The first of five meetings regarding plans for a future South Coast Rail project took place at Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech High School Wednesday evening before a crowd of nearly 70 people.

Following a brief presentation on the two possible extensions, the Stoughton Electric and Middleborough lines, local officials had the opportunity to make ask questions and make comments.

Mayor Jon Mitchell said the best option for the region is express service to Boston.

"By express service I mean you get on the train in New Bedford and you don't stop until you get into South Station," Mitchell said. "That maybe the only viable way to do it."

Though the MBTA and MassDOT have been focused on the Stoughton route for over two years now, the Middleborough option was introduced earlier this summer. Many aspects of the second option are unknown, including timeline, costs and the possibility of moving the existing Middleborough/Lakeville station.

However, according to Rick Carey of engineering firm VHB, the design phase for the area of future rail connections between Fall River, New Bedford and Taunton is at 30-percent completion with filings for environmental permitting on the horizon.

Former mayor and current city resident Scott Lang said the right people are involved on behalf of the state and that it's up to the residents to push this project forward.

"They have the expertise to get it done," Lang said of project officials. "The permitting, the building of it, everything's in place, now we need to embrace the idea that we want the train now, not in 2030."

Rick Kidder, president and CEO of the New Bedford Chamber of Commerce, added that the rail service would lead to economic benefits for many on the Southcoast.

"This is not just simply transportation for people, it is in fact an economic powerhouse and it's important that we rally around efforts to get this economic powerhouse up and running in our communities as quickly as possible," said Kidder.

Four more public meetings will be held this month: Sept. 12 in Taunton, Sept. 14 in Fall River, Sept. 15 in Easton, Sept. 19 in Canton and Sept. 22 in Middleborough.

Materials presented at those meetings will also be available here, and public comments and questions can be submitted by email to prior to the Sept. 30 deadline.

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