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.

By stopping at Needham Junction, the train avoids five rail crossings and the need to hit the train horn repeatedly at each of them. Train horn noise is a contentious issue in Needham, particularly on weekends.

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.”

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.

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.