The state, and not the MBTA, will pick up the estimated $1 billion tab for the first phase of extending commuter rail service from Boston through Middleborough to New Bedford and Fall River — with diesel trains now projected to begin running on the new routes by late 2023.
The long-stalled project had been scheduled to provide train service to the South Coast starting in 2022 and can now move ahead, having received its final federal permit and secured a finance plan, according to an April 22 statement from the Department of Transportation.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the state would finance the project by issuing a combination of bonds under an existing Rail Enhancement Program.
“The MBTA will not be required to provide any capital funding or issue any revenue bonds that might otherwise impact the MBTA’s future operating budget,” Pollack said.
“We are now well on our way to offering passenger rail service to the South Coast in a few short years with the financing secure, major permits in hand, and infrastructure being built,” she said.
Governor Charles Baker praised the announcement, saying, “providing rail service between the South Coast and Boston will increase access to economic opportunities in both regions. After decades of promised service, [this] moves the project further than it’s ever been before, and our administration is proud to continue advancing South Coast Rail.”
The first phase of the project includes reconstructing 29 miles of rail line, upgrading 7.1 miles of existing track, building two new train layover facilities — one in Fall River and one in New Bedford — and building six new stations.
The MBTA has said it will run three commuter trains in the morning and three in the evening on both the New Bedford and Fall River branches of the new line. The trips to and from Boston are expected to take about 90 minutes.
The state ultimately plans to spend $3.4 billion on the second phase of the project, which involves extending service through Stoughton on electric trains and building another four stations. No timeline was set for that work.
Supporters of South Coast Rail say it will be an economic boon for the region, which last had train service in the 1950s.
Opponents, including Middleborough officials, have said the project is too expensive and worry that station parking lots will create traffic problems and threaten local wells.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.