A proposal to extend the Worcester/Framingham commuter rail line through Eastern Cambridge to North Station met stiff resistance last night during a community meeting at the Morse School.
The extension would run through an 8-mile active rail line called Grand Junction that the state purchased from CSX in 2009. Commuter rail on the rarely-used freight tracks, which snakes from Brighton to East Boston, could alleviate highway congestion and potentially place a station near MIT.
Preliminary findings of the state Department of Transportation’s feasibility study slated to be presented at a public meeting in November show that daily inbound ridership on the Worcester-Framingham line will increase 34 percent by 2035.
Under the proposal, trips from Worcester to Kendall Square could decrease by 24 to 26 minutes.
But Cambridge residents are concerned about traffic congestion and noise.
Trains would cross six Cambridge roads, including Massachusetts Avenue near MIT, at a rate of about one per hour during nonpeak hours and one-and-a-half trains per hour during peak hours. Gates would close for approximately 60 seconds when trains rumble by.
“How is this type of project different than a highway that brings people in from Worcester and Framingham?” Steven Nutter of Livable Streets Alliance asked before drawing applause. “Commuter rail, while it has some benefits over highways, are not much different than highways and do not benefit the neighborhood.”
Several residents expressed a preference for light rail, including one who suggested extending the Green Line down Grand Junction from the end of the yet–to-be-built Green Line Extension in Somerville.
But MassDOT officials said light rail would require wider tracks, larger road crossings, more trains and less room for the popular multiuse path Cambridge residents hope will be built through Grand Junction.
“Those are the tradeoffs we have to weigh,” Matthew Ciborowski of MassDOT said.
A faction from the community is also sore that the state has shelved the so-called Urban Ring. The proposed $2.4 billion rapid transit bus system would connect Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Medford and Somerville.
“The fact of the matter is [Grand Junction] would be a relatively inexpensive public transit enhancement,” MassDOT’s Director of Program Development Ned Codd said. “It would require additional commuter rail equipment and locomotives and coaches but the corridor exists, trains run over these tracks and this could be done within the existing, very significant, finance constraints that face the Commonwealth. Whereas the Urban Ring is an entirely new service and a very large project.”
Championed by Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray , the former mayor of Worcester , the Grand Junction project is also supported by MIT and state Representative Martha Walz . The Boston Democrat’s district covers the Grand Junction bridge, which crosses the Charles River under the BU Bridge.
Walz noted that the line would provide easy access to TD Garden.
“This is a very promising way to get more commuters onto public transit and out of their cars and this also may provide a terrific opportunity for people to get out of Kendal Square using commuter rail,” Walz said before the meeting. “There’s still some questions. This is not an unadulterated endorsement.”
Her colleague, Tim Toomey , however, has offered his unadulterated opposition since the project was first floated to the community this winter. In the closing moments of last night’s meeting, Toomey said the tone of the evening was encouraging.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to stop this project,” said Toomey, who is also a Cambridge city councilor. “It’s very important we speak in one voice and I hope that the message continues to be sent to DOT.”
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