Group sees regional rail potential

Group sees regional rail potential

Moulton convenes, biz group funds N-S Rail research

IT WAS BILLED AS A LOOK at the real estate opportunities associated with an underground rail link between North and South Stations, but the presentation ended up centering more on the potential of regional rail.

A group of eight experts from around the country and the world assembled by the Urban Land Institute spent the last week gathering information on the North South Rail Link and the region’s transportation infrastructure. On Friday, they presented their findings at the Park Plaza Hotel. US Rep. Seth Moulton, a leading proponent of the rail link, and the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership business group, which paid for the study, played host.

The group of experts didn’t endorse the rail link, saying much more work needs to be done on its economic feasibility. Indeed, they suggested the addition of more tracks at South Station and the rail link, which are often viewed as either-or alternatives, could be pursued simultaneously.

But the group was intrigued by the rail link’s potential to connect the northern and southern hemispheres of the commuter rail system and in so doing allow for the creation of a regional rail network capable of more effectively moving workers around the metropolitan area and promoting economic development outside Boston, particularly in Gateway Cities such as Lowell, Lawrence, and Lynn.

“We like the strong vision of the project,” said Rick Krochalis, a member of the Seattle Design Commission, quickly adding that the business case for the North South Rail Link still must be made.

Michael Reynolds, a principal at the Concord Group in Newport Beach, California, said the Boston metro area has tremendous potential, but that potential is under threat because the inner core can’t produce enough housing to meet demand. He said the prosperity of the region depends on developing a transit system that links housing and jobs.

Robert Ravelli, a director at Contemporary Solutions in London, said the MBTA’s existing commuter rail system is underwhelming. “Riding on the system it didn’t feel like it was the 21st century to me,” he said, noting the low ridership, the slow-moving trains, the presence of conductors, and the continued use of paper tickets.

“We see this commuter rail system as an untapped resource,” he said. “We see it as a lost opportunity.”

What needs to happen, the group of experts said, is to gradually electrify the entire commuter rail system, perhaps starting with the Fairmount Line. That would allow the introduction of quicker, faster, trains that would run more often and help transform the system into something akin to an above-ground subway system moving passengers all over the region. One example: a proposed rail link between the emerging Allston Landing area, Kendall Square, and North Station.

The rail link would connect North and South Stations underground and also add a new underground station located near the Marriott Long Wharf hotel and connected to the Blue Line.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Stan Wall, a partner at HR&A Advisors in Washington, said the rail link would likely have little economic impact on already-built-out areas around North Station and the proposed new downtown station. But he saw development possibilities at South Station and Widett Circle as well as in the Gateway Cities.

Ravelli said every commuter rail station should be explored for transit-oriented development. He said many of them right now are just rudimentary stations with big parking lots next to them. Many of the experts said the transit-oriented development will be critical in building support for the needed investments in the commuter rail system.

Mary Campbell, the associate vice chancellor for real estate at Washington University in St. Louis, said federal funds appear to be drying up so the state and private sector will have to step up. Krochalis said the timeline is long for a project like the North South Rail Link, noting the Green Line extension will probably take 16 years to go from conception to finish.

  • QuincyQuarry.com

    “The group of experts didn’t endorse the rail link, saying much more work needs to be done on its economic feasibility.”

    Ah yes: the old adjourn to collect more data recommendation.

    In the meanwhile, how about first seeing the current Commuter Rail system run on time.

    Mussolini anyone?

    Seriously, the MBTA needs to first show that the Commuter Rail can steadily crawl and has viable plans to endeavor to next walk before it should be allowed to spent billions on the proposed silver bullet of a North/South rail link.