Transit Briefs: MBTA, REM, VRE

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
The “Browse, Borrow, Board” program provides MBTA riders free access to digital news and e-book content during the nearly two-month-long closure of Boston’s Sumner Tunnel, which is being repaired. (MassDOT Photograph)

The “Browse, Borrow, Board” program provides MBTA riders free access to digital news and e-book content during the nearly two-month-long closure of Boston’s Sumner Tunnel, which is being repaired. (MassDOT Photograph)

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) riders will have free digital access to newspapers, magazines, audiobooks and e-books during the closure of Boston’s Sumner Tunnel. Also, CDPQ Infra announces the launch date for Réseau express métropolitain’s (REM) South Shore branch service; and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) selects Hill International, Inc., to provide consulting services for its capital improvement program.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is teaming with the MBTA and Boston Public Library (BPL) to offer subway, commuter rail, bus and ferry riders access to free digital newspapers, magazines, audiobooks and e-books during a two-month-long closure of the Sumner Tunnel. The tunnel—built in the 1930’s to carry traffic under the Boston Harbor from Logan International Airport to Boston/I-93—was closed July 5 to begin repair work on the tunnel ceiling, roadway, walls and lighting plus additional improvements to increase safety and climate resiliency, according to MassDOT.

The Department is encouraging residents to “Ditch the Drive” and consider using alternative modes of transportation during the closure, which is scheduled to run through Aug. 30. As an incentive, the “Browse, Borrow, Board” program will provide free digital content at more than 50 subway, commuter rail, bus and ferry locations. These will include the Blue Line, the SL3, the 111/112/114/116/117, the Lynn, Winthrop, and East Boston ferries, and the Newburyport/Rockport Commuter Rail line, according to the partners.

While riders are waiting to board public transportation, they can scan the QR code available near the stop to access the digital library in their default internet browser. There is no app required and riders are not required to have a library card, according to the partners. They can browse the library offerings, and then select up to five e-books or audiobooks to read or listen to in the browser. Riders can access unlimited newspapers and magazines.  

The service is an expansion of an experiment the city of Boston launched with MBTA and BPL at 20 bus stops in May.

“As we encourage travelers to Ditch the Drive, we are grateful to the Boston Public Library for partnering with us to find a way to make travelers’ trips more enjoyable,” Transportation Secretary and CEO Gina Fiandaca said. “The BPL is a terrific resource for communities throughout Massachusetts and this program is great opportunity for riders to experience all that the Library has to offer.”

“While I encourage all to take the T to visit the library, I’m excited that, in partnership with BPL and MassDOT, we can now bring the BPL digital library to you,” MBTA General Manager and CEO Phillip Eng said. “We’re committed to providing a safe, reliable ride to the public during the Tunnel’s closure and beyond. So now, when you leave the driving to us, you can now enjoy a great book, catch up on the news, read your favorite magazine, and more. These types of creative initiatives are a great way to both relax and enhance your travels. We hope riders and the public take advantage of public transportation and the Library’s digital offerings.”

Pictured: Réseau express métropolitain (REM) train on the Samuel-De Champlain bridge in Montreal. (CNW Group/CDPQ Infra Inc.)

The REM automated, electric light rail service between the Brossard and Gare Centrale stations will open July 31, 2023, according to CDPQ Infra, a subsidiary of Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.

Final pre-commissioning started June 28 and will continue over the next few weeks.

REM’s five-station South Shore branch will provide access from Brossard to downtown Montréal in under 18 minutes, CDPQ Infra reported July 7.

REM is a 67-kilometer (41.6-mile), 26-station transit project to link downtown Montreal, South Shore, West Island, North Shore and Montreal-Trudeau airport. It is slated to operate seven days per week, 20 hours per day.

CDPQ Infra in October 2022 reported that the project’s five South Shore stations would not open before spring 2023. The South Shore “portion of the REM was expected to be up and running” in 2021, but “[t]he timeline has been delayed several times since then,” the CBC News reported. “The opening of most of the other stations on the network has been pushed back to the end of 2024.” According to the CBC News, CDPQ Infra CEO Jean-Marc Arbaud said, “Since 2020, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have led to a certain number of consequences difficult to predict”; Arbaud referred to such challenges as inflation, supply chains and the labor shortage. Crews have also dealt “with complications in the Mount Royal Tunnel, where century-old explosives were discovered [left behind from the tunnel’s original construction],” CBC News added.

Mt. Laurel, N.J.-based Hill International on July 10 reported that it was selected by VRE to provide program management consulting services for the commuter railroad’s capital improvement program (CIP) through an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract. VRE’s $800 million CIP will maintain equipment and facilities in a state of good repair while accommodating safe and sustainable growth, according to the consulting firm. Major projects under the CIP include Quantico Station improvements, Broad Run expansion on the Manassas Line, Fredericksburg Station rehabilitation, the Backlick Road Platform Extension, and improvements to Alexandria Station.

Hill International said it will support VRE’s staff with comprehensive schedule, budget, quality, procurement, document control and project management services under a four-year, $6 million contract.

In related developments, VRE on June 29 opened a lifecycle overhaul and upgrade facility in Spotsylvania County, Va., and on June 2 announced that it will receive more than $20 million to support the reinstatement of the Amtrak Step-Up program and construction of a new VRE station in Crystal City.

Tags: , , , , , , ,