BOSTON -- Commuter rail trains could stop at stations in Braintree, Kingston and Brockton every 15 minutes under plans backed this week by a key transit oversight board.
The MBTA's Fiscal Management and Control Board approved several resolutions this week they said will "transform" the commuter rail network by electrifying most of its lines and running trains more often to and from key stations. The board did not specify how much the plans would cost or how they would be paid for, though similar proposals have pegged the cost of a complete commuter rail transformation, including the purchase of new electric train sets, at as high as $30 billion.
The resolutions passed Monday call on the T to create a "regional rail transformation office" tasked with overseeing the project and asked the state Legislature to support procurement reforms in Gov. Charlie Baker's proposed transportation bond bill.
Preparations for a pilot program of electrified service are set to begin "immediately" on the Providence/Stoughton and Fairmount lines, officials said, as well as on a section of the Newburyport/Rockport Line on the North Shore.
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"The idea is that by making the system more flexible you're taking people away from driving," Regan said. "If you get on the subway any time, there's always somebody on it. That's what they want to see, people using the commuter rail as an alternative."
Last week, several members of a "Rail Vision" advisory committee studying proposed changes to the commuter rail endorsed the most sweeping of six options, which called for a "full transformation" to electrified service, 960 new vehicles and 15-minute headways system wide.
The fiscal management board did not specifically endorse any one of these six options, instead opting for five more general resolutions. Several board members, however, said they supported a model as extensive as the sixth option, which also included a tunnel linking North and South stations.
In those plans, the T marked Braintree, Kingston and Brockton as "key stations" that would see 15-minute headways to and from Boston even under less extensive proposals.
Regan said the T would need to build second tracks along much of the South Shore's current commuter rail infrastructure to make these proposed headways possible. When there is just one track per line, he said, trains have to be scheduled around each other.
There are also pros and cons of electrification, Regan said. Electric trains would improve air quality compared to the T's current diesel locomotives, he said, but service could get interrupted across an entire line if the overhead wires are damaged. And just the installation of miles of wiring could draw opposition from people who live near the tracks, he said.
He added the T would also need to reevaluate how it prices commuter rail fares in order to make them competitive with those for the subway. For instance, a trip from Briantree to South Station on the commuter rail currently costs $7, while the same trip on the Red Line costs $2.40.
Peter Forman, president and CEO of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Rail Vision committee, said efforts to make the commuter rail more affordable must also consider the cost of parking at the system's suburban stations.
In order for the South Shore to take advantage of future service increases, he said, the region must improve its own local transportation and create development that is attractive to people who travel from the city to the suburbs for work, known as "reverse commuters."
"It's an expensive wishlist," Forman said. "Some it will get done, but what the chamber is focusing on is how the region is going to leverage whatever the state is doing."
Regan said while it's good to think big about the future of the commuter rail, the T has several ongoing projects that cannot be overlooked. Chief among them, he said, is the $8 billion, 5-year capital improvement plan that includes expanding service to the South Coast.
The agency also continues to face an operating deficit every year amid calls from Beacon Hill to increase its funding. Gov. Charlie Baker's administration has defended the agency's current funding levels.
Material from the State House News Service was included in this report. Shaun Robinson may be reached at email@example.com.
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