By Chris Barrett
PBN Staff Writer
BOSTON – The extension of commuter-rail service to Fall River and New Bedford edged closer to reality Thursday with the announcement that Massachusetts has purchased about 30 miles of rail line for about $20 million.
In a conference call with reporters, Mass. Gov. Deval L. Patrick said the commonwealth would purchase the tracks from freight train operator CSX Corp., which will continue to operate freight trains on the routes.
The newly acquired track runs from Cotley Junction in Taunton to Fall River and New Bedford. Patrick called the sale a “historic transaction” that will put the long-discussed South Coast commuter rail on track to completion.
Patrick promised to have the new train service running by 2016 for a route with diesel engines or 2017 for a route with electrified engines. The state is waiting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete an environmental study due out this fall. State officials also hope to receive additional federal money from Congress.
Elected officials say the project will give a boost to economic development by providing Southeastern Massachusetts with a direct link to Boston. Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said commuter rail routes in other parts of the state have spurred the economy there.
“For too long, Southeastern Massachusetts has been shut out,” Murray said.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said the project would raise property values and attract employers. Congress has provided more than $30 million in funding for the project since 2005, he said.
“It’s a very important boost to our economy,” Kerry said. “It is extraordinarily helpful to the New Bedford-Fall River-Taunton triangle, which for years has been struggling to find a way to make up the economic lag that it has consistently faced in terms of unemployment, job growth and investment.”
In August, Murray unveiled the South Coast Rail Economic Development and Land Use Corridor Plan, a document aimed at guiding transportation and development plans for Bristol County. The plan called for 11 train stations in the county.
The document estimated that extending commuter rail service to the South Coast would create between 3,500 and 3,800 net new jobs by 2030, with two-thirds of those jobs located in Bristol County. Construction would generate between 7,000 and 8,000 new jobs and more than $1 billion in spending, the report said.
Last week, the state issued a request for proposals to replace three deteriorating railroad bridges in New Bedford, work that is expected to start this fall. The Obama administration awarded the state $20 million for the project in February.
The South Coast rail project is unrelated to Rhode Island’s plans to extend MBTA service to T.F. Green Airport in Warwick and Wickford Junction in North Kingstown. Officials here are also exploring the possibility of extending commuter service to the West Kingston station in South Kingstown.
Additional information is available at southcoastrail.com.