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Kidder: South Coast Rail ‘On the Right Track’ to Help Businesses

Dan McCready/TSM
Dan McCready/TSM

The leaders of three Chambers of Commerce that will see their communities directly affected by South Coast Rail have penned an Op-Ed piece, touting the move forward by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation with a one-seat ride option from New Bedford and Fall River to Boston, through the existing Middleboro route.

“No pun intended, we are actually on the right track,” said Rick Kidder, President & CEO of the South Coast Chamber of Commerce, told WBSM News. “We keep getting one step closer to making this a reality. One of the essential points is, it’s been the committment of the Governor’s Office to look at options in addition to the Stoughton option that could be more cost-effective and allow us to get service earlier.”

Kidder, along with Bristol County Chamber President & CEO Robert Mellion, and Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber President & CEO Marie Oliva, wrote the piece to make sure southeastern Massachusetts residents understand how recent news on the project affects them and local businesses.

MassDOT made the announcement on September 18 that it would be putting together a one-seat service from Fall River and New Bedford to Boston, using existing track on the SouthCoast to connect with the Middleboro commuter rail. It also includes the construction of a new Middleboro station at Pilgrim Junction.

Yet while connecting the SouthCoast via this route, MassDOT is still pursuing a much costlier electric route that would go through Stoughton. Kidder said the state could’ve just let South Coast Rail “collapse under its own weight” with the rising cost of the Stoughton electric route, but commended state officials for finding a way to make it happen whether the Stoughton route is ever finalized or not.

“I would look at it always with guarded optimism, because when it comes to full implementation of South Coast Rail, it’s going to require some dollars that currently haven’t been identified,” he said.

Kidder says South Coast Rail will not only give people in this end of the state a connection to Boston, but will also bring people from Boston and the surrounding communities down to New Bedford.

“So we can import some talent, while at the same time, we can attract new residents who are looking to enjoy the quality of life we have on the Southcoast,” Kidder said, noting it will also extend connectivity to Wareham and Cape Cod.

Kidder said the Chambers will continue their advocacy with MassDOT, the Governor’s Office and the legislative delegation to push SouthCoast Rail forward. He said they need to “keep waving the flag down here that it is important to us, and it should be important to them.”

“We’ve been conditioned to a level of cynicism that was well-earned,” Kidder said. “It’s been a long time coming, and it’s been too many times promised. So the general public, when they hear about South Coast Rail, they believe that it might as well be Oz. But it’s looking more and more that the committment out of the Commonwealth is to make that connectivity happen, and we want to make sure we capitalize on that.”

The editorial, which was sent to multiple publications, appears in its entirety below:

————————————————————————————–

South Coast Rail One Step Closer to Reality

For far too many years, residents and businesses along the South Coast have heard that passenger rail service from Fall River and New Bedford to Boston was coming. Cynicism had long ago replaced optimism regarding the possibility of connecting the only remaining “gateway cities” to our capital city, but what we see now from the administration and from MassDOT is a series of announcements and actions that should begin to erode that cynicism and replace it with optimism and activism about making rail service a reality.

Passenger rail service for this area ended in 1958, rendering the South Coast a nearly permanent “have-not” regarding the kind of transportation infrastructure that brings economic development and higher property values. Our legislative delegation has unfailingly carried the flag to help make South Coast Rail a reality despite the weariness they must have felt. Like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, our leaders have appealed for rail service, only to meet with promises made but not kept.

An all-electric route through Stoughton had been designated as the first choice for service to our area, and it remains an option being explored by MassDOT. Problems abounded with that route, including environmental challenges and potential costs which at last estimates began to approach $4 billion and for which there was no discernible revenue source. The Governor’s office could have allowed the Stoughton route to remain the only option under review and allow it to fade away under its own weight of high costs and legal challenges, but MassDOT was charged with looking at other options to provide service to our area.

The result of that charge is a one-seat ride option through Middleborough, connecting to existing rail lines that serve Middleborough/Lakeville. Both Fall River and New Bedford have existing track which will require work to be passenger ready, and the state already owns all of the land necessary to form the rail link to Boston at a fraction of the cost of the Stoughton line. The Stoughton route, though, has potential for the future, and MassDot will continue looking at that option for future use, but the reality for rail service in the foreseeable future lies with the Middleborough option.

On September 18, following a lengthy public comment period, MassDOT released an announcement reaffirming the one-seat service from Fall River and New Bedford and informing the public of the Phase 1 analysis of refining station stops. Their memo indicates the advisability of a new station in Middleborough at Pilgrim Junction which would minimize travel times, optimize operations and support a connection for future Cape Flyer service. In addition, that Pilgrim Junction site is adjacent to an existing rail layover area.
What does all of this mean to the people of the South Coast who face daily uncertainties and frustrations when attempting to drive to Boston? It means that we are one step closer to the reality of predictable, dependable, and efficient rail service that our communities deserve. It means that our communities are one step closer to the economic development and land values that accompany fixed rail certainties. It means that we are one step closer to being able to attract and retain the talent that fuels our economies. And it means that all of our citizens are one step closer to the richness and amenities of one of America’s greatest cities.

On behalf of the Boards of Directors of the Bristol County Chamber of Commerce, the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce and the SouthCoast Chamber, we pledge to continue to fight for the prosperity and well-being of our communities by advocating for South Coast Rail.

–Robert Mellion, Esq., President & CEO, Bristol County Chamber of Commerce; Marie Oliva, President & CEO, Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce; Rick Kidder, President & CEO, SouthCoast Chamber of Commerce

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