More comments on the MBTA’s capital plan

Since my last post, the state legislature has gotten down to work in earnest on the FY23 budget, but unfortunately I have not had time to do a dive into the Senate version of the budget before the logrolling started due to work commitments. I did, however, have time to review the Boston Region MPO’s five-year Transportation Improvement Plan, part of a federally-mandated public process for transportation agencies that receive federal subsidies. My comments were published as part of the MPO board materials for the May 26 meeting. I also watched the MBTA board’s Audit and Finance committee meeting, at which the final CIP was previewed, and needless to say, the T gave no sign of having responded to public comment in any meaningful or constructive way. They do say that they will publish the public comments in the summer some time.

Because of those work commitments I was a bit behind schedule to leave a voice message for the board, so that the board would be forced to ignore me in near-real time rather than not even bothering to read my comments, and there is now a day-before cutoff for voicemail. There might well be a similar cutoff for email, given the early hour that chair Betsy Taylor likes to have these meetings. I sent email anyway, but since the T refuses to publish the written comments the board receives, I am publishing the text of my comment below. You’ll note (as it was intended for a voicemail) that it’s more focused on commuter rail rather than the laundry list of projects I commented on in the official public engagement for the CIP.

[salutation and introductory material deleted]

Unpowered, locomotive-hauled coaches have been functionally obsolete in passenger service since the 1980s. There is no situation in which it makes sense for the MBTA to be purchasing new coaches at any time in the future: all future rolling-stock procurements MUST be modern self-propelled equipment, not unpowered coaches. If, due to management’s foot-dragging on electrification, additional diesel-powered rolling stock is required, domestic manufacturers are ready and able to supply EPA Tier IV compliant diesel multiple-unit vehicles which can operate on the Old Colony lines, including South Coast Rail, which obviates the need for any additional coach purchases beyond the procurements the Authority has already awarded.

This management team has had two and a half years to make progress on electrification. As far as this CIP indicates, they have absolutely NOTHING to show for it — and this board has certainly done nothing to hold them to your predecessors’ commitment. In that time, the MBTA has announced ONLY ONE of seven required high-platform projects on the Providence Line, none (of two) on the Fairmount Line, none (of two) on the Stoughton branch, and one (of fifteen) on the Eastern Route. Meanwhile, plans have moved forward for high platforms at seven stations on the Worcester Line (although not the most important one, Back Bay), which benefits me and my neighbors by speeding up our trains, but is a complete strategic mismatch with the Authority’s ostensible priorities for electrification.

The previous Secretary of Transportation was under the mistaken impression that high platforms were solely an accessibility issue. They are not. A standard platform height (whether low or high) is a “can we buy modern rolling stock in a competitive procurement” issue. I urge the board to direct management to adjust its priorities accordingly. If that means we get electrification on the Worcester Line by the end of this decade, I won’t complain — but the course the Authority has set in this CIP is to not electrify anything before the end of the decade, and that does not serve the interests of riders or the Commonwealth.

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