Mass. presses ahead on South Coast rail

THE PATRICK ADMINISTRATION continues to make progress on the long-awaited South Coast rail project despite questions about its cost. Above, commuters board an MTBA train in Attleboro.
Posted 10/2/09

FALL RIVER – Massachusetts officials say plans to extend commuter rail service to Fall River and New Bedford remain on track.

After protracted negotiations, Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray announced last month that the state has reached a wide-ranging agreement to pay $100 million to acquire tracks owned by freight train operator CSX Corp.

That includes a stretch south of Taunton key to the long-delayed South Coast project, which would bring commuter trains to Southern Bristol County, providing a direct link to Boston and, officials hope, an economic boost to the region.

The transfer of the tracks’ ownership is expected to take place next spring, officials said.

The two sides also worked out a liability agreement that calls for CSX to pay the deductible if an accident occurs involving a freight train and CSX is clearly at fault because of willful misconduct. CSX will also help the MBTA pay insurance premiums.

“Consistent with our commitment to improve transportation service throughout the commonwealth, we have done more to deliver on the South Coast rail project than any other administration,” Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement.

“This is a critical milestone, and I thank Lt. Gov. Murray for his leadership, and Sen. [John] Kerry, Congressman [James] McGovern, and [CSX] leaders for all coming to the table and staying there until we could get a deal that works,” Patrick said.

Officials have talked for at least two decades about connecting the cities of New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton to the commonwealth’s capital in an effort to stimulate the region’s economy.

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 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.

Patrick has pledged to get the commuter rail project completed by 2016. However, it remains unclear where the estimated $1.4 billon needed to pay for the project will come from, and some residents along the proposed route remain opposed to the plan.

The most likely option for expanding service is still an extension of the Stoughton commuter rail line to Fall River and New Bedford, The Boston Globe reported last month.

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