Is electrified regional rail a possibility after the corona…

Is electrified regional rail a possibility after the corona…

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the Massachusetts transit system, but transportation advocates still believe frequent, electrified rail service is possible over the next few years.

A new study released on Monday by TransitMatters recommends a number of strategies and practical steps for officials to consider in transforming the state’s transportation infrastructure and continuing to support riders at a time when ridership has fallen to unprecedented levels because of COVID-19, and into the future.

The study presents “phase one” of the group’s plan, which calls for the electrification of Boston’s Fairmount Line, the Boston-Providence line and portions of the Rockport line, with 15 minute “all day” service frequencies, and the modernization of the Framingham/Worcester Line by 2025.

The plan calls for officials to focus primarily on delivering “frequent all day service, electrification and high platforms”; prioritize public health by improving air quality; and adhere to a strict budget.

“Beginning the process of systemwide transformation now allows us to achieve the dual goals of making our transportation system more resilient, and facilitating the economic recovery process,” the study suggests. “With staggered work hours and shifts likely, and an increased burden being placed on low-income essential workers, we need transit that provides frequent, affordable service all day.”

The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board voted in November to commit to a “full transformation” of the commuter rail, which includes establishing a number of offices that would help implement the sweeping changes to the system.

The board adopted five resolutions that would, among other things, electrify parts of existing lines, including the Fairmount Line, the Providence/Stoughton Line and part of the Newburyport/Rockport Line; create a project office associated with the long-range plan for a broader electrification of the commuter rail; and create a bus transformation office to spur improvements to the bus system.

Altogether, the steps laid out in the TransitMatters report would amount to roughly $2.6 billion in capital costs. The group stresses the importance of supporting transit routes that serve low-income riders and essential workers as the state begins to climb out the COVID-19 crisis.

“Transit remains an essential lifeline for Metro Boston’s economy, and will be crucial to the recovery process,” the study says. “The essential workers relying on transit to reach their jobs are clearly not well-served by the current commuter model, focused on suburb-to- downtown commutes.”

The study suggests that as a result of a shift to remote work, MBTA commuter rail ridership has fallen by as much as 99% of normal levels.

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