This commuter rail station is not for you (unless you work for GE)
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LYNN — Two stops north of Boston, commuter rail trains chug past a barren stretch of cracked concrete bordering the old River Works station here. The trains only stop for employees of the nearby General Electric Co. aviation plant.
There is no parking lot, no crowd of commuters clutching coffee. On any given day just 65 riders disembark at the private GE station along the Newburyport-Rockport line, according to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. GE employees going to work have to ask the conductor to stop, and returning home they flag the train down from a bare-bones platform, flanked by weeds and chain-link fencing.
It's the only station of its kind in the system, dedicated to a single employer, and harks back to when thousands of workers flocked to the GE factories that once surrounded the stop.
GE opened the station 50 years ago, according to the T, and the industrial giant owned the land around it. In the 1980s, it had 13,000 workers in Lynn. Today, there are about 3,000, and the Gear Works factory on one side of the tracks is long gone.
Now, a Swampscott developer who bought that 65 acres from GE is pressing to have the MBTA open the station to the public. Charles Patsios has proposed a nearly half-billion-dollar complex of 1,250 apartments that, with expanded transit service, could boost Lynn's status as a community with quick access to downtown Boston.
"By the time you're done with your cup of coffee," Patsios said, "you're at North Station."
Patsios is betting big on Lynn, his wife's hometown and a seaside city that's overdue, he argues, to emerge from the bad old days.
He's pitching "transit-oriented" apartment living for millennials, with restaurants, a gym, and proximity to walking and biking trails and beaches. Visible in the distance, beyond the copious electrical wires and the remaining GE smokestacks, is the Boston skyline.
"It's a pretty massive undertaking," Patsios said, and, he suggests, an antidote to Boston's luxury condo binge. "This allows accessibility for many, instead of a privileged few."
The cash-strapped MBTA, which is raising fares and cutting late-night service, is unlikely to have money for such a project. New Balance, for instance, is paying $20 million to build a station in Brighton near its headquarters and has pledged to handle maintenance for at least a decade.
Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said the agency has had talks with Lynn officials, GE executives, and other business people about how the state can help. But no one has made any financial pledges.
Lynn has another commuter rail stop downtown and bus lines and ferry service to Boston.
In November, the Baker administration launched a task force on Lynn's economic development that includes city, state, and federal officials, among them Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and local congressman Seth Moulton.
Moulton is trying to get federal assistance for Lynn's economic plans that may help the train station project, people briefed on his efforts said.
"We are working closely with public and private stakeholders on numerous economic development opportunities in Lynn, including opening the River Works stop to the public,'' a Moulton spokeswoman said.
A number of forces have brought Patsios to this place. GE, which is moving its corporate headquarters to Boston, has since 2013 relinquished 100 acres of largely abandoned land in Lynn after decades of downsizing. Patsios also purchased another GE property downtown where a Market Basket grocery is being built.
GE is still responsible for snow removal and maintenance at the station, spokesman Seth Martin said. It has provided easements to Patsios for access to the station.
Financing even this deep into the real estate boom remains plentiful, Patsios said, with large investors touting their interest in developments near transit.
Opening the station to the public would require making it accessible to people with disabilities, while the platforms, connecting roads, and parking areas need significant work.
State Senator Thomas McGee, a Democrat who represents Lynn and serves on the task force, also wants the T to move ahead with a long-planned extension of the Blue Line that would include a stop at River Works. However, the T is already scaling back another ambitious expansion, the Green Line through Somerville.
"I get that the T is struggling," McGee said during a recent visit to the station with Patsios. "But we have to have a broader discussion about what the T means to this district."
Patsios has not yet said how much he would charge for his units.
"You want to fill them," he said. "So you're not going be greedy."