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Lynn lawmakers lobby for commuter rail electrification

LYNN — Members of the Lynn delegation, state Sen. Brendan Crighton and Reps. Daniel Cahill and Peter Capano, along with Mayor Thomas M. McGee last Monday urged the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board to accelerate the electrification of the commuter rail. 

The MBTA board passed a resolution to electrify the state’s commuter rail in November 2019, which would create more frequent service to many communities and implement near-rapid transit at subway rates from Lynn to Boston. 

However, the transportation transformation has not made much progress, said Crighton, who noted in his testimony that the MBTA board has failed to deliver any meaningful action. 

“I greatly appreciate the board’s past leadership, yet here we are nearly a year and a half later, and we have nothing to show for it,” Crighton said. 

A section of the Newburyport/Rockport line, which connects Lynn, Revere, Chelsea and Everett to Boston and is known as the “environmental justice corridor,” is in the most urgent need for near-rapid transit and the best equipped line to handle the change first, Crighton said.

McGee, the former Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, requested that the board spend its federal stimulus funding on operations and capital improvements in fiscal year 2022 for the approved transportation network.

“The phase one electrification project must be included as part of the FY2022 and FY2026 capital investment plan to introduce modernized transit options to more Massachusetts communities so we can have the first phase of the new system up and running by 2024,” McGee said. 

Crighton said the general public is unaware of what progress has been made toward fulfilling a fully electrified commuter rail system and echoed McGee in asking for the board to follow through with its recent commitment to the congressional delegation by spending its federal stimulus funding on operations and capital improvements. 

“This money was intended to help people today,” he said. “It was meant to improve mobility, help environmental justice communities and fight climate change.” 

The electrification of the city’s commuter rail is not expected to take place for another few years. But McGee and the Lynn delegation had hoped parts of the new transit model, including the reduced fares and schedule changes, would occur prior to the full electrification, which depends on the acquisition of electric multiple unit (EMU) trains. 

“EMUs present a unique opportunity as a rapid and energy efficient transit option, instead of using old, outdated, diesel locomotives that are polluting and really don’t work,” McGee said. “Implementing the use of EMUs is an important first-step strategy as we continue towards full implementation of the electrification of the entire commuter rail system.” 

Crighton said EMUs are available from other transit agencies, and encouraged the board to retrieve them for use at the Providence/Stoughton line, which he said already has a pantograph-catenary system in place for the EMUs. 

“We can no longer afford to wait and continue to just talk about EMUs,” Crighton said. “Let’s put them in action.” 

Crighton, and other political figures in favor of that transition, demanded a capital improvement plan for the project by March 2022. 

The Lynn senator said the plan should include, at a bare minimum, a comprehensive plan for phase one electrification completed by an independent engineering firm within a year. He also required a study that must include rolling stock costs, location of stations, rolling stock maintenance and utilities and other costs and designs needed to transition to electrification. 

“I recognize that COVID has caused major disruptions and we have a great deal of respect for the challenges the MBTA faces,” he said. “We can no longer sit around without action being taken, and I can no longer tell my constituents to sit tight.” 

Crighton said that the board made a commitment to the people of Boston and to environmental justice communities of Lynn, Revere, Chelsea and Everett, but has failed to deliver meaningful action. He also noted that at least 75 percent of the 460 diesel hybrid buses should be made electric, and all buses should be electrified by 2030. 

“We must also prioritize electric buses in communities that face disproportionate levels of air pollution and are dependent on transit,” said Crighton. 

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