On Thursday, April 13, 2017 I attended the latest meeting about the South Coast Rail Project in Dartmouth, MA. This meeting was about giving notice of a project change, and the Stoughton route was the primary route for the project. As of right now, it could be another 20 years before it will ever happen, and the state and some of the public are tired of waiting. During the last round of public meetings an idea was floating around about using the Middleboro/Lakeville line to make the connection to the South Coast. Since the meetings back in September 2016, that idea has grown some traction and even the governor’s support. This new option would get rail service to the area within 5 to 10 years.
The Project Change
What SCR is proposing is doing the project in two phases. Phase I would use the Middleborough/Lakeville Line to connect New Bedford and Fall River to Boston. A good amount of the work is done on both the Fall River and New Bedford secondaries. This phase would involve the Middleboro Secondary, a seven mile stretch between Taunton (Cotley Junction), and Middleboro (Pilgrim Junction). This section of track is currently used by CSX freight service. Having to only upgrade the Middleboro Secondary and a few upgrades on the current Middleborough/Lakeville Commuter Rail line would fast track this project, as seen in the map below. (See full slide presentation here)
Below is a photo of Maverick Junction. Heading straight on the line leans to New Bedford and the track going to the right is going to Fall River.
Phase I would be the temporary route until Phase II is complete. Phase II would be building the proposed Stoughton leg of the route. There are a lot of obstacles with getting this done in a timely fashion. Basically, this route was abandoned years ago so the track is gone. Having only a path where the right of way was is like rebuilding the line all over again. This route will has many issues with abutters of the right way and environment concerns. The Hockomock Swamp seem to be a huge issue with building the line. The plan was to have this line be full electric like how Amtrak operates on the Northeast Corridor. This will be the first MBTA commuter rail route operating with electric rather than diesel locomotives.
Response from the Public and Government Representatives
Many of the residents and government representatives of the city of Taunton express concern about Phase II never happening. Phase I would only service the city with a station in the outskirts of the city near the Silver City Galleria Mail. In the Stoughton option (Phase II), the city would have the downtown Taunton Depot Station and the Raynham Place Station (this would service residents in Northern part of city).
State and local representatives spoke: Estele Borges, Shaunna O’Connell, and Marc Pacheco all voiced concerns about Phase I and Taunton not getting the train service it needs to Boston.
State Representative Keiko Orrall said she supports Phase I but she doesn’t want to move the current Middleborough/Lakeville Station. There was a second person representing the town of Middleboro, and I didn’t catch his name but he didn’t support Phase I and he feels the town really hasn’t had any involvement in this project. Both had concerns about the Middleborough/Lakeville Station. With the new Phase I option, there are a few ideas about what to do with this station:
- Middleborough/Lakeville Station riders would have two seat ride by detraining at Bridgewater to board another train.
- Moving the Middleboro Station north of Pilgrim Junction.
- Once New Bedford and Fall River trains get to Pilgrim Junction they would run express to Boston.
- Leave Middleboro/Lakeville Service how it stands now.
- Making New Bedford and Fall River Riders have a two seat ride.
- Extending service to Buzzards Bay, keeping the current station.
There has been a lot of development around the current Middleborough/Lakeville Station. It would be a huge mistake if they abandon this station or reduce service to it. Even making this stop a two seat ride would be hurtful to the station.
Robert Cohn of the Stoughton Selectman spoke out about the project, saying the electrification of the line would be a total eye sore to the downtown area. He also voice concerns about freight trains traveling through all hours of the the night. Cohn said, however, that he will be willing to work with the cities and towns on the proposed Phase II route.
One gentleman spoke representing the town of Bourne. He states Bourne wants commuter rail service year around, not just the CapeFlyer. He also referred to the 2015 ridership study, which shows there is a demand for daily commuter rail service to the area.
Exploring the Project in Question
Stoughton Right of Way
This past weekend, I was able to explore the right of way, it was definitely not walkable through the Taunton and Raynham stretch. The wetlands are definitely an issue in one section, just south of the Taunton/Raynham Dog track it was like a stream running south.
Above are photos of the abandoned right of way through Taunton and Raynham, MA. Below is where the line currently stops in Taunton shortly after the Dean Street Station.
Cotley Junction – Taunton
The southern leg of the wye needs to be reconnected to the Middleboro Secondary. Currently this leg is used for freight storage with a bumper near where it would have rejoined the Middleboro Secondary. This should be easy to fix.
Above is a photo of the Southern wye that needs to reconnected. Below is the northern wye the track heading to the left is going to Middleboro and the line heading straight is going to New Bedford and Fall River.
I feel the Phase I “Middleboro/Lakeville” option would be the best option to getting the South Coast Rail project up and running sooner than later. In my opinion the New Bedford and Fall River trains should run express and not service the Middleboro/Lakeville line. This will be a huge time saver to people commuting from the south coast.
After sitting through two meeting about the South Coast Rail Project, one this month and one last September, Taunton wants commuter rail service in a huge way. Could the MBTA start a train from New Dean Street Station in Taunton? Or even a budd type car from to shuttle riders between Dean Street and the Cotley Junction stop?
I think running service year around out of Buzzard Bay would be a great idea. I would split the peak service trains, have half of them start/end there route in Middleboro and the other half in Buzzards Bay.
Although Phase I is a great idea to get the ball rolling, the Braintree choke point will be an issue with 5 commuter rail lines using a signal line track in the Braintree stretch. One delay in this area could cause catastrophic delays to all the lines servicing southeastern Massachusetts.
I feel work on Phase II should start once Phase I is complete. This will provide needed rail service to cities and towns along that route.
Currently South Coast Rail is waiting on public comment about this project change. I’m not sure what’s next, stay tuned.