Not long ago, they stood on the streets, outside their houses, blasting the prospect of trains running through their neighborhood.
Not long ago, they stood on the streets, outside their houses, blasting the prospect of trains running through their neighborhood. On the other side of the proverbial tracks were other residents and officials – some say, the silent majority – who favored the return of the Greenbush commuter line. The first passenger trains will run Wednesday. But at a cost: the Greenbush price tag comes in at $512 million – more than twice its anticipated $215 million price tag back in 1994, and close to the combined $605 million it took to restore the two other Old Colony lines, one to Kingston and the other to Middleboro, in 1997. “I still believe that half a billion could have done a lot more to get more cars off Route 3,” said Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth. “That I will take to my grave.” Yet others – friends and foes alike – recall the decades-long fight positively. From extra safety measures to mitigation funds to special construction, some say the struggle showed democracy at its best, of real people championing a cause to benefit the community. “It’s what citizenship is all about,” said John Bewick of Hingham, whose wife Martha took up the fight when the Greenbush restoration was first proposed in the mid-1980s. “It’s a great example of people expressing their concerns and opinions and being a part of the government process.” The Hingham-based Advocates for Transportation Alternatives spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, by its count, on a legal and public relations war to promote what it viewed as better ways to draw cars off congested Route 3. Some costs are counted in more than dollars. A more than $30 million tunnel under Hingham Square, for example, is seen as a hard-won concession to some, a badge of suburban exclusivity to others. MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas believes now that the decades-long Greenbush debate is over and trains are ready to run, South Shore residents will see the line as a huge convenience and benefit. “Two things that have been that proven with well-done public works projects is that they are change, and they cause anxiety and opposition,” Grabauskas said. “But if it’s done right, it’s an amenity that people will tout.” Lingering Concerns Bewick has lingering concerns about the project. Trains on the 18-mile Braintree-to-Scituate line won’t regularly sound whistles, for example, though local officials have arranged to have horns blown to caution trick-or-treaters on Halloween, Greenbush’s first day back in action since 1959. Bewick also worries about track pollution seeping into Old Oaken Bucket Pond, a Scituate drinking water supply. And he foresees traffic jams around the new Greenbush stations. But his outrage is reserved for the critics who lampooned Hingham residents for raising what he considered legitimate concerns about a government project. “I think that was a Gestapo tactic to marginalize a whole community,” Bewick said. Hedlund, another longtime opponent, said he still thinks there were better ways to promote mass transit – such as a park-and-ride at the former naval air base in Weymouth, and more commuter boats from the South Shore to Boston. Yet others, like Rep. Garrett Bradley, said that the important thing was that the long fight over Greenbush led to a better line. Bradley was attending Hingham Middle School when talk of the Greenbush restoration surfaced in the 1980s. Now 37, the Hingham Democrat says government officials learned a lesson, too: listen to the people’s concerns. “Everyone likes to say it was the opponents that delayed it,” he said. “There were some transportation secretaries and people in the MBTA who delayed the project through their inability to negotiate.” Longtime supporters say the Greenbush revival was inevitable. The three Old Colony train lines stopped in 1959, shortly after the Southeast Expressway and Route 3 opened to motorists. “At the time, America’s love affair with the automobile was full-blown,” said Rep. Frank Hynes, a Marshfield Democrat. “People thought for sure you would never have a need for a railroad again.” Since then, highways heading into Boston are routinely clogged and demand for alternative transportation options is high. And with Greenbush opening for service next week, officials expect ridership projections of more than 4,200 daily passengers to be met almost immediately. Tom Benner may be reached at email@example.com.