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Massachusetts Department of Transporatation Massachusetts Bay Transporatation Authority
Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative

FAQs

What is the current project status?

In 2013, the Stoughton Electric route was selected by the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from among 64 possible alternatives as the preferred route for a new MBTA rail service between the South Coast and Boston. During the summer of 2014, MassDOT/MBTA advanced the South Coast Rail project from the conceptual planning phase to the design and permitting phase. In this phase, the engineering for the 'Stoughton Electric' route moved forward.

During 2015, field teams surveyed the future track alignment for the Stoughton Electric route and collected geotechnical data on soil conditions. This information is important to determine where and how the infrastructure required for the railroad line can be constructed. MassDOT/MBTA also established design criteria for the project; began planning for future stations; and developed track, bridge, and layover facility designs. By 2016, the MassDOT/MBTA team had advanced the design of the project to the 30% level in order to prepare wetland permit applications for the towns south of Myrick's Junction: Berkley, Lakeville, Freetown, Fall River, and New Bedford (an area known as the Southern Triangle).

In 2015, an Owner's Representative was retained for the project, as is legally required for all major MBTA contracts to provide engineering oversight. Over the course of three months during the spring of 2016, MassDOT/MBTA, under the oversight of the Owner’s Representative, led an effort to review and reconcile the multiple cost and schedule estimates developed at different phases of the project. These results were presented to the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) on June 27, 2016, along with a status of the SCR program design and an overview of a new Middleborough Alternative (described below).

How were the route and mode selected?

The Stoughton Electric Alternative was selected through a rigorous state and federal environmental review process. MassDOT selected the Stoughton route as its Preferred Alternative in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) and the US Army Corps of Engineers identified the Stoughton Electric Alternative in the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report (FEIS/R) as the least environmentally damaging practicable South Coast Rail alignment and mode. The agencies made these determinations based on a comprehensive evaluation of multiple factors including ridership, travel times, biodiversity, wetlands, land use, noise and vibration, water resources, as well as visual and socioeconomic impacts.

What is the ‘new Middleborough Option’?

With direction from the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board and MassDOT’s Board of Directors, MassDOT/MBTA staff is now reexamining a route for rail service to the South Coast that was previously considered and rejected. In the 'new Middleborough Option,' MBTA trains would travel on the existing MBTA Old Colony Main Line through Middleborough, where they could connect to other tracks that serve Fall River and New Bedford. A map of this route is available in the September 2016 public meetings presentation on the Materials page. This option could provide a limited level of service to the South Coast on a shorter timeline than the construction of the Stoughton Electric route. This route would make use of existing freight railroad infrastructure, which can be upgraded to Commuter Rail standards. The locomotives would operate on diesel fuel, not electric power (as is planned for the Stoughton Electric route). MassDOT and the MBTA will continue to develop the Stoughton Electric route as the new option is being explored.

Potential benefits of the new Middleborough option include:

  • Faster construction than for the Stoughton Electric route
  • Potentially lower initial construction costs and less construction risk than for the Stoughton Electric route
  • All of the necessary tracks are already owned or controlled by the MBTA/MassDOT

Some challenges of the new Middleborough option include:

  • Preserving full service to the existing Middleborough/Lakeville Station (which is located south of the junction of the Middleborough Secondary and the main line) or expanding to include other options (which are not part of South Coast Rail)
  • The capacity to run only limited rail service to New Bedford and Fall River due to capacity constraints along the Old Colony Main Line, likely limiting the service to two to three morning and two to three evening peak-period trips (per city, per hour)
  • Travel times are estimated to be greater than 95 minutes between New Bedford and South Station (travel time from New Bedford to South Station via the Stoughton Electric route is estimated to be 77 minutes)
  • The station proposed for Taunton would have to be less centrally located than the station envisioned in the Stoughton Electric route planning

MassDOT and the MBTA held six public meetings in September 2016 - in New Bedford, Taunton, Fall River, Easton, Canton, and Middleborough - to update the communities on the project and to gather feedback on the new Middleborough Option. Based on that input, MassDOT/MBTA is developing information about the new Middleborough Option and will report back to the Secretary and Boards with an update. The evaluation work includes conducting a survey of the right-of-way and adjacent wetlands; understanding permitting requirements; and developing construction cost estimates and projections of long-term operation and maintenance costs. The project team will brief MassDOT/MBTA leadership on the findings.

Who is designing and building the project?

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) assumed leadership of the South Coast Rail project from (MassDOT) Office of Transportation Planning in the summer of 2014. The MBTA hired the Joint Venture team VHB/HNTB to move forward with the environmental permitting and preliminary design of the project and to oversee final design and construction.

How long will it take to travel to downtown Boston?

The estimated travel time between New Bedford and Boston (South Station) is around 77 minutes. From Fall River, the trip will take an estimated 75 minutes. These estimates are based on conceptual design and will be refined as the design advances. Potential express service and other factors would impact these projections. For more information, review the route and service details.

What is the timeline for the project, and when will service start?

Current projections show that the Stoughton Electric route is anticipated to take 14-16 years to design, permit, and construct, with a cost of approximately $3.4 billion. MassDOT and the MBTA are collecting the information needed to estimate the new Middleborough Option cost and construction duration.

