By Timothy P. Murray, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President & CEO
Over the past 20 years, due to a coordinated effort and persistent
advocacy at the local, state and federal levels, Worcester has made significant progress in expanding and improving MBTA commuter rail service for the benefit of Central Mass and Metro West residents.
Factors Contributing to the Expansion
The redeployment of MBTA assets, the purchase of additional locomotives and coach cars, and the historic acquisition of CSX railroad tracks and property including the Beacon Park Yard in the Allston/Brighton neighborhood of Boston, have all contributed to this expansion. In fact, it has resulted in a 46% increase in commuter rail ridership on the Worcester-Framingham line between 2012 and 2018. This increase reduces vehicle traffic on state roads and highways as well as automotive greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the ability to further build on this momentum and expand economic opportunity and mobility for Central Mass and Metro West residents hinges on some critical decisions that are now being debated on how state transportation officials will design and construct the Allston Multimodal Project as well as the proposed West Station.
Future Actions could Increase USAGE AND CREATE OPPORTUNITY
The Allston Multimodal Project involves the I-90 turnpike viaduct, which is more than 50 years old and which has serious structural deficiencies. The wear and tear of decades of intense vehicle traffic, design flaws which include the “S“curve near the Boston University bridge as well as storm water runoff into the Charles River all need to be addressed. This is complicated because the viaduct is an elevated highway over rail lines which are in close proximity to the river.
West Station is a proposed MBTA transit hub that would provide commuters from Central Mass, Metro West, the Allston neighborhood, and eventually Western Massachusetts, with direct train access to Kendall Square in Cambridge and then to North Station. West Station would also offer crosstown bus connections and would be the linchpin to the redevelopment of nearly 150 acres of land involving Beacon Park Yard and the abutting properties. This would be a massive economic development opportunity similar to Boston’s Seaport District or Somerville’s Assembly Row.
As it relates to the Allston Multimodal Project, the Chamber was supportive of the hybrid option originally put forth by Secretary Pollock in January 2019. However, we believe this plan or an at-grade option, could balance the short and long-term transportation needs of Central Mass, Metro West, and Western Mass MBTA commuter‘s and turnpike travelers, along with the neighborhood and appropriate pedestrian linkages and environmental safeguards.
Pertaining to the proposed West Station design and construction, the Chamber has advocated for the inclusion of four tracks to facilitate increased service on the Worcester Framingham line and access to the Grand Junction line into Kendall Square in Cambridge through to North Station.
The Grand Junction line was also purchased by the State from CSX in 2012 by the Patrick-Murray Administration. Additionally, West Station must provide crosstown bus connections for current and future residents and commuters and workers of the Allston-Brighton neighborhood that will expand with the redevelopment of Beacon Park Yard and the adjacent properties.
The expansion of the MBTA commuter rail has fueled economic development in Worcester and all along the rail corridor including most recently downtown Framingham. Lieutenant Governor Polito has championed efforts at the state level to have a new center platform at Union Station constructed, which will improve train travel times and potentially add a few more daily trips, which will contribute to this momentum.
WE Must get it right
However, if we are to realize the vision of 30 to 40 daily trips which will provide half hour service in and out of Union Station in Worcester and South Station in Boston, as well as points in-between, we must make sure that Allston Multimodal Project and West Station are built correctly.
The Chamber will continue to work with our federal, state and local leaders and like-minded organizations to realize this vision.