Build the Middleboro line now
Business leader says cost less than $200m
THE FALL RIVER Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently testified before the Fiscal and Management Control Board at MassDOT in support of a Middleboro rail extension to Fall River and New Bedford. Development of a Middleboro rail extension is a realistic and pragmatic South Coast Rail alternative than the currently proposed Stoughton Route. Furthermore, it could be operational within a few years for less than $200 million, rather than waiting another 15 to 20 years or more for a needed commuter rail solution.
The chamber’s frustration on the issue of commuter transportation to Boston is real. South Coast commuters continue to tell stone-faced officials about their daily 120-minute plus treks up Route 24 to Interstate 93 toward Boston, but the solution is no closer today than it was 10 years ago. The laments over long drives to Boston and the region’s economic distress are hardly new. Nearly 25 years ago former governor William Weld went to the South Coast promising to ramp up passenger rail, declaring, “Sue me if it doesn’t happen.” His successors kept the dream alive, but never got it built. Meanwhile the congestion on Route 24 and Interstate 93 keeps getting worse.
Part of the problem may be that the proposed Stoughton Route looks great in theory, but regrettably faces too many tangible obstacles that in their totality outweigh the many benefits. Examples include identifying a $2.4 billion funding source while it is estimated that over $7 to $8 billion is needed to repair existing MBTA lines, to fight off legal challenges by environmental groups who are protecting the Hockomock Swamp, and to contend against interests of the 300-plus-year-old historic town of Easton whose village center sits right on top of the proposed railway route.
That is why now may be the best time to re-examine the Middleboro Extension Alternative that was floated and discarded many years ago. The Middleboro Extension Alternative is far from ideal, but it is a pragmatic alternative that could connect Fall River and New Bedford to Boston within five years. Furthermore, a Middleboro rail connection linking the South Coast to Boston within a 90-minute train ride can be completed for a fraction of the proposed costs to build the Stoughton Route. The newly operational “HeartToHub” commuter service between Worcester and Boston takes about the same amount of time.
Robert A. Mellion is the president and CEO of the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry