Worcester commuter rail line targeted for upgrades

The Framingham-Worcester commuter rail line, which could become a lifeline into Boston if the I-90 Allston project gets launched, is getting some major improvements.

The MBTA is planning two major projects on the line from Newton to Framingham – adding handicap accessible, double-sided platforms at the Newtonville, Newton, and Auburndale stations and a third track between Wellesley and Framingham. The new Newton platforms will fix a problem dating to the 1960s, allowing the pickup and dropoff of passengers at the three Newton stations at all times of the day, while the third track between Wellesley and Framingham will allow the T to add more express service bypassing some stations stops. 

Both moves are designed to improve commuter rail service coming into Boston from the west at a time when the state Department of Transportation is considering a $1 billion rebuild of most of the transportation infrastructure in the Allston area – the Turnpike, Soldiers Field Road, and rail tracks – that could disrupt traffic flows in and out of Boston from the west for as much as a decade.

The T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board recently awarded a $28 million contract to design the addition of a third track as well as station access to the new track along an 11-mile stretch of the rail line between Wellesley and Framingham. The project is expected to take four years to design and five years to build at a cost of about $400 million. Construction funds have not been secured yet. 

T officials say the third track will allow the transit authority to add more express trains between Worcester and Boston as well as more localized express service between Framingham and Boston. 

Plans for the new handicap-accessible Newton station platforms were disclosed by Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller following a meeting between acting Transportation Secretary Jamie Tesler and MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak with local, state, and federal elected officials. Fuller said Tesler and Poftak promised to have roughly a third of the design work done by this fall and pledged to come up with funding for the remainder of the design. Construction funding has not been secured yet.

The optimal design for the two-track Worcester Line is to have two passenger platforms at each station, one on each side of the tracks so passengers going in either direction can get off at each stop. But the three Newton stops were cut back to just one platform each along the southern rail track in the 1960s when the Massachusetts Turnpike opened. That meant trains running reverse commutes (coming out of Boston in the morning or going into Boston in the evening) couldn’t stop at the three Newton stops.

State officials fully designed a half-baked approach to the problem in 2017, but that was scrapped when the advocacy group TransitMatters pointed out that the solution failed to address the core issue of two-way service. The problem became more pronounced earlier this year when the T shifted to all-day, on-the-hour service on most commuter rail lines. Newton found itself cut off for a good chunk of the day because the community’s stops on the commuter rail line lacked platforms serving both tracks. 

In an email to residents, Fuller hailed Tesler and Poftak for agreeing to add an express bus to Boston for Newton residents as an interim measure time and for moving ahead with the new station platforms serving both train tracks. “We still have a long way to go (nailing down the funding for the construction and living through the years of work) but it’s exciting to have this ‘green light,’” Fuller said.

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Cassellius contract extension: The Boston School Committee must decide this week whether to grant a two-year extension to Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, who has one year left on her current contract. While the school committee seems poised to grant the extension, the six candidates for mayor are split between those who feel an extension would provide needed stability and those who feel the next mayor should be able to pick a new schools leader.

Here’s the breakdown. Michelle Wu and Jon Santiago don’t favor a contract extension, Andrea Campbell backs an extension of less than two years, and Acting Mayor Kim Janey, Annissa Essaibi-George, and John Barros support the two-year extension. Read more.

OPINION

Wu not having it: In a sharp critique of a CommonWealth article lamenting the lack of action in the Boston race for mayor, candidate Michelle Wu said “it is downright harmful to feed into the Trump-fueled notion that it’s only worth tuning into politics for personal conflict and drama, or scandals that reinforce trauma in our communities.” Read more.

Vaccination equity: Alan Geller, Lloyd Fisher, David Gao, and Tami Gouveia offer strategies for targeting high-risk communities and people under 30. Read more.

Mandatory vaccinations: Rich Parr of the MassINC Polling Group says a new poll shows strong support for requiring teachers, first responders, and other groups to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Read more.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

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Boston will open community cooling centers from Monday to Wednesday this week as the region braces for a heatwave that could bring temperatures in the upper nineties. (WBUR)

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Josh Zakim, the former Boston city councilor now directing the nonprofit Housing Forward-MA, says the candidates for mayor need to embrace policies that will spur housing production for not only low-income residents but also the middle class or the city’s future will be imperilled. (Boston Globe)

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A new report finds Massachusetts tops the nation for child well-being. (Gloucester Daily Times)

ARTS/CULTURE

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CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins said the Saturday shooting deaths of two Black WInthrop residents are being investigated as hate crimes. Officials have found antisemitic and racist comments written by the accused killer, who was fatally shot by police responding to the scene. (Boston Globe)

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Defense lawyers call for an investigation into why fellow defense attorneys Blake Rubin and Angela Cavanaugh were prosecuted for allegedly trying to conspire with a defendant to stop someone from testifying against him. The pair were acquitted, and attorneys say they should never have been prosecuted in the first place. (Telegram & Gazette)

A judge is allowing Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit against Exxon Mobil to proceed. (MassLive)

MEDIA

New York Times media columnist Ben Smith dives into the messy coverage and questions raised by the treatment of harassment claims against Scott Stringer, once seen as a top-tier candidate in the New York mayoral race, who fell to the back of the pack after the charges were made. 

PASSINGS

Mike Gravel, the former US Senator from Alaska who was born in Springfield, dies at 91. (MassLive)

Ian Menzies, a former Boston Globe columnist and managing editor, died at age 101. (Boston Globe)