Tuesday, June 15, 2010

CSXT deal will add Boston commuter trains

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Central Massachusetts commuters may have more rail options in about two years when CSX Corp. completes its expansion project in Worcester and the state is able to add more passenger trains, The Telegram & Gazette reports.

Rather than ending at South Station in Boston, some of those new trains may end at North Station, by way of Cambridge, "linking the Worcester biotech hub with the MIT-Cambridge biotech hub," said Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray.

State transportation officials are planning to add trains between Worcester and Boston in 2012 so there will be at least 20 trains in and 20 trains out of Worcester each weekday. Currently, 13 trains leave Union Station in Worcester each weekday and 12 arrive there. Some of the new trains -- perhaps half -- could end at North Station, Murray said. A final schedule would be approved after public input.

"We're giving Worcester and MetroWest additional transportation options," Murray told the Telegram & Gazette.

The new option is possible because the state is close to closing the first part of a major deal with CSX, which will allow the state to control track along Massachusetts's south coast, as well as the Grand Junction track in Boston.

The 7.9-mile Grand Junction track begins in Allston and travels through Cambridge, Somerville, Chelsea and across Chelsea Creek into East Boston. The track needs $5 million to $10 million in improvements before it can accommodate passenger trains, Murray said. Once those improvements are complete, trains from Worcester could use the Grand Junction track to get to Cambridge and East Boston. All trains from Worcester to Boston would travel the same route until reaching Allston, where some would divert northeast and others would continue east.

Murray said the new rail connection could help boost economic development in Worcester and link the city to "the biotech hub of the world."

But the new trains won't be available for a couple years. Commuters must wait for CSX to relocate its freight operations from Allston to Worcester and Westboro. In Worcester, CSX is enlarging its rail yards, located between Shrewsbury and Franklin streets, from 28 acres to 51 acres.

When CSX's move is complete, the state will close the next, crucial part of its deal with CSX, and the track between Central Massachusetts and Boston will be freed up for more commuter trains.

Through a deal announced in 2008, the state will pay CSX $40 million for track serving New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton, as well as smaller pieces of track in Boston. After CSX's freight expansion in Central Massachusetts is complete, the state will spend $50 million to buy a key stretch of track between Worcester and Framingham.

Meanwhile, the state is raising several road bridges over railroad tracks between Interstate 495 and the New York State line, and CSX is lowering track in several places so the track can accommodate double-stacked freight trains.

CSX's plan to make Worcester a hub of freight operations has drawn some critics -- especially those upset about the planned closing of Putnam Lane -- but the lieutenant governor says residents have much to look forward to.

Additional trains, he said, "will raise real estate values to homeowners and existing businesses. Investment will accelerate dramatically. We'll see significant and dramatic private-sector investment that increases the tax base in the city."

The rail project will help strengthen Worcester's education- and biotech-based economy and create new warehouse distribution and packaging jobs.

Murray said the state will have enough cars and locomotives to serve Worcester-area passengers once new trains are added to the schedule. Earlier this month, the Department of Transportation's Board of Directors approved the purchase or lease of up to nine new commuter rail locomotives.

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