The launch of the MBTA’s new commuter rail service to Foxborough now faces a hefty delay to fall 2019 because of work needed to bring older tracks up to speed.
The 11-month pilot service, with nine trips each weekday, was supposed to be up and running soon, but track work is taking longer than originally expected, officials said.
The MBTA occasionally runs service to Gillette Stadium for major events such as New England Patriots games. But because of outdated tracks approaching the stadium, those trains must run at a maximum speed of just 10 miles an hour. Replacing those tracks and signals will allow trains to run much faster, between 40 and 45 miles per hour and possibly as high as 60.
“This ongoing infrastructure work is necessary not only for the commuter rail pilot but also for freight service and passenger trains that serve multiple events at Gillette Stadium annually,” MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.
The Kraft Group, which owns the stadium and the Patriots, has long coveted daily commuter service.
The Krafts thought they reached a deal with the MBTA in 2014, under former governor Deval Patrick, but in its first year in office, the Baker administration hit pause on the plan in 2015 to refine it. In 2017, the agency agreed to test the service for nearly a year before deciding whether to extend it. The T has said it will cost about $1.5 million, and the Krafts will contribute $452,000.
While the Krafts and town officials in Foxborough have pushed for the commuter service, it’s been poorly received in two other communities.
Officials in neighboring Walpole don’t want the added trains running through their town; the rail line currently hosts just freight trains and trains for the occasional Gillette Stadium event. Meanwhile, in Boston, the Foxborough service will also run along the same tracks as the commuter rail’s Fairmount Line, and activists worry it could lead to worse service for riders. Any breakdown or overcrowding in Foxborough, they say, would have a cascading effect on the Fairmount Line, the only commuter line that runs entirely within the city of Boston.
The MBTA believes the service could be a net benefit because it will open up 500 new parking spaces for commuters at Gillette and potentially take some cars off the road. The T’s other commuter rail lots southwest of the city often fill up.
At the same time, however, officials are also projecting the Foxborough service would have just 160 new riders a day, arguing that won’t lead to crowding on the Fairmount Line.