Moulton: South Station expansion massive waste of $2b

Moulton: South Station expansion massive waste of $2b

Criticizes Pollack for suggesting rail link, expansion could both be done

US REP. SETH MOULTON on Tuesday called the expansion of South Station “a massive waste of $2 billion” and criticized the Baker administration for suggesting that it might be possible to both expand South Station and build an underground rail link between North and South Stations.

“Unfortunately, it shows me that a lot of people just don’t understand the North-South Rail Link,” Moulton said in a phone interview. “The South Station expansion is a massive waste of $2 billion and it’ll be obsolete in 10 years. It also cripples new development opportunities for decades to come and it does nothing to improve our standing as the 45th state in the nation when it comes to transportation.”

Moulton was responding to comments made on Monday by state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. Pollack is pushing ahead with the expansion of South Station to accommodate more trains even as the state is spending $2 million on a study of the North-South Rail Link, which is estimated to cost $3 billion to $5 billion. Asked when the state would have to choose between the two projects, Pollack indicated they weren’t mutually exclusive.

“I’m not sure that we agree with the North-South Rail Link Working Group that it is an either-or,” she said. “There are costs and benefits to the South Station expansion and there are costs and benefits to doing the North-South Rail Link. We agreed that we would look at them both in the same time frame, which is why we’re getting the feasibility study [for North-South rail] off the ground. It’s not impossible that we would decide to expand South Station and then decide later on to do the rail link. We are just proceeding with both of them at this point.”

The transportation secretary said a study of the South Station expansion identified the need for seven additional tracks there. She said a similar study for the North-South Rail Link hasn’t been completed yet, so it’s difficult to know whether the link would eliminate the need for more track capacity at South Station.

“I think it is an open question whether it would actually make sense that every single train would go through the North-South Rail Link or whether they would stop at South Station,” she said.

Moulton said it would make no sense to do both projects. He believes the North-South Rail Link would make the South Station expansion unnecessary. The South Station expansion is being pushed to add seven additional tracks to expand service to the south and west of the city. But Moulton said the rail link between North and South Stations would make the extra tracks at South Station unnecessary. Trains would still stop there, but once the entire commuter rail system is linked together, trains could park overnight just about anywhere, preferably where land is cheaper and more readily available, Moulton said.

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.

Instead of using valuable land around South Station to park trains, Moulton said the property could be developed for better uses. Backers of the North-South Rail Link say South Station expansion would stymie $10 billion in economic development.

Moulton hailed Pollack as “brilliant” on transportation issues. “I see Secretary Pollack as a partner in getting to the right answer on this, but we clearly need more folks to present on this to the administration,” he said. “Not a single expert we’ve consulted on this thinks South Station expansion is a good idea.”

  • Newtonmarunner

    I like Seth, but he’s wrong on this. For similar costs, you could

    (1) run a Fairmount DMU every 5-10 minutes
    (2) extend the Blue Line to Lynn
    (3) extend the GLX’s Union Sq. Branch to Barry’s Corner via Harvard Sq. (or just a Red Line Branch to Barry’s Corner
    (4) convert the SL4/SL5 to true BRT
    (5) have a BRT route from North Station to the Seaport District via Post Office Sq. and South Station, and
    (6) have a BRT route from LMA to Mattapan Sq. via Seaver St. and Blue Hill Ave.

    Waltham, Hyde Park, Lynn, Salem, Marblehead, etc. will all be much better off than with NSRL as their service will be more frequent and much cheaper ($85/mo. monthly subway/bus pass vs. $200+/mo. for Zones 1, 2, and 3 commuter rail). Further, communities such Lower Allston, Watertown, Belmont, Arlington, Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury would also be much better off under this plan, but wouldn’t get any benefit under NSRL.

    • mtbr1975

      All those items you list have nothing to do with the expansion of South Station. So how exactly is Seth wrong?

      • Newtonmarunner

        It has everything to do with the SSX vs. NSRL. We have only a limited amount of resources. The goal, after all, is to make communities better off. My point was that the transit-dependent communities most helped by NSRL (Lynn, Salem, Hyde Park, etc.) would be even better off with the proposals I made — namely Fairmount DMU and Blue Line to Lynn — and at significantly less costs. That’s the opportunity cost of NSRL.

  • Dr. Ed Cutting

    A North/South Tunnel presumes a clear track out of North Station for every train coming through the tunnel — whenever it does — and that’s not possible. Furthermore, it’s presumed that each train will be able to both arrive at and then depart from the first station at a specific time, and that’s not going to happen. Each station was built as a terminus, all of the signals, switches & tracks are arranged to funnel trains to end at the station.

    One needs to remember that while South Station (BOS) was built as a union of several different railroads, North Station (BON) was built to only serve the Boston & Maine Railroad. While four different rail lines meet in BON, they all were routed through the B&M’s switching yard, a chokepoint exacerbated by tracks being lost to the building of I-93 and the Orange Line.

    The situation on the Haverhill line is worse — there is only a single track between the Assembly Station and the end of the Orange Line as the other one was used for the Orange Line. That may have made sense in the early 1970’s when the Commuter Rail only went to Reading and was loosing customers to the newly-built I-93, but not now. A northbound train must make it to Melrose (after stopping in Malden) before the southbound train can leave Melrose as they can’t both be going in opposite directions on the same track at the same time.

    It’s not just the number of tracks at the station but the number of tracks leading to it that creates a bottleneck, and I fail to understand how people believe that a train can emerge from a tunnel and immediately leave North Station — it can’t and there is no way that either station can operate on the other’s timetable. Furthermore, trains sit in the station so that they are able to leave on time — between this and the time needed for large numbers of people to get on or off, the trains will be sitting in the station for as long as they do now.

    I can see trains backing up in the tunnel (how many tracks will it have?) and possibly backing up outside both stations waiting for the train ahead to clear the station. As this will involve crossing the track the inbound train is using (if not actually using it in the opposite direction) the inbound trains will have to stop & wait to facilitate this. Even if all the trains are on time, it will create a mess. Throw in wet snow bringing down wires across the tracks somewhere and it will make a mess absolutely everywhere….

    Connecting tracks would be nice, but this belief that a train can immediately continue on to depart in the opposite direction is asinine. Even Amtrak’s Acela has to stop & wait 15 minutes at NY’s Penn Station…

    • Dr. Ed Cutting

      Assuming the Acela is on time, which it often isn’t.

    • EJ

      The latest proposals for NSRL involve extensive reconfiguration of the station approaches at both ends, specifically for the reasons you state. That’s part of the reason it costs so much. There’s also a proposed intermediate station with better connections to the T which will take some of the pressure off of North and South Stations.

      The North and South Station tracks would have new, underground platforms – it’s envisioned that the tunnel would begin before the station throat trackage to avoid fouling train movements into and out of the existing stations. The whole proposal is akin to what London did with Crossrail. It serves Paddington and Liverpool Street, both existing terminal stations on opposite sides of the central city, but with new underground platforms that don’t interfere with existing train movements.