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MBTA Launching Study of Future Needs of Commuter Rail

Posted on June 15, 2017

 BOSTON - The MBTA is releasing a Request for Proposals (RFP) tomorrow, June 16, to study and identify current and future Commuter Rail needs and improvements as part of the MBTA's Commuter Rail Vision. The MBTA already has a future planning exercise underway for bus, subway, and ferry, which is known as Focus40.

"Now is the appropriate time to think about the future needs of people in terms of our Commuter Rail system," said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. "Commuter Rail is going to play a more important role than ever before in the years ahead as people seek to reduce their carbon footprint, look for more efficient travel options, and strive for more life-work balance by putting the time spent commuting to good use in either relaxing or finishing up with office responsibilities. The FMCB and MBTA management team hope to look at housing, real estate, and other factors that will have an impact on the demand for Commuter Rail."

Current Commuter Rail service limits the potential to grow ridership during off-peak times with the overwhelming majority of trips made during peak commuting hours and in peak directions. Current service also limits the potential to encourage reverse commuting and to provide frequent connections between gateway cities and Boston. In some instances, infrastructure is a barrier to expanded or different types of transit service.

"With the results of this study, we can better plan future infrastructure, future technology, and future service," said MBTA Acting General Manager Brian Shortsleeve. "We'll be able gain a more detailed understanding of our current Commuter Rail ridership and future customers so we can continue to best serve those communities now and in the years to come."

In launching a Commuter Rail Vision study, the MBTA and MassDOT seek to understand the likely demand for changes to service in order to strategize the best ways to utilize current resources, plan for infrastructure needs, understand potential customer demand, and think about the impact of new technology on transit options. The study's results will identify the most cost-effective strategy for leveraging the MBTA's rail network to meet new trends in travel and address the economic growth needs of the Greater Boston region.

The Commuter Rail Vision study is planned to examine a wide variety of topics, such as the type of fleet needed to optimize the existing network and deliver new service, the system upgrades needed to accommodate various service expansions, if some sections of the network should be electrified, and where potential new stations should be located. In determining these goals, the study will be informed by prior and ongoing work (including prior studies of the existing infrastructure's suitability for an "urban rail" service model inside Route 128), ongoing Focus40 development of long-term MBTA investment strategies, Capital Investment Plan infrastructure investments, the ongoing MBTA Fleet and Facilities Plan, the ongoing exploration of potential next-generation operating contract models, recent and ongoing municipal planning efforts, Commuter Rail network planning and design efforts (including the possible South Station Expansion project, the South Coast Rail project, and the North South Rail Link Feasibility Re-assessment), and various plans to consider new stations on the network.

The scope of the study will include a review of previous studies and data collection, analysis of the future market, peer market comparisons within North America and Europe, objectives for a 2040 Commuter Rail Vision, identifying potential service alternatives, analysis of operations and the development of a systems simulation model, ridership projections and the operating costs of service alternatives, the capital investments needed to support these alternatives, stakeholder engagement plans, final recommendations, and an implementation plan.

This study, led by the Office of Transportation Planning and supported by MBTA Railroad Operations, is proposed to take place over 2-2.5 years with project funding of $3 million from the MBTA Capital Budget. This schedule positions the MBTA to have identified a service model that can inform and be incorporated into a new operating contract.

The MBTA expects to award a contract to the winning bidder of the RFP in September 2017 with the study anticipated to begin several weeks later.

The MBTA Commuter Rail system is one of the largest in the nation, operating fourteen Commuter Rail lines that serve fifty cities and towns with a fleet of eighty-two locomotives and 421 coaches. The MBTA's Commuter Rail represents a significant share of the MBTA's infrastructure and assets with nine percent of MBTA passenger trips occurring on the Commuter Rail at approximately 122,000 daily passenger trips on an average weekday.

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