Is there funding available for South Coast Rail?

The Massachusetts House and Senate passed a Transportation Bond Bill in the 2014 session, authorizing $12.7 billion to finance a number of improvements to the Commonwealth's transportation infrastructure system, including $2.3 billion for South Coast Rail.

The 2017-2021 Capital Investment Plan (CIP) provides funding for South Coast Rail over the next five years.

MassDOT/MBTA will develop a financing plan for the South Coast Rail project, but construction funds are not needed until a final project is permitted.

When will the MBTA begin to acquire property for stations or right-of-way takings?

At this time, the project is funded through the second contract year to advance the development of the preliminary design and environmental permitting. Once the design is advanced to a higher level of completion, the MBTA will be able to establish land acquisition needs more accurately. More project funding will also be required for the MBTA’s Real Estate Division to begin its acquisition process. Assuming additional funding is allocated to the project, the acquisition process is likely to begin in 2017.

Why will South Coast Rail use electric trains?

An electrified system offers many economic and green benefits. Electric trains have several advantages over diesel trains: zero-emission vehicles run more cleanly and efficiently, resulting in reduced corridor air pollution emissions; electric trains accelerate and decelerate more quickly, resulting in better commute times; and they generally require less maintenance. The electric energy that powers the trains can be sourced from wind power and other green sources.

What are layover facilities?

Layover facilities are sites where trains are stored during when they are not in use. Locomotive engines are shut down upon arrival at the facility. A typical layover facility contains extra tracks for future expansion or for trains that must be pulled out of service for light maintenance. These sites also have small buildings for staff and supplies, as well as parking areas for employees and cleaning crews. Two layover facility locations have been selected to support the South Coast Rail project: the Weaver’s Cove East site in Fall River and the Wamsutta site in New Bedford. Train sets will start service from these locations in the morning peak hours, then return to the layover facilities at the end of the day. Maintenance and repair work are conducted at a separate facility.

Will freight trains use the South Coast Rail right-of-way?

The MBTA is not planning to seek environmental approval for the South Coast Rail corridor to include freight service in places where freight service does not currently exist. Freight trains currently operate along some southern sections of the corridor, and that service will continue. Any new freight service would have to be reviewed in an independent environmental process.

How will South Coast Rail mitigate for noise and vibration impacts?

The South Coast Rail project team evaluated noise and vibration impacts of the proposed new service in Sections 4.4 and 4.6 of the August 2013 Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report (FEIS/R). Specific impact locations were identified in the FEIS/R based on information available at the time. MassDOT used the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA's) Transit Noise and Vibration Impact Assessment Guidelines as a basis for the analysis. The process included field noise monitoring, identifying likely moderate to severe noise impacts, and proposing noise barriers or soundproofing where impacts are predicted. The project team also used the FTA Manual to assess potential impacts from vibration. Typical mitigation for vibration includes installing ballast mats along the right-of-way to reduce vibration.

As the preliminary design advances, South Coast Rail project team will reach out to property owners with additional, specific information about the mitigation.

What are soil borings?

Soil boring is the method used to collect soil samples at a particular site using a drilling rig and long, cylindrical tube. The soil samples are carefully recorded and mapped. Following collection and mapping, the samples undergo laboratory analyses that assess their physical properties. This information is used to inform the design team about the soil’s suitability for future construction. In some areas, soil borings reveal that additional structural support from footings, piers and other aids must be incorporated into the construction design. A photo of typical equipment used to extract soil borings can be found in the September 2014 fact sheet. Though most of the soil borings required for the project were collected in 2014 and early 2015, some additional geotechnical work will continue through fall 2015 and into 2016.

What is smart growth?

Smart growth principles emphasize preserving local resources, including people, land and water, while reducing sprawl by concentrating new development in areas where infrastructure exists. These principles promote compact, transit-oriented, walkable, and bicycle-friendly use, and embrace long-range regional considerations of sustainability over a short-term focus. The sustainable development goals seek to achieve a unique sense of community and place; expand the range of transportation, employment and housing choices; and equitably distribute the costs and benefits of development, while ensuring the preservation and enhancement of natural and cultural resources.

The project's smart growth strategy is outlined in the award-winning South Coast Rail Economic Development and Land Use and Corridor Plan.

What is the Technical Assistance program?

The Technical Assistance (TA) program provided grants to South Coast communities to help them prepare for commuter rail and economic development in a smart growth context for seven years. The program is a joint effort between MassDOT and the Executive Office Housing and Economic Development. TA grant awards have totaled some $1.6 million to date, providing South Coast communities with the resources to develop zoning bylaws, open space plans, housing production plans, bike/pedestrian paths, overlay districts and other projects that align with the Priority Development Areas (PDAs) and Priority Protection Areas (PPAs) designated in the South Coast Rail Economic Development and Land Use Corridor Plan.

How can I help support South Coast Rail?

Write a letter or email your local elected official. Find out who your member of Congress is by looking up your congressional district. Talk with your friends and neighbors about the benefits of South Coast Rail.

Interested businesses and organizations can join the Rail to Boston Coalition, a privately funded, business-led advocacy group, organized in 2014, working with the private sector to make South Coast Rail a reality.

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