Senator disappointed with missed commuter rail deadline

Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn says he is very disappointed that the MBTA failed to meet an initial deadline for the first phase of a commuter rail makeover last week, and said waiting until spring is unacceptable.

“I don’t feel the MBTA has the same sense of urgency that my constituents and commuters feel,” he said. “I wonder why they are dragging their feet.”

At a November 4 meeting, the Fiscal and Management Control Board passed five resolutions laying out a vision for a commuter rail system of the future that would rely primarily on electric trains providing service every 15 to 20 minutes on the busiest lines. One of the resolutions called for the new service to launch in phases, with the first phase focusing on the Providence/Stoughton line, the Fairmount line, and the section of the Rockport/Newburyport Line that runs between Boston and Lynn.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak was tasked with reporting back last week with a staffing plan for the “rail transformation office,” a budget to support the office, target completion dates for the first phase, and work plans for this year and next. Aside from a vague staffing plan for supervisors in the office, none of the other tasks was completed, with Poftak saying that the work got sidetracked as the T dealt with pressing safety issues.

Crighton said the situation illustrates how the T as an organization needs more funding to grow its ability to work on more than one task at once, particularly when the need for action is so pressing. “We can’t afford to take our foot off the gas,” he said.

The senator appeared on the CommonWealth Codcast with Jim Aloisi and Josh Fairchild of the advocacy group TransitMatters. The show was taped prior to last week’s report on the rail transformation office, so CommonWealth reached out separately to him to gauge his reaction.

On the Codcast itself, Crighton said the first phase of the commuter rail makeover is important to the communities of Lynn, Everett, Chelsea, and Revere, which suffer from diesel emissions and congestion on Route 1A and at Logan International Airport. The senator said the $7 fare to get from Lynn to Boston is so high that few of his constituents ride the train.

“Most folks in Lynn will never use the commuter rail at that rate, yet they will still deal with the environmental consequences of the congestion and the trains,” he said.

Fairchild called the control board’s resolution an unfunded mandate, and he and Aloisi wanted to know if the Legislature was going to step up with additional funding for the T. Along with education and housing, Crighton said transportation is the biggest issue facing the state. “It’s all about the traffic. It’s all about the congestion. Everyone’s experiencing it,” he said. “The anxiety people are feeling is real.”

As for Beacon Hill, the senator said lawmakers are generally supportive. “The time is now. I don’t think we can afford to wait,” he said.

But Crighton said it won’t be easy. “It’s going to be a fight, both on the revenue side of things but also holding folks accountable and holding them to a schedule that’s both reasonable but also bold to meet these challenges,” he said.



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