Study prices out N-S Rail Link

Project ‘significantly more attractive’ than earlier understood

A RAIL LINK BETWEEN North and South Stations would cost between $3.8 billion and $5.9 billion to build, according to a data analysis conducted by a group of students and faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The cost estimate, which is stated in 2025 dollars, is significantly below the roughly $8 billion figure floated in a 2003 MBTA study of the North-South Rail Link.

“Our updated estimates suggest that the economic case for the project may be significantly more attractive than earlier understood,” said the study, which was done by Linda Bilmes, a senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School, and several current and former students.

The study was released as the idea of a North-South Rail Link has become something of a political football. The Baker administration favors adding tracks to expand capacity at North and South Stations, while a contingent of activists and politicians, including US Rep. Seth Moulton and former governor Michael Dukakis, are pushing for the link. Even as the state moves ahead with plans to expand South and North Stations (at a cost of about $2 billion for South Station alone), the Department of Transportation signed a $1.5 million contract for a study of the rail link.

A Kennedy School spokesman said Moulton asked the school if it would be interested in looking into the cost of the rail link.

US Rep. Seth Moulton and the Harvard Kennedy School team studying the North-South Rail Link. Moulton is third from right, senior lecturer Linda Bilmes is at far right.

The Kennedy School analysis described its price tags as a series of “rough order-of-magnitude estimates” of the capital cost of the project using a financial model built from data from the Federal Transportation Administration and comparable completed tunneling projects. The higher-priced estimate was based on a project with four tracks, two tunnels, and three new stations between North and South Stations. The lower-cost estimate is the price tag for two tracks, one tunnel, and two new stations.

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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.

“The estimate is highly conservative,” the Kennedy School study says, noting that a 50 percent contingency supplement was added to the model and the unit cost for each item was increased by 16.4 percent to account for higher construction costs in Boston.

A spokesman for the Kennedy School said Moulton, who himself is a Kennedy School graduate, got to know Bilmes when he was a student there. The two of them appeared in the film No End In Sight, a documentary on the Iraq War that was nominated for an Academy Award. On the Kennedy School website, there is a picture of Moulton with Bilmes and the other members of the North-South Rail Link team.