Transportation Secretary Details Plans For South Coast Rail
DARTMOUTH — Though many area residents may have to see it for themselves to believe it, a railway connecting the south coast of the Bay State to Boston just might be on the track to becoming a reality.
On Wednesday, the Rail to Boston Coalition and the South Coast Development Partnership sponsored a presentation open to the public at the UMASS Dartmouth School of Law. The event detailed the operational aspects of the commuter service for Phase I South Coast Rail, as well as the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (DSEIR) for Phase I.
Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack presented an in-depth review of Phase I, expected to provide commuter service from Fall River and New Bedford up to Boston by 2022, to a room full of local politicians and area residents.
“There will be 13 trains a day. Three of them in the morning peak from both Fall River and New Bedford,” explained Pollack. “Folks in Fall River and New Bedford will come up in separate trains and they'll meet. Once they hit Taunton they head east, and once they get to Middleborough they're on an existing commuter rail line straight into Boston.”
New Bedford City Councillor Hugh Dunn is also the Director of the South Coast Development Partnership. Dunn introduced Pollack at the event and spoke admirably of her efforts to make a railway connection between the south coast and Boston a reality, saying, “The environmental impact report and the Secretary's commitment signal that South Coast Rail is leaving the planning phase, and entering the construction phase.”
Pollack says that Phase I is a temporary alternative to original plans for a commuter line to run through Stoughton, something the Secretary says is “a long time away and billions of dollars.” She also says that Phase I avoids major impacts on wetlands, will use active rail lines owned by MassDOT, and will build 56-percent of the rail miles needed for the permanent railway.
“Phase I basically builds the bottom-half of the project from Fall River and New Bedford up to Taunton, but it uses some existing tracks that we already have. That's why we can get to service sooner, but because it's different from how South Coast Rail was presented last time around, we need to get that public feedback and consensus before we move forward,” Pollack said. “At the moment the plan is to continue designing and permitting the Stoughton line. We're still assuming it can be built, but it's a long time away and billions of dollars. This is a strategy for getting rail to the south coast before the end of 2022.”
Pollack also discussed the operational aspects of South Coast Rail and what commuters can expect in terms of cost and travel time. She says the service will provide 13 round trips per day (26 total trips) between the south coast and Boston, with three trips at peak travel times. Travel time to and from stations to be built in Fall River and New Bedford to South Station are estimated to be slightly over 90-minutes long.
MassDOT still needs one more environmental approval from the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Office and plans to gather more public input on Phase I before moving forward with the project.
“What we're doing now is presenting that phasing plan to the public, encouraging them to participate in the environmental review process for it, and if we can reach consensus that folks agree with us that this makes sense, we can move into construction.” Pollack said. “Of course we have to work out the details and we have to design the stations. We haven't done any of that yet because first we need to make sure that people think this makes sense.”