Opinion

An electrifying lift for North Shore commuters

The MBTA’s decision to start electrifying commuter rail lines in two to four years and designate the Newburyport/Rockport Line running through Lynn to Boston for more-frequent stops is the biggest transit news affecting Lynn since the Market Street commuter garage opened in 1992. 

There is no way to minimize or downplay the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board’s vote to bring commuter rail service into the 21st century. 

It puts commuter-rail modernization on a fast track with a “commuter rail transformation office” opening in three months and overseeing long-term work to electrify most of the network and run trains with 15-minute headways between key stations in a regional or urban rail model.

Lynn and Swampscott commuters who rely on rail to get into Boston owe a big thank you to board chair Joseph Aiello, who told fellow board members on Monday that the time is overdue for the MBTA to get off the dime and provide commuters the service they deserve.

“Let’s go at it,” said Aiello. “If we keep studying and studying and studying and don’t commit ourselves to going to implementation, we’ll be here in 20 years again at the same point.”

Aiello backed his words up with action. 

The board’s vote orders the MBTA to immediately proceed with electrifying three commuter rail lines, including Newburyport/Rockport, from Lynn to Boston, with the nickname, “environmental justice line.”

The board is also looking for fare justice, similar to the Fairmount Line. 

That is great news for commuters and, as Aiello emphasized, now is the time to strike while the iron is hot and move forward quickly with electrifying commuter rail and giving its riders roughly the same frequency as Blue Line subway riders enjoy. 

Electrifying commuter rail and stepping up service frequency is good news for the North Shore. The board’s recognition that North Shore commuters have been long deprived of the transit frequency and service levels their western and southern neighbors enjoy is a good step in the direction of getting Blue Line transit service extended to Lynn and points north.

North Shore business leaders — led by the Lynn Business Partnership — and elected officials have hammered away at this point for decades even as detractors mock a Blue Line extension as a pie-in-the-sky idea. 

Mayor Thomas M. McGee and state Sen. Brendan Crighton deserve credit for their efforts.

Transit extension advocates know what North Shore transit commuters and drivers know: The region is not getting the level of transit service other Greater Boston regions enjoy and that inequity translates into an economic disadvantage. 

Aiello put a $1.5 billion price tag on commuter-rail modernization in his board resolution. But the price tag for doing nothing and allowing the status quo is much more expensive. It can be commuted in sluggish economic growth and the continued deterioration of the commuter rail and North Shore highway network infrastructure. 

Now is the time for action, Aiello told the board, and action means state officials and legislators making a commitment to pay for electrification and increased rail frequency. Let’s make Aiello’s words a rallying cry and get going on a critical commuter rail modernization effort that represent a good start on the road to transit greatness for the North Shore. 

 

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