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MBTA increasing weekday trips on Boston to Worcester line

The MBTA will increase the number of weekday commuter train trips running between Boston and Worcester starting Oct. 29, and plans to make the commuter trains faster and more reliable with upcoming renovations.

Beginning this month, the MBTA will add three round trips each weekday to the current 13 daily round trips between Boston and Worcester. It will also add two more round trips in April, one of which will run “express” with limited stops, and two additional trips next fall, totaling seven more weekday round trips a year from now, said Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman.

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The increased trips and other improvement plans come after the state last week completed a $100 million deal to buy 45 miles of tracks between Framingham and Worcester from CSX Corp., a national freight transportation company.

The deal, which has been in the works for more than a decade, grants the state ownership of the rails and the authority to direct and control scheduling of passenger and freight trains along the route.

Putting the Framingham-Worcester tracks under the MBTA’s control will help streamline the commuter rail line, which is known for frustratingly late-running trains, in part because CSX would give its freight trains preference when conflicts surfaced.

“We’ll be doing the dispatching, which will help in the dependability and speed and time of the trains,” said Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, who has been negotiating the CSX deal since 2002 when he was mayor of Worcester.

The plan to have 20 round trips between the state’s two largest cities will double the number that was offered just before the state reached an agreement with CSX in September 2009 to buy the tracks, part of the larger deal.

Murray said the increased trips will help meet ridership demand in MetroWest and Central Massachusetts, two of the fastest-growing regions of the state.

Murray said that the Framingham-Worcester line is one of the busiest in Massachusetts, and wrote in a report last month that ridership demand is expected to increase by 30 percent by 2030.

“This is an area that has been chronically underinvested in, in terms of state transportation dollars, so it’s long overdue,” he said.

Murray said the added trips would help bolster the state’s economy by strengthening accessibility between academic hubs, medical centers, and corporate offices in the area stretching between Worcester and Boston.

“Companies want to be where employees have access to affordable and dependable transportation options, and we’ll have that now,” he said. “This will also be more convenient and make it more attractive than it already is to commuters.”

Since the agreement places ownership of the rails under the state, officials can invest in track improvements and better optimize them for passenger trains, which travel faster than freight cars, Murray said.

“We will be able to modernize that track, which allows us to increase the speed and shorten the trip times,” he said, noting that preliminary plans show that the renovations could cut between five and 20 minutes off some trips.

“Freight was their priority, and freight cars move at slower speeds. We’re going to see significant improvements as those infrastructure improvements are made and as we’re doing the dispatching,” he said.

Commuters who rely on the rail line to travel to work and school said they would appreciate any improvements or added scheduling flexibility. Derrick Afful, 25, of Worcester, said the increased trips would help him shave valuable time off his daily commute from Worcester to Boston’s South Station, en route to classes at Tufts University.

“Sometimes after class I have to wait a long time,’’ he said, but with the additional trips, “it would be easier to catch the train.” Afful noted that he plans to take the commuter rail all five years of his program, since it is cheaper than owning a car or moving to Boston.

Ross Palley, 23, of Southborough, said he also often finds himself waiting for the commuter train home for long periods of time.

“After work, if I don’t make the train right when I get off, I’m stuck here for another hour,” Palley said, adding that more trains or shorter trip times would also help him arrive at work on time. “Spending less of my day on the train would be nice. I could be more productive in my spare time.”

Palley said he would also like to see more weekend trips.

“If I’m coming in on a Saturday, I’d like to be able to do dinner with friends and go home after, but right now I have to get here either way before dinner or way after,” he said.

Some riders said they simply look forward to faster rides as a result of renovations. Mark Mulhern, 25, of West Roxbury, said swifter commuter cars on the Framingham-Worcester line would make his daily work commute easier.

“Right now, it’s about a two-hour ride from South Station to Worcester, so speeding it up at all would be a big improvement,” Mulhern said, noting that he takes the train there sometimes to visit his girlfriend.

The state does not plan to stop infrastructure improvements with the Framingham-Worcester track. The agreement with CSX also grants the state ownership of the corporation’s tracks in South Boston, as well as the 37-mile New Bedford-Fall River line, where the state plans to eventually restore commuter rail service to the South Coast.

The agreement also grants the state ownership of an 8-mile Boston stretch known as the “Grand Junction,” which runs from Allston across the Charles River through Cambridge, Charlestown, Everett, and Chelsea. The state also receives the 2 miles known as the Boston Terminal Running Track, which extends from Dorchester to South Boston, and includes the West First Street Yard.

CSX operations, currently at the Beacon Park Freight Yard  in Allston, will be shifted to facilities in Westborough and Worcester, where the company will invest about $100 million to expand its cargo processing operation.

The renovated Worcester CSX site will create about 380 construction jobs and 85 permanent site jobs, and is expected to nearly double the number of cargo boxes CSX processes there daily in the long term.

Harvard University  purchased the 80-plus-acre Beacon Park rail yard from CSX in 2003, and the land running parallel to the Charles River remains ripe with development opportunities, Murray said.

The deal also calls for the state to raise the clearance heights of some bridges over railroad tracks to accommodate double-stacked freight trains, allowing for easier transportation of cargo goods in and out of the state. The state will invest $72 million in the project, raising public bridges at 14 locations, and CSX will pay for raising bridges at 17 locations, according to a state report.

Overall, Murray said, the deal has proved to be a nationally commended model for private-public transportation partnerships, adding that officials in Florida, Maryland, and New York have studied it.

“We’re proud of that,” Murray said.

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