$150M smile for MBTA; Fitchburg riders get the nod.


Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - State Reps. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster, and Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, said they would love to be able to take the commuter rail to work at the Statehouse.

But trains do not run frequently enough, they say, and the trip is slowed down by 17 stops between Fitchburg and North Station.

Hopes for faster and more frequent service along the Fitchburg commuter line are coming into view with the Patrick administration's adoption of a plan to spend $150 million upgrading the service - part of a $2.9 billion, three-year transportation bond plan announced yesterday.

"It is a huge hurdle that Central Massachusetts has had to overcome," Ms. Flanagan said of getting the project included in the state bond plan. "This is the farthest we have ever gotten," in efforts to improve commuter service to northern Worcester County, she said, adding that the federal government is also in line to support the project now.

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said the bond package did not include rail money for Worcester because funds to expand train service here already have been authorized and await only the completion of a deal over track use with CSX, the freight company that owns portions of the tracks.

Mr. Murray, who introduced Mr. Patrick to the Worcester Economic Club meeting at the Beechwood Inn last night, said CSX negotiations have been stalled on the issue of indemnification - liability.

"We've made progress in the last year but are stuck on that one point," Mr. Murray said. "We are intensifying our efforts to get it resolved."

Unrelated to the CSX talks, Mr. Murray said an announcement about improved Worcester commuter service will be made in the a few days.

Under the bond bill plan announced by the governor yesterday, $75 million for the northern Worcester County project would come from the state bond, and another $75 million in matching funds would come from the federal government.

It would cover the cost of building a double track along a seven-mile stretch around Acton that now relies on a single track shared with freight lines, which limits the frequency of commuter trains on the line.

The upgrade would also pay for new cab signal controls, cutting significant time off the current 1-1/2 hour ride from Fitchburg to Boston.

If some of the 17 stops - most of which are grouped closely together on the final leg of the trip in the Boston area - are eliminated, they said, the trip could be cut down to about one hour. That...

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