The MBTA’s oversight board wants the commuter rail to run more like an urban subway system — eventually.
The transit agency’s Fiscal and Management Control Board unanimously passed five resolutions Monday, throwing its weight behind a vision of a fully electric commuter rail system with more frequent service.
The vote came a week after the MBTA’s commuter rail advisory committee called for the most ambitious of six different options to improve the regional rail network. And while the resolutions advanced Monday didn’t exactly map onto the “full transformation ” plan —or any of the other six proposals — that had been previously presented, it did amount to what transit advocates celebrated as a big first step toward a more sustainable and reliable regional rail network to the tune of billions of dollars.
The first resolution outlined what FMCB Chair Joe Aiello characterized as an “aspirational” long-term goal of providing all-day commuter rail service of up to 15- to 20-minute intervals in its most dense areas. It also called for the system to be “largely electrified,” more accessible, and better integrated with the rest of the MBTA.
The next three resolutions laid out how the agency would begin working toward those long-term goals, beginning with “Phase One of this transformation,” as Aiello put it.
The second resolution called for electric trains to first be implemented on the Providence/Stoughton line, the Fairmount line, and a stretch of the Newburyport/Rockport line from Boston to Lynn.
It also called for the Fairmount and Boston-to-Lynn lines to operate at intervals and fare levels “akin” to the MBTA. The three-pronged approach is estimated to cost $1.5 billion, which the resolution directs the MBTA to pursue.
Aiello said that those three lines where chosen because the Providence/Stoughton line already has infrastructure for electric trains, since Amtrak runs electric trains on the corridor.
He also cited the years-old calls from local officials to improve service to Boston’s southwestern neighborhoods along the Fairmont line and to the working-class communities north of Boston. Aiello pointedly noted during the meeting that a one-way trip from Lynn to Boston, which is shorter in distance than many MBTA subway commutes, costs $7.
Given the environmental effects of the diesel-fueled commuter rail trains running through those communities, FMCB members said there were strong equity reasons to begin electrification and frequency improvements on the Fairmont and Lynn corridors.
“We cannot continue to punish the communities that have the worst service,” Monica Tibbets-Nutt, one of the five board members, said during the hearing, adding that even she had been priced out of the “astronomical” commuter rail fares.
Aiello also expressed concern that Logan airport’s ground access could be “compromised” by traffic if more people weren’t incentivized to use transit options in the area.
Thirdly, the FCMB voted to establish a “commuter rail transformation office” and directed General Manager Steve Poftak to present a budget and staffing plan by January. The fourth resolution urged state lawmakers to support Gov. Charlie Baker’s transportation bond bill, which includes $400 million for early-stage commuter rail improvements.
The fifth resolution, proposed by Tibbets-Nutt, called for a parallel “bus transformation office,” asserting that the current system is “failing” and that the agency’s current effort to improve service are not ambitious enough. She argued that buses — with dedicated lanes — were a superior and more immediate option than creating more subway lines.
“The buses are going to give people better access to the commuter rail and to the improvements that we’re already making,” Tibbets-Nutt said.
FMCB members didn’t spell out what the total costs of the vision for the commuter rail they endorsed Monday, or how exactly it would be financed. They described their chosen path forward as a mix between the fifth and sixth plans presented last month, which cost $10.6 billion and $28.9 billion, respectively.
Aiello anticipated Monday that there would be many more studies, setbacks, and details to be worked out in the commuter rail plan, but stressed the urgency in moving forward.
“Let’s get at the work,” Aiello said, noting that their three chosen corridors are currently “in need.”
“If we keep studying and studying and studying and don’t commit ourselves to going to implementation, we’ll be here in 20 years again at the same point,” he said.