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Rhode Island asks MBTA for express commuter trains to Boston

A commuter rail train approaches the station in Wickford Junction, R.I. Rhode Island officials would like to see the MBTA launch express trains from the state to Boston — a move the T says would be difficult to pull off.
Steve Szydlowski/The Providence Journal/File
A commuter rail train approaches the station in Wickford Junction, R.I. Rhode Island officials would like to see the MBTA launch express trains from the state to Boston — a move the T says would be difficult to pull off.

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is asking the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to run express commuter trains between Providence and Boston, but the agency says it would be difficult.

Express service is not currently offered on the Providence/Stoughton commuter rail line. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said it would be difficult to introduce express service before South Station in Boston is expanded, because the trains would need room to arrive and depart.

Amtrak offers Acela service between Providence and Boston. But Rhode Island officials say the northbound express trains don’t run frequently enough, especially in the morning, when more Amtrak trains are headed south, toward Connecticut and New York.

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The Democratic governor said she’s reaching out to the MBTA to see what can be done. The dialogue, though moving slowly, is ongoing, Raimondo said.

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‘‘They haven’t committed to anything and I don’t want to get over my skis, but it’s something that I think would really help Rhode Islanders,’’ she said.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation says it’s reviewing schedules and costs to see if off-peak express service can be added after 9 a.m., since South Station is at capacity during peak hours. An express train is expected to save 10 minutes, the department said.

It currently takes over an hour to travel the approximately 40 miles between Providence and Boston on the commuter rail line. Commuter rail lines south of Boston end at already congested South Station.

The Federal Railroad Administration is reviewing a draft environmental assessment for the South Station expansion project, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. In it, 2025 was used as an approximate opening year, assuming funding is available and that the Postal Service facility next to South Station is relocated, and 2035 would be when the changes would have maximum impact. It’s the most heavily used passenger rail facility in New England.

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Typical weekday ridership on the Providence/Stoughton commuter line is about 25,000, the MBTA says. Not all trains stop at each station. Some make about half the stops.

Raimondo said she has not spoken with Connecticut officials about extending the Metro-North Commuter Railroad into Rhode Island. It runs trains to New York City.