Monday, July 22, 2013

New Stations on MBTA Fairmount Line: Making Commuter Rail Work Like Rapid Transit (sort of)

The Massachusetts DOT, MBTA, and the city of Boston just had a ribbon cutting for a new station on the Fairmount commuter rail line, one of a set of four in various stages of completion (story here).  What’s interesting about these stations is that they are all in an urban setting, within the city limits of Boston. 
What MBTA is in fact doing is retrofitting a rather weak commuter rail line to function more like a rapid transit line in transit-poor urban neighborhoods.
The background of these stations traces back at least 25 years to the opening of the Orange Line rapid transit service.  The Orange Line replaced a planned freeway, which transit advocates thought was a major triumph, but unfortunately it meant putting transit in a corridor meant for highway traffic and located away from major activity centers.  This, in my opinion, is an all-too-common problem with transit planning, which tends to look for cheap and available rights of way rather than looking at linking up activity centers.

Be that as it may, the Fairmount Line will be a very interesting case study.  We wish them well!

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