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Commuter rail operator has plans to increase service frequency, but with a hefty price tag

LYNN Labeled “old” by state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack in 2014 and criticized by riders for shutting down in the face of 2015’s megawinter, the commuter rail, with its stops in Central Square and Swampscott, is on the mend. 

“We are as well prepared for winter as we’ve ever been. We will communicate clearly and we will keep people safe,” said David Scorey, CEO and general manager for Keolis, the company that runs the commuter rail.

Locomotives dating back to the days of disco have been taken off the tracks and newer engines or refurbished ones are in service. Signal de-icing machines are in place and, once winter arrives, crews will be positioned throughout the nation’s fifth-largest commuter rail system ready to remove downed tree limbs. 

Scorey, Keolis public affairs director Tory Mazzola and MBTA commuter rail executive director Rob DiAdamo met Friday morning with The Item’s editorial board to discuss short- and long-term commuter rail planning. 

Newer equipment means more reliable service on commuter lines, even as the rail system’s operator and the MBTA review proposals for more frequent stops and reduced fares. 

Commuter rail ridership increased, according to the Transportation Department, from 105,000 to 127,000 trips per day between 2012 and 2018. Commuter lines running through Lynn to North Station shared that increase. 

Scorey said Keolis has logged a 90 percent on-time performance year to date with 94 percent of trains coming within 10 minutes of scheduled arrivals. 

“One of the leading causes of delays is locomotive reliability,” said Mazzola.

Lynn’s state legislative delegation called on the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board on Sept. 23 to review “near-rapid transit service” for the commuter rail lines and consider supplanting the current $14 round-trip commuter rail fare with the $4.80 subway round-trip fare.

Long-term alternative service proposals set for review again this month include plans for higher frequency service with proposals evaluating diesel-powered versus electric-powered service. 

Higher frequency service could boost commuter rail daily boardings on lines serving the North Shore by 19 percent, according to a draft proposal outlining the alternatives. 

“Most ridership benefits come from frequency of service,” said Mazzola. 

The alternatives carry big price tags, with the higher frequency commuter rail plan costing $1.7 billion broken down into $130 million annual increments. 

But planning for the future is an unavoidable task, said Scorey.

“I’ve never been in an environment where so much debate is about where we go with transportation. We’ve got to be more explicit about the long term,” he said.

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