High-Speed Commuter Rail Option Eyed
By Charis Anderson
NEW BEDFORD — The state has been awarded $20 million in federal grant money to reconstruct three freight rail bridges that are a critical part of the infrastructure needed for the South Coast Rail Project, federal officials announced Wednesday.
“This is not just $20 million, although that’s important,” said U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. “This is the declaration by the federal government that commuter rail between Fall River, New Bedford and the surrounding communities, to and from Boston, is a reality.”
Frank delivered his remarks during a celebratory press conference at City Hall attended by Gov. Deval Patrick, U.S. Rep. James McGovern, Mayor Scott W. Lang and other elected officials.
The project, known as Fast Track New Bedford, was one of 51 projects selected for funding through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant program, according to a release from U.S. Department of Transportation.
More than 1,400 applications were submitted for the $1.5 billion in available funds, the release stated.
“Twenty million dollars is a down-payment on this project,” said Patrick. “A lot of people have been promising you this project for a long, long time … We’re keeping this promise.”
Two other Massachusetts projects received funding Wednesday: a plan to extend the Fitchburg commuter rail line and build a new rail station received $55.5 million, while a project to make multi-modal improvements around a station in Revere was awarded $20 million, according to a state release.
The refurbishment of the bridges at Deane, Sawyer and Coggeshall streets is part of a larger plan to build an intermodal transit station at the Whale’s Tooth Station that would tie the proposed rail service with existing shuttles, buses and ferries.
The plans also include the reconstruction of a fourth rail bridge as well as a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge connecting the station with the neighborhoods on the other side of Route 18, near Clasky Common Park.
The state had applied to the TIGER program for $71.4 million, and while it did not receive all the funds requested, South Coast Rail project manager Kristina Egan said she did not think that was significant.
“There were very, very few projects — if any — that were fully funded,” she said.
The total cost of the Fast Track New Bedford project is about $97 million, said Egan.
President Barack Obama has included another $600 million in TIGER funding in his budget for next year, according to Patrick, who said he had received a clear indication from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood that the South Coast Rail project would continue to be competitive in later rounds of funding.
“He told us that” — about the $600 million — “and said, ‘So come back,’” said Patrick.
The bridges that will be rebuilt using the TIGER grant are 103 years old and limit trains to maximum speeds of 5 mph, according to a release from the state.
Additionally, the roads under the bridges are very narrow, limiting access to the near North End neighborhood along the harbor, according to Egan.
“Those bridges were built during the horse and buggy era,” said Lang.
Reconstructing the bridges will benefit freight train service in the city, but the rebuilt bridges are also a critical component in bringing the South Coast Rail Project to life as the bridges, in their current condition, cannot support passenger rail, according to Lang.
However, that the intent of the state’s Fast Track New Bedford application was ultimately to support commuter rail —not just freight service — was clear to federal officials, said Patrick.
“Nobody … expects you to ride hobo-like on a freight train,” he said. “We are serious about this project.”
Construction on the bridges could begin by late summer or early fall and is likely to create hundreds of construction jobs, said Egan. The work is scheduled to be completed in 2012.
The larger South Coast Rail Project is still on track to be completed in 2016 or 2017, depending on whether diesel or electric trains are used, and has a total price of tag of between $1.45 billion and $1.9 billion, again depending on which type of train is used, said Egan.
February 17, 2010
High-speed commuter rail option eyed
By Charis Anderson
NEW BEDFORD — Implementing high-speed, express service on the planned South Coast Rail line could cut travel time between New Bedford and Boston to less than an hour, project officials say.
Express trains could reach speeds of 100 mph on some sections of the track, shaving the travel time between New Bedford and South Station to about 50 minutes, or 25 minutes less than the regular commuter service, according to Kristina Egan, South Coast Rail project manager.
While a ridership analysis on the express route has not been conducted, Egan said she expected the faster option — trains from Fall River or New Bedford would only stop in Taunton and Boston — would increase ridership.
The express service, which is still in the preliminary planning stage, would be in addition to the regular commuter trains, which would stop at all stations between New Bedford and Fall River and Boston, according to Egan.
The South Coast Rail Project is still in the design stage. A draft environmental impact statement is expected in June from the Army Corps of Engineers, and the project could be completed by 2016 or 2017, depending on whether diesel or electric trains are chosen, according to Egan.
Egan offered details on the express service option during a press conference announcing the release of a new report by the MassPIRG Education Fund on the state of intercity passenger rail in the United States.
“For decades, America has been falling behind the rest of the world’s rail systems,” said Siggy Meilus, a student intern with MassPIRG’s UMass Dartmouth chapter.
The recent federal investment of about $10.5 billion in high-speed rail projects is a critical step toward improving the country’s rail infrastructure, according to Meilus.
“The report clearly shows the benefit that a modern passenger rail system could deliver for Massachusetts,” said Lia Carvalho, also a student intern with the UMass Dartmouth MassPIRG chapter. “It will put people to work, cut our energy consumption.”
The MassPIRG report highlights the importance of creating a rail network that will connect New England’s mid-sized cities, places such as New Bedford and Fall River, with each other as well as with major metropolitan hubs.
“Improving transportation connections — including restoring passenger rail service — is one of many ways local officials are hoping to bring new vitality to New England’s mid-sized cities,” the report stated.
According to Egan, the county’s passenger rail system needs a level of sustained investment comparable to the hundreds of billions of dollars the country invested in its highway system over three decades.
The $8 billion in federal stimulus money for high-speed rail projects awarded last month by the Obama administration is a good first step, Egan said.
But, she said, “It’s only a drop in the bucket on a down payment.”
The state has been exploring every possible funding avenue for the South Coast Rail Project, which has a price tag of about $1.9 billion if electric power — the faster option — is used and about $1.45 billion if diesel power is selected, according to Egan.
The project lost its bid for the federal stimulus money awarded last month, but Egan has said she is hopeful South Coast Rail will be more successful in future funding rounds.
According to Egan, the state should learn next week whether it was awarded $71.4 million in federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, funds to build the Whale’s Tooth Station in New Bedford and to reconstruct four deteriorated railroad bridges.
Finally, Egan said she plans to submit another federal grant application today for $15 million in funding from the Bus Livability Program; that money also would be used for the Whale’s Tooth Station, she said.
February 10, 2010
High-Speed Commuter Rail Option Eyed