MBTA: Long-awaited Worcester Line Improvements

The project is expected to take four years to design and five years to build at a cost of about $400 million.

21.June.2021, Boston MA – The MBTA awarded a contract for design and engineering planning of a ten-mile third track along the Worcester Line between Wellesley and Framingham. Earlier in the week (17.June), the MBTA and Newton MA mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced an agreement to proceed with design for major upgrades to the city’s decrepit Newtonville, West Newton, and Auburndale stations.
MBTA-Newton-Framingham -improvements
Key elements of the Worcester Line upgrade include trackwork between MP11.0 and MP21.2 (~10 mi) with signals and communications upgrades; new Interlocking CP-15, Reconfigured CP-11, Modified CP-21; miscellaneous bridge repairs; Bishop Street (Framingham) grade crossing in ; and accessibility and third track accommodations for existing commuter rail stations at West Natick, Wellesley Square, Wellesley Hills, and Wellesley Farms

Third Track

Wellesley through Framingham will get a third track that will allow the T to add more express trains between Worcester and Boston as well as more localized express service between Framingham and Boston. T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board recently awarded a $28 million contract to design the addition of a third track as well as station access to the new track along an 11-mile stretch of the rail line between Wellesley and Framingham. The project is expected to take four years to design and five years to build at a cost of about $400 million. Construction funds have not been secured yet.

The third track, in conjunction with other Worcester Main Line improvements, supports:

  • Improved arrival and departure times within the peak period for the existing Heart-to-Hub Worcester Express
  • Provision of an additional Heart-to-Hub Worcester Express service trip in both the AM and PM peaks
  • Provision of additional zone express and local peak period trips
  • Opportunities for increased reverse peak service associated with the peak direction service increases
  • Additional operational flexibility and reliability for a mix of express and local services
  • Opportunities for reductions in travel time that could be applied to reduce scheduled trip times, to increase operational resiliency, or to offset dwell time increases resulting from potential future ridership growth

New Newton stations

This rendering of the Natick Commuter Rail station (in-progress) design will likely be the model for the rebuilt Newton stations. In addition to resurrecting (in Newton) a proper dual-platform station layout, features include accessible ramps, elevators, multiple stairways, full-length, high-level platforms, partially enclosed pedestrian bridge, wider canopies, bicycle parking, better signage and way-finding, emergency lighting, and upgraded drainage/flood prevention infrastructure.

Plans for the new handicap-accessible stations at Newtonville, Newton, and Auburndale platforms were disclosed by Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller following a meeting with acting Transportation Secretary Jamie Tesler, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, and other local, state, and federal elected officials.

Newton’s new stations will be handicap accessible and feature dual, 800-foot platforms to allow for more frequent, all day, bi-directional service and an eventual transition to electric trains. MBTA senior officials promised to have roughly a third of the design work done by this fall and pledged to come up with funding for the remainder of the design. Construction funding has not been secured yet.
The three Newton stations were cut back to just one platform each along the southern track when the Massachusetts Turnpike opened. They are dangerous, decrepit eyesores. The optimal design for the two-track Worcester Line is to have two passenger platforms at each station, one on each side of the tracks so passengers going in either direction can get off at each stop.

When the Mass Turnpike was built in the Boston & Albany ROW in the 1960s, the stations’ north platforms were removed. That meant trains running reverse commutes (coming out of Boston in the morning or going into Boston in the evening) couldn’t stop at the three Newton stops. In 2017, State officials had designed a solution that failed to address the core issue of two-way service. The problem became more pronounced earlier this year when the T shifted to “load-leveled” all-day, on-the-hour service on most commuter rail lines. Newton found itself cut off for a good chunk of the day because the single-platform stops could not serve both tracks.

Just in time for Allston debacle

Both moves are designed to improve commuter rail service coming into Boston from the west at a time when MassDOT is considering a $1 billion rebuild of most of the transportation infrastructure in the Allston area – the Turnpike, Soldiers Field Road, and rail tracks – that could disrupt traffic flows in and out of Boston from the west for as much as a decade.