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RI TRANSPORTATION

New MBTA commuter rail stop opens in Pawtucket

Somewhere between Providence and Pawtucket, Rhode Island Treasurer James Diossa, left, chats with Governor Dan McKee on the inaugural commuter rail ride Monday from Providence Station to the new Pawtucket-Central Falls Transit Center.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — For the first time in decades, commuter train service started up again in Pawtucket Monday with the opening of the Pawtucket-Central Falls Transit Center.

The long-awaited $63 million center will serve as a stop on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s commuter rail, and as a hub for RIPTA bus service.

Passengers wait in the drizzle Monday at the new Pawtucket-Central Falls Transit Center. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

About a dozen public officials and their staffers marked the occasion by crowding onto the 9:15 a.m. train out of Providence Station for the six-minute, one-stop trip north to Pawtucket/Central Falls. (They opted not to take the very first train, at 4:15 a.m.) When the conductor announced the name of the new stop over the intercom, they whooped, and when they stepped out onto the cold and rainy platform in Pawtucket, Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti pronounced his verdict.

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“On time!” he said.

The new station, at 300 Pine St., will help connect people in Pawtucket, Central Falls, and the surrounding area to the Boston area, where the train ends (or begins, depending on your perspective) at South Station.

Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos steps off the commuter rail Monday, after arriving at the new Pawtucket-Central Falls Transit Center. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

It will also connect people within Rhode Island. It’s unclear how many riders will take the six-minute run from Pawtucket to Providence, or further south to the airport in Warwick, or to Wickford Junction, but there were already a few on Monday, including Providence resident Mark Moreno, who waited in the cold drizzle on the platform after the ceremony. It would have been better to have more indoor waiting space, Moreno said, but this way of getting around avoided traffic headaches and was better for the environment.

“It’ll be very convenient,” Moreno said.

Doug Valeri lives nearby and owns Top Shelf Vintage Co. at 35 Exchange St. Wearing a 1970s-era corduroy Pawtucket Red Sox hat, he was taking images of the tracks from the walkway overpass Monday morning, excited about what the station would mean for the area.

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“I’m hoping more people will be visiting Pawtucket,” Valeri said.

Ryan Coholan, the MBTA’s chief railroad officer, said his wife sent him a social media post in which people were planning to make a trip from Providence to some of the breweries in Pawtucket. It was TOD, the post said. Not transit-oriented development, an abbreviation for a style of development that emphasizes dense, walkable neighborhoods with easy access to trains and buses. Transit-oriented drinking. “I think it’s a great resource,” Coholan said.

There’s more work to come in the general area. RIPTA is also planning a bus passenger facility there, which will have bathrooms for drivers and the public, an indoor waiting area with seating, device charging stations, and real-time passenger information screens. Governor Dan McKee proposed $5 million in funding for it in last year’s budget, which was approved by the General Assembly. The proposed facility is expected to be designed before the end of the year, RIPTA said. But RIPTA is moving its transit center, and several of its routes, from Roosevelt Avenue to the new station on Pine Street.

A crowd listens to speeches outside the new Pawtucket-Central Falls Transit Center Monday, its first day of operation. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

There were some early kinks to work out. Trying to buy a ticket on the MBTA’s app for Pawtucket trips was only working for weekend packages, not single fares.

A one-way inter-zone ticket between Pawtucket/Central Falls and Providence costs $2.75. The station will be in zone 8, the same as Providence. Forty trains will stop at Pawtucket/Central Falls on weekdays, half inbound and half outbound. The station will be on the MBTA’s Providence/Stoughton line. The commuter rail is operated by Keolis.

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The opening day festivities included a speaking program under a tent, where there were more dignitaries who got up to say just a few words than there are stops between Pawtucket and Boston.

“This transportation hub will improve community health by revitalizing mills in the area, creating housing opportunities, improving education outcomes, and spurring economic growth, all while cultivating civic pride,” said state Treasurer James Diossa, the former Central Falls mayor who now lives in Pawtucket.

The speaking program did not include any representatives from the company that led construction on the project, Massachusetts-based Barletta Heavy Division, or Attorney General Peter Neronha, who charged the company and a top former official last week with taking contaminated soil from the Pawtucket/Central Falls project and using it at the 6/10 interchange project. Contaminated fill was also taken to the 6/10 project from a site in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, Neronha alleged.

Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti, center left, and US Senator Jack Reed converse Monday after arriving at the new Pawtucket-Central Falls Transit Center.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

In an interview while waiting for the train in Providence, Alviti, the DOT director, said he was “not a happy person” when he found out about the charges.

When reports first emerged about the contamination, Alviti had initially dismissed them, but he said Monday that he was relying on what turned out to be falsified information.

“My reaction evolved as I got the information,” Alviti said, noting that it was people within DOT who first brought the matter to the attention of environmental and law enforcement authorities.

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Barletta has vehemently denied Neronha’s charges, laying out its defense at length in a more than 800-word statement. Alviti said the state was waiting to see how the criminal case will play out before assessing the state’s relationship with Barletta, which is also involved in the Washington and Henderson bridge projects.

“We can’t presuppose a verdict,” he said.


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.