Time to Build the Commuter Rail

For over thirty years, New Bedford has waited for the train- a commuter rail line that will link the city, along with Fall River, to Boston. Right now, we have a Governor who is a true friend of New Bedford. In fact, Governor Deval Patrick committed in 2007 that commuter rail service would run from New Bedford to Boston by December of 2016. Since then, more time, effort, money and planning have gone into this project than ever before. However, because of the environmental issues related to the Hockomock Swamp, opposition from residents in towns to the North, and the $1.8 billion estimated cost of the project, the train timeline is in jeopardy yet again.

But if we think outside the box and work together creatively, there is a clear track to providing rail service to New Bedford and Fall River within two years. We can begin this process now by upgrading the track from New Bedford to Taunton; from Fall River to Cotley Junction, where the New Bedford and Fall River lines meet; and from Taunton to Middleborough. We can build a temporary station platform at the layover yard at the Lakeville station. Let us leapfrog trains so that each train does not make every stop, with local trains and express trains. And we can start running train service from Fall River and New Bedford through Middleborough to Boston.

The cost for this service is less than $2 million per mile, and less than $75 million dollars in total. Not $1.8 billion dollars, but less than $75 million dollars. If we are realistic and begin a complete redesign using existing equipment and rail beds, our region will have created both a demand and a justification for the ultimate $1.8 billion dollar rail service being built.

Why upgrade the tracks? First, because our freight service is not competitive if trains are forced to travel on severely dilapidated tracks that are restricted to five to ten mile per hour speeds. Second, if we upgrade these tracks, we can also run passenger service on the same track. We absolutely need to upgrade the track to Taunton, even if we get the ultimate $1.8 billion dollar project. Thus, there is no downside to upgrading the track from New Bedford to Taunton and Fall River to Cotley Junction. Third, we can put hundreds of people to work now, constructing upgraded continuously welded railroad tracks and signals in order to facilitate freight and passenger service. And fourth, and most important, it is highly unlikely we will get rail service if we do not begin building incrementally. Let us take small steps and prove that New Bedford will use rail service. These are interim but necessary steps to building the ultimate passenger rail service through the Hockomock Swamp to Boston.

I know there are some skeptics who say that if we take less than the service through the Hockomock Swamp, we will never see the ultimate $1.8 billion dollar project realized. I do not believe that this is a risk. We do not have the train now. We have not had the train in seven decades, and I do not believe we are on schedule to receive the ultimate $1.8 billion dollar train service in the foreseeable future. But if we build it in steps connecting with the Middleborough line, we can realize train service within two years.

One point of interest — I am one of the few people who has navigated the rail from New Bedford to Boston since rail service ended in 1959. I recently took this trip in three separate segments — New Bedford to Taunton, Taunton to Lakeville, and Lakeville to Boston. The route exists. It is there, ready to be modernized. Now is the time to work with our Governor to initiate rail service from New Bedford to Boston and back.