State transportation officials are expected to unveil their plans for bringing commuter trains to Buzzards Bay during a meeting with state legislators and town officials next month.
State representative David T. Vieira (R-Falmouth), whose district includes Bourne, told selectmen of the upcoming meeting during the board’s meeting Tuesday night, February 23.
Rep. Vieira said the meeting, set for March 9, would include representatives from both Bourne and Wareham, himself, state Representative Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich), state Senator Vinny M. deMacedo (R-Plymouth), Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority general manager Frank Depaolo, and rail and transit administrator for MassDOT, Astrid Glynn.
State transportation officials have remained tight-lipped about their plans for commuter rail. In response to a query from the Enterprise this week about a possible Buzzards Bay line, Jason Johnson, deputy press secretary for the MBTA, replied that “a pilot program is something that is in the discussion stage, but there are no details to provide at this time.”
Rep. Vieira said that state transportation officials have been working on the plan since October. He said he wants to schedule a public forum, similar to one that he organized two years ago and held at the Bourne Veterans Memorial Community Center, that would include town officials and residents, “so we can get community input at the same time.”
While Rep. Vieira said that the MBTA’s goal is to have the trains running sometime in Fiscal Year 2017, Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA) administrator Thomas S. Cahir sounded more confident that commuter rail would reach Buzzards Bay before the end of the calendar year. Mr. Cahir said that in discussions he has had with Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie L. Pollack, as well as Mr. DePaolo and Ms. Glynn, all have expressed a desire to see commuter rail in Buzzards Bay before the end of 2016.
“They want to provide some sort of commuter rail service sometime this year,” Mr. Cahir said.
That could involve contracting with a private rail service provider, such as Coastal Railroad, to provide trains just from Middleborough to Buzzards Bay, he said. Mr. Cahir said he was not in favor of that idea, arguing that passengers might be turned off by the prospect of having to change trains. He added that while he did not like that proposal, it shows the state’s commitment to bringing commuter rail to Bourne, sooner rather than later.
“I know for a fact how committed we are to make this happen,” he said.
Mr. Cahir said that Bourne is in a unique position relative to the extension of commuter rail because all the necessary infrastructure—welded rails, signals, crossing gates, switches—are already in place. Without all those elements readily available, commuter rail service would be a multi-million dollar endeavor that the transportation department would likely avoid, he said.
Mr. Cahir speculated that the problems the MBTA ran into last winter with the record snowfall’s wreaking havoc on tracks and trains, coupled with Governor Charles D. Baker IV’s new administration taking over, contributed to a delay in bringing commuter rail to Bourne. He said that after all the problems the MBTA faced last year, the state is now focused on a plan for commuter rail service.
“And I support it because I think it would be good for Bourne,” he said.
The Town of Bourne took the first step toward bringing commuter rail service to Buzzards Bay when residents voted to approve membership in the MBTA last May.
The state’s Fiscal Year 2017 cherry sheet to Bourne shows an assessment of $41,707 for membership in the MBTA. The town also belongs to the CCRTA, for which Bourne is assessed $88,429, for a total assessment of $130,136 for membership in both. Under state law, the town can apply its CCRTA assessment as an offset to the $130,136 for a net assessment of $41,707.
Town administrator Thomas M. Guerino stressed that the MBTA and CCRTA assessments come out of local aid that the state provides to the town. It is not an expense paid with revenue collected by the town. Mr. Guerino was also emphatic that the assessment does not go into effect until July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Much of the appeal in bringing commuter rail to Buzzards Bay has been the positive effect it can have on the revitalization of the downtown business district. A recent Cape Cod Commission report focused, in part, on what is known as Transit-Oriented Development, in the form of apartments, condominiums and businesses that could spring up in the downtown growth incentive zone with the arrival of train service.
Glenn D. Cannon, technical services director for the commission and its liaison with the Bourne Transportation Advisory Committee, has said that the same growth would not be likely if rail service ended in neighboring Wareham. Mr. Cannon said there may be some benefit to being near a rail station, but the real benefit comes from having the station in town, where people would choose to live and spend their disposable income.