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MBTA approves Foxborough pilot

Transit advocates say route extension risks Fairmount Line quality, upgrades

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 8/16/2017, 10:04 a.m.
Advocates continuing a long-running bid to bring rapid, frequent service to transit-starved, low-income areas along the Fairmount line fear that ...
MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board members Brian Lang, Joseph Aiello and Monica Tibbits-Nutt during Monday’s meeting. The FMBC voted 4 to 1 to enact the Foxborough extension pilot. BANNER PHOTO

Advocates continuing a long-running bid to bring rapid, frequent service to transit-starved, low-income areas along the Fairmount Line fear that the MBTA may undermine planned improvements in favor of providing more options to suburbanites, starting in 2019. A Baker administration-supported pilot program to extend weekday commuter rail service to Foxborough would direct eight trains from the Fairmount Line to start their route in the far-flung suburb, before proceeding on to serve their original passengers in Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park.

On Monday, MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board officials voted 4-1 in favor of the pilot, with Monica Tibbits-Nutt opposing.

Mela Miles of the Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition and Rafael Mares of the Conservation Law Foundation spoke with the Banner in separate conversations in the days before the vote. Miles and Mares said that while they do not begrudge any neighborhood getting better transit options, this pilot plan jeopardizes current service and long-promised upgrades to communities dependent on public transit, and favors towns with more options.

“The people in the Fairmount corridor, many of them have no other options,” Miles said. “The median income of the Fairmount Indigo corridor is less than $40,000. We have the lowest per capita auto ownership in the city. This is a transit-dependent community. This is not people who have the option to get out of their cars and get onto a train. … We just want the [MBTA] to keep their commitment and not leave us aside and prioritize the needs of the suburbs over the needs of the urban community.”

The MBTA has stated that a Foxborough extension will not impact the current level of service on the Fairmount and that the additional commuters will fill only some of the seats that currently remain vacant. Transit advocates, however, remain skeptical.

Vanishing seats, vanishing trains?

Under an MBTA proposal, empty trains would travel down the Fairmount Line onto the Franklin Line, then head off onto the short stretch of the Framingham Secondary Line, which leads to Gillette Stadium. In the morning, the train would pick up Foxborough passengers, then continue on through the Fairmount corridor, picking up riders en route to South Station. Eight current Fairmount trains and one Franklin train would be directed to extend their run out to Foxborough.

The plans unleashed concerns that any mishap on the Foxborough-to-Boston stretch will spell delays or loss of service for the original Fairmount riders before any even have a chance to board. For Fairmount Line passengers, the wait between trains is 40 minutes to an hour — and that’s if they run on time. Because there is only a single-lane track running to Foxborough, if a train breaks down or is delayed, there’s no ability to run a second train, so those delays would be passed on up the line, Mares and Miles said. If a train breaks down, most Fairmount riders would have to find buses or be stranded, Miles said. She also said delays are likely, given that trains on the Franklin Line have exhibited less reliability than those on the Fairmount.