Allston rail station 20 years in making

Tim Murray deserves a lot of the credit

Last week, Gov. Deval Patrick joined officials from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the MBTA, the City of Boston, Harvard University, and other organizations to announce Boston’s next big transportation transformation project. The event focused on a preliminary understanding with Harvard for the construction of a new passenger rail station in Allston in connection with plans to straighten a section of the Massachusetts Turnpike and to locate a rail layover facility for the T. Once completed, the combined project will unlock about 50 acres of a current highway interchange and former CSX rail yard in what most are calling Boston’s next frontier. It was a great event for a governor who has done much to advance transportation causes all over the state, and a great day for transportation leaders Secretary Rich Davey, Highway Administrator Frank DePaola, and MBTA General Manager Dr. Beverly Scott. As expected, those on the speaking program gave credit to the former lieutenant governor, Tim Murray. It was well deserved.

Projects as big as the one announced last week don’t happen overnight. This one has its roots in advocacy and projects in the pipeline for the better part of 20 years, and for nearly all of that time Tim Murray has been involved in one way or another.

It was Tim Murray the Worcester City Councilor, then working closely with US Rep. Jim McGovern, who urged, at times demanded, that the MBTA increase regular commuter rail service to Worcester in the 1990s.That effort led to studies of what it would take to increase service on the line. Those studies got state policymakers to approach CSX in the mid-2000s to free up capacity on the line for more passenger service, an effort pushed heavily by then Mayor Murray and a growing list of supporters wanting to bring regular rail service to the region. In 2013, the MBTA delivered the 20 round trips as promised.

It was Tim Murray the lieutenant governor who was designated by Gov. Patrick to lead the administration’s negotiations with CSX that ultimately led to the purchase of that line to Worcester, plus the right of way to Fall River and New Bedford that is needed for the South Coast Rail project; the Grand Junction rail line, the only line that connects the MBTA’s south side and north side service areas; and the Boston Terminal Running Track, the last active rail line to Boston’s Seaport district. That one transaction led to countless improvements to bridges from Pittsfield to Westborough, rail and bridge improvements in Fall River, and new projects that will ease congestion such as the Silver Line Gateway project, which will use the Grand Junction through Chelsea as its right-of-way corridor. As lieutenant governor, Murray also championed the siting of the relocation of CSX’s Beacon Park Yard to Franklin Street in Worcester, dramatically expanding jobs in that area and solidifying Worcester’s role as a rail hub for New England as the northeast terminus of CSX’s vast network across most of the eastern United States.

And, it is now Tim Murray the business leader who markets the greater Worcester region to take advantage of its position as one of New England’s rail centers. Because the agreement also resulted in the creation of bridge clearances to accommodate double-stack train sets, CSX no longer needs to cut down its trains to single-car height in New York. That gets more freight into the center of the Commonwealth, saving businesses time and money. And, now that Massachusetts can boast of a legitimate rail hub, we see more investment in freight rail. In 2012, the state created the Industrial Rail Access Program designed to encourage more movement by freight. In 2014, it invested in rail lines in Westfield, Fitchburg, Taunton, among other places, and MassDOT continues to look at investment in the critical Patriot Corridor that parallels Route 2. All of this focus on freight rail, an important part of a balanced transportation network, compliments the work that was done on the CSX line.

So, my hat is off to the administration on the Beacon Park Yard transaction – another transportation project, like the extension of the MBTA’s Red Line or the construction of the Ted Williams Tunnel, that will most certainly unlock a new neighborhood. And, as I think about the time and energy that led to last week’s announcement, as Gov. Patrick so appropriately noted, I thank Tim Murray for staying with it all these years.

That’s the long arc of Massachusetts transportation.

Meet the Author
Jeffrey Mullan, a partner at Foley Hoag, was the state secretary of transportation from 2009 to 2011.