Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
The MBTA says its new commuter rail schedules will improve service and cut down on delays, but customers and lawmakers are already blasting officials for eliminating trains and stops on certain lines.
Under the new schedules for trains that travel through North Station, some lines will lose trains, even as other lines gain them. That has angered riders who believe the MBTA should have been more forthcoming about the changes.
“Just call an apple an apple,” said Ellen P. Connolly, a Haverhill line rider. “Don’t tell me you’re doing schedule changes when you’re doing a schedule cut.”
The future schedules, set to go into effect Dec. 14, have already prompted lawmakers to send a letter to the MBTA and Keolis about their concerns for the Haverhill and Lowell lines, which will have fewer trains scheduled.
Overall, the MBTA’s commuter rail will operate two fewer trains in and out of North Station daily under the new schedules, according to Corey Lynch, deputy director of railroad operations at the MBTA.
He defended the schedules, saying every line will have just as many, if not more, trains operating during rush hour under the new schedules, he said. More trains will also be running the entire line, rather than just a portion of it.
“It’s going to cut options for some people,” said Lynch. “But it’s going to increase options for other people.”
The new schedules for the Newburyport/Rockport, Haverhill, Lowell, and Fitchburg lines were developed by HDR Engineering as part of a $330,000 contract to improve the commuter rail schedules. MBTA officials will release new schedules for trains that travel through South Station in the spring.
When the schedules were quietly released Monday, customers contacted the MBTA with their grievances almost immediately.
Jennifer Boettcher started a Change.org petition that asks the agency to reinstate a stop after officials revealed the new MBTA schedules would eliminate a 5:35 p.m. Wakefield stop on a Haverhill express train. More than 900 have since signed the petition.
While Wakefield commuters can still get dropped off at several other times during rush hour, she said many riders will find it difficult to change their schedules to make the other trains — and many of those trains are already packed.
“It really creates a hardship for a lot of working families,” said Boettcher, a Wakefield resident who estimates that at least 100 people get off at the Wakefield stop at 5:35 p.m.
Jason Lewis, a state senator whose district includes Wakefield and Malden, and other legislators recently expressed concern about such cuts to Keolis and the MBTA. Lewis said he was scheduled to meet with MBTA leaders soon.
“These changes are not minor inconveniences, particularly when it’s rush hour,” he said. “Commuters have very finely tuned schedules with work, their childcare arranagements, and their schools.”
Andy Monat, a Haverhill line commuter from Melrose, also said the new schedules will cut down on his options for going home later in the evening. There is currently at least one Reading- or Haverhill-bound train leaving North Station every hour after 6:30 p.m. With the new schedules, North Station commuters on the Haverhill line will often have to wait close to two hours between trains after rush hour.
“It makes it harder to depend on the the service overall,” Monat said. “If I end up having a work-related event at night, it’s a lot harder to know when I’ll be able to get home.”
John Steinberg, who takes a Newburyport/Rockport train from Swampscott, said riders were in an uproar last week. Nine Boston-bound trains now stop there during rush hour, but only seven will do so beginning in December. The numbers are the same for the Lynn and Chelsea stations.
“That is efficient if you are a train, but not if you are a commuter,” Steinberg said.
Some reverse commuters also took issue. Claire Bechman, who works in Salem, uses the Fitchburg and Newburyport lines to get home to Somerville. Soon, she will need to wait about half an hour more than usual between each leg of her trip.
Bechman said she was most upset that the MBTA did not seek input from customers before publishing the schedules.
“I think there should be a clear path to having public input on these things,” she said. “It shouldn’t just be that I submit a complaint to customer service, and they say ‘Thank you, your concern is noted.’”
Officials, however, say they did establish the new schedules with commuters in mind. The new Newburyport/Rockport schedules will provide more trains overall on the line, for example, and increase the number of morning rush-hour options for commuters in places such as Rockport.
“It’s understandable that individuals will have their own opinions on how service should be established,” said Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman. “But we have to look at the system as a whole and what we can do to benefit the greatest number of customers.”
The MBTA had been touting the schedule changes as a way to add more rush-hour trains and cut down on delays. Officials built in more time in between trains so that delays for one train won’t affect every other train that follows it.
Instead of making small tweaks to an existing schedule, officials were able to start completely from scratch, Lynch said. Officials say they had to start with entirely new schedules to better take advantage of their limitations, such as the available equipment.
But he also acknowledged that the changes may not be permanent.
“These tables aren’t going to be set in stone for the next 15 years,” Lynch said. “This is always a work in progress.”
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