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T plans to boost commuter rail trips between Boston, Worcester this fall

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  July 31, 2012 12:16 PM

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The MBTA expects to increase the number of weekday train trips between Boston and Worcester this fall, soon after the state closes on a $50 million deal with railroad company CSX Corp. to buy 21 miles of commuter rail track along the Framingham-Worcester line, officials said.

A total of seven weekday roundtrips are set to be added to the current 13 trips made between Boston and Worcester, according to T spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

Three of the new trips are expected to launch soon after the final deed transfer from the deal with CSX is made, he said. The transfer, expected to happen in October, will grant ownership of the tracks to the state’s transportation department and control to the MBTA.

Within a few months after the transfer, at least two more trips will be added, including one that would run on an “express” scheduled to and from Worcester, Pesaturo said.

The remaining trips are expected to roll out sometime in 2013, after the T receives new bi-level coaches that are currently being manufactured, he said.

The plan to reach a total of 20 round trips between Massachusetts’ two largest cities will double the number the T offered just before the state reached an agreement with CSX in September 2009 to buy the tracks for $50 million, one part of a larger deal.

The agreement calls for CSX operations at Beacon Park rail yard in Allston to be relocated to expanded facilities in Westborough and Worcester.

CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan said company operations are expected to begin moving from the Allston site in the fall.

The 80-acre rail yard next to the Massachusetts Turnpike will then come under the control of Harvard University, which has no immediate plans to develop the property, according to university spokeswoman Lauren Marshall.

“Several steps need to be taken before easements would be removed and development could be considered – including the restructuring of CSX functions in the area and environmental assessments of the property,” she said in an e-mail.

In the 2009 agreement with CSX, the state agreed to pay another $50 million to buy: a secondary line that runs from Allston, through Cambridge and into East Boston; other tracks and the West First Street Yard in South Boston; and the New Bedford-Fall River line as part of the South Coast Rail project, which Pesaturo said is undergoing environmental review.

And the state and CSX agreed to spend $79 million to raise bridges and lower tracks between Interstate 495 and the New York State line to allow for double-stacked cargo trains.

That project is due for completion by the end of September, Pesaturo said.

“The original schedule identified several years ago was for the beginning of September,” he said in an e-mail. “This is a truly remarkable undertaking considering the dozens of bridges that needed to be addressed.”

When the state reached the agreement with CSX three years ago, the Framingham-Worcester line was considered among the least reliable in the commuter rail network because CSX operated the route primarily for its freight trains.

But, since the agreement was signed, improvements to passenger service have been made, including the addition three additional train trips between Boston and Worcester.

“The Worcester line has improved considerably over the past couple of years and is performing much better,” Pesaturo said.

Once the state and T assume full control over the tracks, more upgrades will be made and commuter rail schedules will be revamped, he said. The state will be able to more efficiently plan when to run freight trains and when to run passenger trains on the line.

“The deal between MassDOT and CSX is vital to increasing train service for Central and Metrowest residents who can access the Framingham-Worcester line,” Pesaturo said.

He said the focus so far has been on increasing weekday service along that commuter rail line, but that officials plan to explore ways to increase weekend service, too.

The Worcester-Framingham line currently ends at South Station.

Through the deal with CSX, the T will gain the ability to reroute Boston-bound trains to North Station, but Pesaturo said there are no plans to do that.

He said a service study the completed last year showed greater demand for service to South Station. The T plans to periodically reevaluate the level of demand for service to North Station.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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