What if, instead of waiting for the MBTA to fix our horrendous commuter rail situation, we started to fix it ourselves?

Adam wrote about the cluster that is the Auburndale Station project (here and here). Background: the three Newton stations on the commuter rail are all on one side of the tracks (the south side, hard by the Pike). Trains going inbound in the morning and outbound in the evening travel on the south track. Trains going the opposite direction from peak travel on the north track and cannot board or de-board passengers, so there is no “reverse-peak” service.

On top of the limited service, the stations are just horrendous. Among the problems: platforms are low-level, not high-level, meaning passengers have to climb up to board and down to de-board, which has a meaningful impact on the time it takes to get trains in and out of the station.

Transit Matters, a regional transit advocacy group, has drawn up a vision for Regional Rail, which has three key components:

  • Electrified trains — more environmentally responsible and quicker in and out of stations
  • High-level platforms — for easier and faster boarding, see above
  • All-day, bi-directional service — to create a true inter-city travel option

Back to Auburndale. The MBTA proposed to build a new, high-level platform on the north track, with an expensive switch to move trains to and from the south track, which serves the other Newton stations. Ari Ofsevit gets into serious detail about the nuttiness of that plan. And, he noted that the money to build the switch would be sufficient to rebuild the other two stations, obviating the need for the switch. Mayor Fuller has endorsed the plan to repurpose the $11+ million and rebuild all three stations’ current single platform, putting off the construction of dual-platform stations and, therefore, the benefit of reverse-peak travel.

Let’s let the MBTA pay to rebuild Auburndale as a high-platform, two-track station and the city should fund construction of the other two stations. Now. And, pay for the balance ourselves. Conservatively assuming that a new station costs about $15 million, that’s a $30 million investment to give Newton a fighting chance at managing the transportation demand that north-side development will create. 

We could wait for the MBTA. Good luck with that. Or, we could acknowledge that we live in one of the wealthiest communities in the world and that we have pressing obligations to reduce our city’s carbon emissions. 

We don’t have to pay full freight. For our making a contribution, the MBTA should both contribute substantially and move the project forward in the backlog. Certainly, this would be a good way to recapture some of the wealth Newton is preparing to create for the Washington St. developer.

A substantial municipal contribution could be a great model for rail improvements through wealthier communities.

Who’s for a Prop 2 override for modern rail service?


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