Putting brakes on rail expansion in the Ocean State?
LAST RIDES? Commuters board an MBTA train in the Providence Station. Proposed cuts could take effect on July 1.
PBN PHOTO/HILARY ROSENTHAL
By Patrick Anderson PBN Staff Writer
It took Rhode Island 10 years from the day the first commuter train rolled into Providence Station in 1989 to convince the Mass. Bay Transportation Authority to add weekend service to the Ocean State.
By July, those Saturday and Sunday rides could be gone again.
To the dismay of state officials who have made expanding Rhode Island’s transit infrastructure an economic-development priority, the MBTA is proposing a series of fare increases and service cuts to cover a looming $161 million fiscal 2013 budget gap.
In addition to cutting all weekend trains, the proposals introduced this winter would eliminate all trains after 10 p.m. and hike the price of a ticket between 35 percent and 43 percent.
“We are obviously not thrilled with a fare increase – it would have an immediate impact on ridership,” said Stephen Devine, chief of intermodal planning at the R.I. Department of Transportation.
The proposed fare hikes and service cuts, which would take effect July 1, come just over a year since Rhode Island opened the $267 million T.F. Green Airport – Interlink station in Warwick and four months after service there was nearly doubled.
The MBTA board of directors is scheduled to vote on the fare hike proposals in April around the same time Rhode Island plans to open the new Wickford Junction train station in North Kingstown.
When Wickford Junction opens, the MBTA trains that now end at T.F. Green will continue on to North Kingstown. Even under the current service-cut proposals, those two stations would only lose one train trip per day.
But the impact of the changes could reach beyond those riders who have to pay more or have to get back in their cars. The investments in the Interlink and Wickford Junction represent a plan to spur development and economic growth around the state’s main transportation hubs.
Eventually, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and state transportation officials envision commuter-rail service at South Kingstown, Westerly and extending all the way to Connecticut, where it could connect with the Shore Line East railroad to New Haven.
At T.F. Green, transportation officials hope to make the track and electrical-line improvements needed to allow Amtrak trains to stop at the airport as well.
And Warwick is looking to the Warwick Station District project, a large mixed-use development built around the Interlink and the airport, to become an economic engine for the city and the region.