Four train trips added to Worcester-to-Boston MBTA line
Four new commuter train trips on the Worcester-to-Boston MBTA line underscore the need for Ashland and Framingham to keep working to ease traffic congestion at rail crossings, local officials said yesterday.
Added service is a double-edged sword in these towns: While commuters may find it easier to catch a train to the office, drivers can be left grumbling as trains freeze up downtown intersections.
Changes effective Monday on the Worcester line will not likely have a major impact at rail crossings, but the potential for further commuter and freight expansion is worrisome, Ashland Town Manager John Petrin said.
"We're not going to sit here and pound our fists over a couple more commuter rail trains," Petrin said. "But the whole issue certainly is concerning to us."
Monday's scheduling changes affect towns west of Framingham only. Two early-morning trips that used to originate in Framingham now start in Worcester at 4:45 and 6:05 a.m.
That means new stops in Grafton at 5 and 6:19 a.m., Westborough at 5:06 and 6:24 a.m., Southborough at 5:16 and 6:33 a.m. and Ashland at 5:23 and 6:39 a.m.
A later 4:30 p.m. trip also will offer extended service from Worcester. A 2:40 p.m. outbound train from Boston's South Station that ended in Framingham now goes all the way to Worcester.
State transportation officials said nurses and other medical professionals had pressed for years for earlier routes.
While the line saw some unrelated delays because of mechanical trouble Monday, the first new early-morning trip drew about 150 riders before reaching Framingham, said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.
About 350 commuters boarded between Worcester and Ashland on the second new trip, including Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, Pesaturo said.
In Ashland, Petrin said each additional trip means another train passing through for about a minute and a half - not a major inconvenience.
State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said this particular change is for the most part a bonus for the area.
"We need more public transportation," said Spilka, who also represents Framingham. "This will foster more people taking the trains."
Petrin said his town is more concerned with talk of future expansion. The state earlier this month announced plans to buy the Worcester-Framingham line from freight carrier CSX Corp. for $100 million, to be completed in phases.
While more work and negotiations are needed, state officials said at the time the agreement laid the groundwork for improving product shipments and created potential for more commuter service between Boston and Worcester.
Ashland supports more commuter service, but town officials want to be sure it is not at the expense of downtown residents, Petrin said. The town has only one bridge over the tracks, which also has raised concerns about police and firefighters being able to respond to emergencies in a timely manner.
The town just received about $500,000 to carry out a feasibility study on how to reconfigure downtown rail crossings. Petrin said he is working on a request for proposals from consultants to coordinate the work.
Yesterday's changes also left state Rep. Pam Richardson, D-Framingham, with mixed emotions.
"I certainly heard from my constituents that the crowded trains and the need for more trains is an issue that plagues this area," she said. "It's a relief that there will be more trains."
The town and state, however, need to figure out how to ease train traffic that sometimes "paralyzes the place" before allowing further expansion, Richardson said.
"It's been a problem for a hundred years, but it is something preventing the downtown from being as great as it potentially could be," she said.
Framingham Selectman Laurie Lee said Monday she is newly assigned to a town committee looking at the problem. The group has reviewed a previous plan that examined the issue, and a feasibility study on solutions is set to begin, she said.
The town has formed a team of municipal officials who will work with the consultant leading the study, Lee said.
"We anticipate moving forward fairly rapidly and we're at a pretty good place," she said.
David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or email@example.com.
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