Bay State South Coast Rail Should Return to Drawing Board
New Review Should Revisit Unrealistic Assumptions that Sunk Stoughton Alternative
Boston — As the astounding price tag and a completion date nearing 2030 sound the death knell for the proposed commuter rail from Fall River/New Bedford to Boston, the Commonwealth needs to avoid hastily latching onto another ill-considered rail scheme, according to public comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and its Fiscal and Management Control Board. The group calls for a long overdue hard look at the ridership and other commuter realities in the region before picking a new plan.
In desperation following the demise of the decade-old Fall River/New Bedford train route, some in the MBTA are seeking to revive the discarded Middleborough Alternative as a cheaper substitute. But that alternative suffers from the same flawed economic assumptions that led to the current debacle, notably:
- Inflated ridership estimates. MBTA projected a tripling of ridership from existing commuter traffic from the South Coast into Boston with no explanation for the appearance of these additional riders;
- Existing train stations overlooked. The region already has eight train stations. MBTA assumed that commuters would eschew existing closer stations to drive to new stations farther away; and
- Intra-regional commuters ignored. Far more people commute within the South Coast Region than from the region to Boston yet these commuters were left out of MBTA consideration.
“The inevitable collapse of this rail plan is a searing indictment of the quality and integrity of MBTA planning,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, urging that an official inquiry be conducted into this project’s expensive and time-consuming failure. “This corpse cries out for an autopsy.”
One contributing factor to poor planning was MBTA’s use of five different – but unreconciled – definitions of the “South Coast study area.” This recurring inconsistency prevented reliable apples-to-apples projections and estimates.
The unrealistic assumptions also completely eliminated any claimed environmental benefits from the project, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the plan would have created ecological havoc by plowing through the Hockomock Swamp, the largest freshwater wetland in Massachusetts and home to as many as 10 state-listed species. As a result, there remained severe doubt the project could ever win the required permits, even after years of litigation.
“This project should have been jettisoned years ago but proponents refused to level with taxpayers and the State Legislature about its real costs,” added Bennett, noting PEER’s belief that the $3.4 billion project cost estimate has been known for years before it was finally revealed last month. “These guys are still clinging to the prow of the Titanic even as it settles onto the floor of the Atlantic.”