Worcester commuter rail line targeted for upgrades

2 projects planned between Newton and Framingham

THE FRAMINGHAM-WORCESTER commuter rail line, which could become a lifeline into Boston if the I-90 Allston project gets launched, is getting some major improvements. 

The MBTA is planning two major projects on the line from Newton to Framingham – adding handicap accessible, double-sided platforms at the Newtonville, Newton, and Auburndale stations and a third track between Wellesley and Framingham. The new Newton platforms will fix a problem dating to the 1960s, allowing the pickup and dropoff of passengers at the three Newton stations at all times of the day, while the third track between Wellesley and Framingham will allow the T to add more express service bypassing some stations stops.

Both moves are designed to improve commuter rail service coming into Boston from the west at a time when the state Department of Transportation is considering a $1 billion rebuild of most of the transportation infrastructure in the Allston area – the Turnpike, Soldiers Field Road, and rail tracks – that could disrupt traffic flows in and out of Boston from the west for as much as a decade. 

The T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board recently awarded a $28 million contract to design the addition of a third track as well as station access to the new track along an 11-mile stretch of the rail line between Wellesley and Framingham. The project is expected to take four years to design and five years to build at a cost of about $400 million. Construction funds have not been secured yet. 

T officials say the third track will allow the transit authority to add more express trains between Worcester and Boston as well as more localized express service between Framingham and Boston. 

Plans for the new handicap-accessible Newton station platforms were disclosed by Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller following a meeting between acting Transportation Secretary Jamie Tesler and MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak with local, state, and federal elected officials. Fuller said Tesler and Poftak promised to have roughly a third of the design work done by this fall and pledged to come up with funding for the remainder of the design. Construction funding has not been secured yet. 

The optimal design for the two-track Worcester Line is to have two passenger platforms at each station, one on each side of the tracks so passengers going in either direction can get off at each stop. But the three Newton stops were cut back to just one platform each along the southern rail track in the 1960s when the Massachusetts Turnpike opened. That meant trains running reverse commutes (coming out of Boston in the morning or going into Boston in the evening) couldn’t stop at the three Newton stops. 

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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.

State officials fully designed a half-baked approach to the problem in 2017, but that was scrapped when the advocacy group TransitMatters pointed out that the solution failed to address the core issue of two-way service. The problem became more pronounced earlier this year when the T shifted to all-day, on-the-hour service on most commuter rail lines. Newton found itself cut off for a good chunk of the day because the community’s stops on the commuter rail line lacked platforms serving both tracks.  

In an email to residents, Fuller hailed Tesler and Poftak for agreeing to add an express bus to Boston for Newton residents as an interim measure time and for moving ahead with the new station platforms serving both train tracks. “We still have a long way to go (nailing down the funding for the construction and living through the years of work) but it’s exciting to have this ‘green light,’” Fuller said.