Letter to FRA re: North-South Rail Link

The following is a letter from the Transportation Committee of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club to the Federal Railroad Administration regarding the North-South Rail Link in Boston.

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Joseph Szabo, Administrator

Federal Railroad Administration

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, DC 20590

Dear Administrator Szabo:

        I am writing on behalf of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club in response to the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project’s recent Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), reiterating our strong support for the proposed North-South Rail Link in Boston.  Both North Station and South Station are currently stub-end terminals separated by a distance of a little over a mile, forcing all trains to reverse di­rection once they have arrived at the edge of downtown, and discharging most passengers some distance from their final destinations.  South Station was last expanded in the mid 1990s with the addition of sev­eral tracks and platforms to accommodate new commuter rail services to the South Shore and Worcester.  Nearly two decades later, the Commonwealth is planning to increase yet again the capacity of this busy terminal by taking the South Postal Annex and putting at least seven more tracks on its site (“An $850m plan to return South Station to bygone glory,” 2/23/13 Boston Globe).

        Almost completely absent from these plans, however, is any recognition that building yet more dead-end tracks into South Station is a temporary solution, at best, and will likely be eclipsed again in a couple more decades by the anticipated growth in passenger traffic.  Instead, the FRA should urge MassDOT to revisit its long-shelved plans for a direct rail connection between South and North Stations—a DEIS for the Rail Link was completed in June 2003 and immediately dropped by the Romney administration—that would al­low for the through running of Amtrak and commuter trains without the wasteful backup moves that are now a major cause of congestion at both terminals.  A first step would be to put the new South Station platforms underground, allowing the tracks to be extended north at a later date.

        Construction of the North-South Rail Link would serve as a more lasting solution to the capacity con­straints to the addition of more traffic to South (and North) Stations, unifying the city’s two passenger rail systems into a more coherent whole and providing for the more efficient distribution of riders throughout the downtown core—espe­cially if an intermediate station is also built close to the State Street financial district and the adjacent tourist attractions of Faneuil Hall Marketplace and the Freedom Trail.  While state officials have publicly stated that the South Station expansion plan would do nothing to pre­clude the eventual construction of the Rail Link, its $850 million price tag is a most costly temporary “so­lution” that might prevent the underground connection from ever being built.  We can do better than that!

Sincerely,

John Kyper, Transportation Chair

Sierra Club, Massachusetts Chapter