Baker, Polito call South Coast Rail a matter of fairness

Say Fall River, New Bedford must be treated equitably

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the $1 billion South Coast Rail project scheduled to open late next year is about fairness to southeastern Massachusetts.

At the opening of a new train station in Freetown on Monday, the governor and lieutenant governor did not focus on ridership or economic strategy; instead, they said Fall River and New Bedford residents deserve the same rail connections other communities surrounding Boston have.

“How are we going to claim to be an inclusive Commonwealth if the South Coast of Massachusetts – Fall River and New Bedford, in particular – don’t have access to public transportation that is available, as I said before, to all of the other communities of any significant size within 50 miles of Boston,” Baker said.

“I think about this as more than a rail project,” Polito said. “This is about equity and opportunity.”

The lieutenant governor likened South Coast Rail to projects designed to bring broadband service to other parts of the state.

After decades of broken promises, Baker is keeping his pledge to build South Coast Rail, although the project will only be completed after he is gone. Administration officials said the project is currently on budget and on schedule.

Local lawmakers from the area, including Sen. Michael Rodrigues of Westport and Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett, praised Baker for following through where his predecessors all backed off.

The South Coast Rail service through Middleborough is officially described as phase 1, with a phase 2 to be an all-electric service connecting the existing Stoughton Line to Fall River and New Bedford at an estimated total project cost of $3.2 billion. Phase 2, if it’s ever built, would be completed by 2030.

Once phase 1 is completed, the trip between New Bedford and South Station on the South Coast line is expected to take at least 90 minutes. The MBTA plans to operate three morning peak trains and three evening peak trains to both New Bedford and Fall River. There will be up to six morning and evening trains to Taunton and Middleborough because all the trains will pass through those communities. During off-peak periods, three trains will likely operate on a 3 to 3 ½ hour frequency.

Ridership projections have been iffy, with estimates of 1,600 daily riders in 2030 and 3,900 in 2040, but those estimates were generated pre-COVID.

The T is currently projecting that its overall ridership will not return to pre-pandemic levels within the next five years.