State officials on board for South Coast rail service
Let Wareham join the conversation – that was the message state representatives had for residents on Wednesday night at a forum on the South Coast Rail project.
The long gestating, multi-billion dollar project will extend commuter rail service to New Bedford and Fall River. However, officials are pondering a change that has the potential to make Wareham a candidate for a stop.
“You have something New Bedford and Fall River don’t have, a train station and well maintained tracks,” said Scott Lang, a former mayor of New Bedford. “This is an opportunity to advocate rail service for all of Southeastern Massachusetts.”
Lang has championed bringing rail service back to the South Coast for many years. On Wednesday, he joined 20 others in Wareham Town Hall, including Selectmen and former Selectmen from Bourne, Middleboro and Marion.
State Rep. Bill Straus (D-Mattapoisett) explained that Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials are taking public comments on a proposed change in the project until Sept. 30.
Straus, who is co-chairman of the House’s Joint Committee on Transportation, said officials are now evaluating the “Middleboro option” that differs from the original plan, which called for building new tracks through Stoughton and surrounding towns.
While officials have long preferred the initial plan because it’s more direct, the new option would use already existing track, which, coupled with other cost savings, would save the project approximately $1 billion. Currently, it’s estimated to cost $3 billion.
Straus explained that if the state pursues the Middleboro option there’s an increased incentive for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to make Wareham a stop. The tracks have been upgraded to handle freight and summer commuter service aboard the Capeflyer, which has operated from Memorial Day through Labor Day the past few years. A new station was built on Merchants Way to accommodate passengers.
State officials have said South Coast Rail will bring benefits to the region, both environmental and economic. There are 4,570 people that are projected to use the service daily, which would reduce car emissions and improve air quality. According to the state, the project would create 3,5000 new permanent jobs and 6,800 construction-related jobs while tracks are revamped and train stations are renovated.
“In my view, it’s in Wareham’s interest to be part of the discussion,” said Straus.
Earlier this year, the Board of Selectmen officially endorsed the Middleboro option and sent a letter to the state expressing their support.
Detailed information on the project can be found online at the Department of Transportation’s website: www.massdot.state.ma.us/southcoastrail.
All questions and comments on the project should be sent by email to: SouthCoastRail@dot.state.ma.