West

The Argument: Should the state pursue a North-South rail link?

Should the state continue to pursue the plan for a North-South rail link?

YES

Cathy Buckley

Cathy Buckley

Waltham resident, chair of the Massachusetts Sierra Club

What does the North-South rail link have to do with MetroWest? It’s north-south, right? Yes. But by connecting our two separated rail systems, now ending at South Station and North Station, it would bring convenience to commuters in this region, too. You could board in Natick Center and get off at North Station for a game at the Garden. Or travel easily every day to your job at Mass. General.

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The proposed rail link is a pair of 1.5-mile rail tunnels filling the gap between our two major rail hubs. Its construction would reduce commuting times and traffic congestion and help Massachusetts achieve its greenhouse-gas reduction goals. A study predicted the rail link would reduce daily trips on our highways by 55,000. Removing tens of thousands of cars from the overcrowded highway system would reduce climate pollution by almost 600 tons of carbon dioxide daily.

The present $1 billion “solution” proposed for South Station train congestion adds a few more tracks and platforms without addressing the basic capacity problem. A similar expansion implemented two decades ago for the new South Shore service has done little to ease that congestion.

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As former governors Bill Weld and Mike Dukakis note, this is not another Big Dig. Rail link construction is done via automated tunnel-boring machines at a much lower cost and without the same kind of surface disruption to commuters, residents, or businesses.

To attract more users to the MBTA, we must have a system that addresses the needs of more people. This vital link will make a disjointed system whole. The rail link is a sane solution to the relentless increase of traffic into and out of South and North stations. It would unify the city’s two unconnected passenger-rail systems and efficiently distribute riders throughout downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods. It would close the only gap in the East Coast’s intercity rail system.

You will never hear anyone say “What is the point of Boston Common?” or “Why is there a Fitchburg Line?” Twenty-five years from now, no one will ask “Why did they connect North and South stations?” Unless we don’t. Then they will ask, “Why not?”

NO

David G. Tuerck

David G. Tuerck

Franklin resident, executive director, Beacon Hill Institute, and professor of economics at Suffolk University

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There is a fan base for every conceivable infrastructure project, no matter how high the cost and how uncertain the demand. Such is the case with the proposed rail link between North and South stations. The central purpose of the project is to make it possible for passengers to ride the rails between Portland, Maine, and points south without having to leave their seats.

The project is expected to cost $2 billion to $4 billion. Let’s do some cost comparisons to see how much sense an outlay like this might make. An Uber ride between the two stations costs about $7 with tip and takes about 12 minutes in normal traffic. Taking the subway runs at $2.65 per trip per rider and takes about a half-hour. A hearty traveler could walk the 1.14 miles for free.

Now let’s ask what it would cost so that the same traveler could ride the train down from Portland all the way to South Station. Well, to use some rough numbers, we can take the $2 billion low-end estimate and spread it over 20 years and come to an annualized cost of $100 million. In fiscal year 2014, 536,524 passengers rode on the Downeaster. We can safely assume that no more than 25 percent of those passengers had to make their way between the two stations. That’s 134,131 passengers at a cost of $746 per passenger. It would be far cheaper to drive the same passengers from Portland down to South Station and back up again by limousine.

The whole idea of a north-south rail link is absurd on its face. The state estimates there are 447 structurally deficient bridges and that needed bridge repairs would cost $14.4 billion. Studies also estimate that the state has 293 very hazardous dams, and 30 hazardous-waste sites. Other studies estimate that poor road conditions cost drivers $2.3 billion a year. There is every chance of a repeat of last winter’s commuter rail debacle. Instead of using our money to fund a new, unneeded infrastructure project, let’s use it to fix what we have now.

As told to Globe Correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com
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