MassDOT said the DSEIR document evaluates new elements proposed as part of Phase 1 that were not previously analyzed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)/Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR).
The first phase of the South Coast Rail project will provide commuter rail service by extending and utilizing existing freight rail corridors, MassDOT said. Mass Coastal Rail Road is such operator.
As proposed for the Full Build Project, and analyzed in the South Coast Rail FEIS/FEIR, service will be provided on the Southern Triangle, connecting Fall River and New Bedford to Cotley Junction in Taunton. The new primary element to be included in Phase 1 is the use of the existing Middleborough Secondary freight line to connect Taunton to the Middleborough Main Line.
“Since day one, my priority has been immediate construction in the Southern Triangle to finally connect New Bedford to South Station via commuter rail,” said State Senator Mark C. Montigny (D-New Bedfor), who MassDOT noted has led Senate efforts to secure the project’s bonding authorizations and related legislation. “I am pleased to see Gov. Baker and his administration has prioritized rail access to New Bedford and are making progress. Several hurdles remain before we can finally rest assured that construction can commence and be completed in time for hardworking taxpayers and commuters to board a train in 2022, but today is a major step in the right direction.”
Rail to Boston Coalition Chair Paul Chasse said the filing of the South Coast Rail draft environmental report is a sign of the progress being made toward restoring commuter rail service to the South Coast.
“Commuter rail is a long-awaited need for the underserved Gateway Cities of Fall River, New Bedford, and Taunton,” Chasse said. “The phased approach will expedite this critical link to the growth and prosperity of the region and bring employment opportunities to the people of the South Coast.”
MassDOT said it began evaluating a phased approach for the SCR project last year, when the department was facing a substantially longer timeline and higher costs for the Stoughton Electric Alternative, in order to deliver passenger rail service faster than the “Full Build” option.
This strategy required additional environmental analysis. MassDOT officials said the department conducted a thorough Alternatives Analysis, screened seven service alternatives and arrived at the Phase 1 alternative. Additionally, preliminary engineering design work has continued and will continue on the Full Build of the Stoughton Electric Alternative.
MassDOT’s phased approach to SCR is intended to allow all passengers a one-seat ride from Fall River and New Bedford into Boston rather than requiring that riders transfer trains. Phase 1 of the project is also set to build 56 percent of the rail miles needed for the Full Build Stoughton Electric Alternative, establishing a foundation for the service while continuing to iron out the Full Build’s complex details.
The Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS) also carried out ridership analyses using the FTA-approved model, officials said. CTPS found that the projected ridership at the new stations under Phase 1 will be 41 percent of the Full Build ridership at one-third of the cost, officials said.
CTPS said it estimates daily one-way trips at approximately 3,220 and about 837,200 one-way trips per year. Officials estimate that Phase 1 riders will save about an hour each weekday by traveling via train compared to driving the commute to and from Boston.
The project also entails the extension of Middleborough diesel service and an anticipated service start in 2022. Phase 1 service will use the Middleborough fleet, including diesel locomotives, and new bi-level coaches are planned to serve additional riders.
Capital costs for the project’s first phase are estimated at $935 million, 85 percent of which is dedicated toward the Southern Triangle, MassDOT said. Full Build capital costs are estimated to be $3.2 billion with a service launch in 2030.
A public meeting will be held on the DSEIR March 6.