Weekend commuter rail resumes on all lines
T adds Sunday Needham service, but not way community wanted
THE MBTA is resuming service on all commuter rail lines this weekend, and even launching trains to Needham on Sundays in a way the community opposes.
The T suspended weekend commuter rail service in January on the Fitchburg, Franklin, Greenbush, Haverhill, Kingston, Lowell, and Needham lines because of reduced demand caused by COVID. Weekend service continued on the Newburyport/Rockport, Framingham/Worcester, Fairmount, Providence, and Middleborough lines.
T officials say weekend passenger traffic has been relatively high on the lines that continued operating. On the Worcester Line, for example, ridership on a weekend in mid-May was about 64 percent of the pre-pandemic weekend average of 5,784. Ridership was 81 percent of the pre-pandemic weekend average of 6,404 on the Newburyport/Rockport line. By contrast, commuter rail traffic on weekdays is running at about 21 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
On the Needham line, which in the past operated only on Saturdays on weekends, the MBTA is launching Sunday service for the first time. Needham officials say the T approached the town about launching service on Sundays and asked whether they would prefer the service to go from South Station to the end of the line at Needham Heights or stop two stops earlier at Needham Junction.
The Needham Board of Selectmen held a public hearing on the MBTA’s two options on May 11 where opinion was split, and then voted 4-0 on May 19 to go with stopping the train at Needham Junction.
Despite the town vote, the MBTA decided to run the train through to the end of the line at Needham Heights. A T spokesman said the decision was based on ridership potential.
“As a public transit system, the T’s goal is to maximize its resources to attract as many riders as possible,” the spokesman said in an email. “Already incurring the costs of operating the trains on a Sunday, the T feels it is important to offer the public access to the service at all stations along the line.”A spokeswoman for Needham declined comment.
Commuter rail schedules for all lines are available at mbta.com/commuterrail. The T offers a $10 weekend ticket that is valid for unlimited travel across all lines for one weekend, from the first scheduled train Saturday morning until the last Sunday evening.