MBTA board votes for electrification of some commuter rail lines

Resolutions stop short of endorsing 'full transformation' proposal to electrify all lines
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An MBTA train from Boston's South Station arrives at Worcester, Mass., in May 2018. The board overseeing the MBTA has voted to begin the process to electrify some MBTA lines, paving the way for greatly increased service.

Scott A. Hartley

BOSTON — The board that oversees the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has outlined its vision for the future of the agency’s commuter rail service.

At a Monday meeting, the Fiscal and Management Control Board unanimously approved a series of resolutions supporting a plan to electrify some MBTA commuter lines and offer greatly increased train frequencies. A week earlier, an advisory group studying six options to prepare the MBTA for the future had recommended a proposal to electrify all commuter lines and offer service on 15-minute headways [see “Advisory group recommends ‘transformation’ plan for MBTA,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 30, 2019] but the board did not select that option, or follow any of the six alternatives.

Instead, CommonWealth Magazine reports, it approved a first-phase project that would upgrade the Fairmount and Providence/Stoughton lines, along with at least part of the Newburyport/Rockport lines, with the goal of offering rapid-transit-like service at subway-service prices.

The board’s resolutions called on the state legislature to pass a transportation bond bill proposed by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, and for the creation of teams to oversee the system’s transformation. But the resolutions are broad rather than specific, more designed to begin the process than outline its specifics, the magazine reports, and final wording on the resolutions that passed may not be determined until today.

Still to be determined, along with the specifics of the project, are its costs and how to pay for it. The Boston Herald reports that Baker said, “There’s a lot of work that has to be done to figure out which pieces and when would be pursued under this.” The Herald said the board directed MBTA general manager Steve Poftak to return by February with a staffing plan to oversee the projects and a timetable for the first two years of work, and told him the MBTA should prioritize $1.5 billion on the Fairmount and Lynn lines.

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