and slower.
Still, it's worth putting bus service forward as proof of concept, it could be branded as an East-West transit service, much like how the GO transit service in Greater Toronto uses the same branding for buses and trains, and it would provide better connections now.
MassInc Gateway Cities initiative on "Transformative Transit-Oriented Development." Separately, MassInc, an advocacy/good government group has been promoting the Gateway Cities Initiative to strengthen the economies of legacy cities in the state both inside and outside of Greater Boston, such as Springfield, Fall River, and Worcester.
Last year they released a report, The Promise and Potential of Transformative Transit-Oriented Development in Gateway Cities, which recommends a more purposive program for leveraging access to transit for land use, development, and economic growth.
I think this is an important initiative because the reality is that all train stations are not created equal in terms of their ability to capture and expand community economic development.
This is not a new phenomenon. Traditionally, train stations distant from a core city have minimal economic activity and housing around the station, while train stations in cities and towns, especially main stations but also secondary stations, are typically much more economically active, although this varies, and has to take into account the period of urban decline from the 1950s to the early 2000s, when inner city location often was not prized.
By contrast, I am often critical about attempts to do "transit oriented development" at commuter railroad stations outside of the core, because for the most part these stations are on the outskirts of their respective metropolitan areas, in areas where the overall land use pattern and context, from the standpoint of the New Urban transect, is not very dense (T2/T3).
A related issue is whether or not the railroad stations are in fact key elements of their local communities or disconnected pods used by people from elsewhere in the region.
For example, while adjacent to the Arbutus community in Baltimore County, the highly used Halethorpe MARC railroad station is used not by residents from the immediate neighborhood, but people who drive to the station from around the metropolitan area who appreciate that the station is easily accessible from the Baltimore Beltway (I-695).
If you were to develop Halethorpe intensively for "smart growth" reasons, the desired impact likely would not occur, because the land use around the station is low density single family residential, with a small town center.
The challenge then is to figure out how to do this so that the transit infrastructure is leveraged, but the local community economy is also strengthened.
MassInc event in Fitchburg. To this end, MassInc is sponsoring a workshop in Fitchburg, Mass., on Tuesday May 21st. (I would argue the minimal number of train riders--under 750 per day--from this community proves my point about leveragability.)
From the press release:
The Massachusetts Institute for New Commonwealth (MassINC) brings discussion about Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) to Fitchburg
WHAT: Central Massachusetts Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) Regional Forum
WHEN: May 21, 2019,1:45 pm - 4:30 pm (Walking Tours, Presentations, Panel)
WHERE: Fitchburg Art Museum, 185 Elm St, Fitchburg, MA 01420
MassINC's Gateway Cities Innovation Institute will host an event on Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) on May 21, 2019 at the Fitchburg Art Museum in downtown Fitchburg. The conversation features an afternoon of activities designed to bring stakeholders from Central Massachusetts Gateway Cities and surrounding communities together to discuss the promise and potential of improved transit service in advancing economic and regional development. …
The afternoon of May 21 kicks off with two walking tours of downtown Fitchburg at 1:45pm, followed by a forum at 3pm in the Fitchburg Art Museum. The agenda includes opening remarks by Mayor Stephen DiNatale, a presentation of TTOD opportunities in the region by Dr. Corley of MassINC, a Rail Vision presentation by Alexandra Markiewicz of MassDOT, and a panel discussion about TTOD in the region. The panel includes Tricia Pistone, Montachusett Opportunity Council; Marc Dohan, NewVue Communities; Tim Murray, Worcester Chamber of Commerce; and Paul Matthews, 495/Metrowest Partnership. Roy Nascimento from the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce will moderate the panel. After a Q&A session, attendees will have an opportunity to network until 6pm.