It’s a strange quirk in the MBTA’s commuter rail system, a train stop in Lynn reserved exclusively for workers at an adjacent General Electric plant. But with a huge new housing development underway next door, the River Works station is expected to finally be open to the public.
Or, at least, that was the plan announced by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation last spring.
The station is an unusual opportunity for the transit agency to add a stop at a time of near-constant requests for new service from riders and communities. The stop — which officials predict could receive frequent trains because of its proximity to Boston — would also be upgraded with private money.
But now there’s considerable confusion among the state, the housing developer, and advocacy groups about when, or even if, the station will be ready for new riders.
A deal with the state gave the developer access to the train stop for residents of his buildings if he paid to fix up the stop, but it does not specify when he would have to make the stop available to the broader public. And that has some advocates concerned River Works will remain a private rail stop — only now for the residents of the 1,260-unit development.
“Our objection is to the concept of restricting access to an MBTA station to only people who can afford to live in a gated community,” said Rafael Mares, a vice president with the Conservation Law Foundation. “I think it’s a little stomach turning, if you think about the idea, that there would be a private station.”
A memorandum of understanding between developer Charles Patsios and the state in April said “residents, guests, employees, and other users” of his property could use the station if he paid millions of dollars to upgrade it, before it later opens to the public. Other environmental documents filed for the project noted that the station would at first open “for its residents.”
Patsios and state officials both said they are committed to opening the station to the public “as quickly as possible.”
“There isn’t anything here that would indicate that we want an only-private stop. It couldn’t be further from the truth,” Patsios said.
At issue appears to be confusion over the timing of construction at both the housing project and the new station.
Plans call for the development on 65 acres along Rumney Marshes to be built in phases over five years, between now and 2023. Patsios said he is waiting on the state transportation department to complete its design and cost estimate for the station, which officials say won’t be more clear until the spring. Right now, River Works station is little more than a patch of beat-up concrete alongside railroad tracks.
Getting to the stop will also be a problem. The only way in now is through private property on either side. Patsios is planning a gated road for residents that would be off-limits to the public. But there’s confusion about a second road for the public. Massachusetts transportation official Scott Bosworth said the land for the access road will first be used as a construction staging area.
That was news to Patsios. He is hoping the public road will be open earlier in the process. “My intention is that that road is open,” he said.
Mares said Patsios could simply allow the public to access the station through the planned gated road . Patsios said that would clog the site with traffic.
Bosworth stressed a final agreement could work out the timing so River Works is not off-limits to the public for a lengthy period. Patsios said it will become more clear when the public will get to use River Works when his development gets closer to taking off.
“We have to have the egg to get to the chicken,” he said. “It’s not far enough along for people to have a clear understanding.”