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Should the state continue to pursue plans for a North-South Rail Link?


Tom Treat

Salisbury resident, Massachusetts Sierra Club volunteer leader

Tom Treat.handout

The North-South Rail Link, a tunnel to connect North Station to South Station, would promote fuel conservation, reduce traffic congestion and stress on the highway infrastructure, boost the economy, reduce air pollution and commute times, increase rail efficiency, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposed tunnel would link the already busy Northeast rail routes and ease daily MBTA commuter passenger trips. The 1.5-mile tunnel between Boston's two commuter rail hubs would connect Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line to the south with the Downeaster line to the north. It also would provide commuter rail passengers a mass transit connection between the two halves of the city now accessible only with multiple transfers.


When making trips into Boston as a North Shore resident, I have to study the available commuter options to decide if the transfers and line changes required to reach my destination fit the time I have to make the trip. For many destinations beyond the North Station area, it is frequently easier to just drive and become one more single person car on the road with all its associated inefficiencies.

A state study found that the North-South Rail Link would "result in the daily diversion of more than 54,000 auto trips to more environment-friendly commuter rail – a reduction of more than 1 million vehicle miles each business day and a travel-time savings of 16 million hours annually" while also reducing reliance on other forms of public transportation by more than 91,000 daily trips. By removing tens of thousands of cars from the highways every day, we can significantly reduce pollution.

The proposed Rail Link, projected by former governors Michael Dukakis and William Weld to cost $2 billion to $4 billion, would stimulate the economy and create jobs. Construction industry specialists estimate that the project would create more than 13 million man-hours of construction work, in addition to supporting thousands more jobs in related industries.


I can't help but look enviously at the modern, efficient rail systems in other areas of the country and world. For Boston to compete with other cities, both nationally and internationally, we must invest in infrastructure projects that will propel it into the 21st century as a clean, healthy, efficient, and accessible destination.


Frank Conte

Wakefield resident, director of communications at the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University

Frank Conte.handout

In Massachusetts, bad ideas never die. They are often repackaged by boosters despite outright opposition and prudent skepticism. The North-South Rail Link, a putative "mini-Big Dig," is one such idea.

Recently, former governors Michael Dukakis and William Weld made a well-publicized pitch to Governor Charlie Baker for the elusive missing rail link. The proposed project would connect two commuter hubs, provide a direct link for Amtrak traffic, and free up real estate for development. Estimates of a price tag range from $2 billion to $4 billion.

Governor Baker is right to be cautious about committing already limited resources to this project. He would also be wise to focus on other, more pressing infrastructure needs.

The state is still recovering from the financial drain of the Big Dig, a project whose inconvenient lessons seem to be lost upon the North-South Rail Link supporters. Despite the overblown costs, few would agree that the region's traffic problems have improved commensurate with the Big Dig price tag and post-construction problems. According to US Census figures, travel time to work into Boston has not improved.


In his famous studies reviewing 258 infrastructure projects over 70 years, the Danish scholar Bent Flyvbjerg found that nine out of every 10 projects went over budget. In another study, he found that mass transit projects do not meet the goals of higher ridership. In the age of Uber and Zipcar — and coming soon driverless cars — should the state take the gamble that it can remove 55,000 cars from the road by building the rail link? Can it be sure there will be more Amtrak riders?

When compared with other projects that would better improve the state's competitiveness and tap the state's solid bond rating, the North-South Rail Link fails. The condition of the state's roads and bridges ranks mediocre and needs to improve. The Massachusetts School Building Authority received 158 funding requests for new or refurbished schools in fiscal 2015 alone. A natural gas pipeline (or better access to other energy conveyances) would provide a broader economic boost and help us to retain high tech manufacturing.

The benefits of all these projects individually outweigh the train dreams of two former governors and the irrepressible impulse "to think big."

Globe correspondent John Laidler solicited opinions for this exchange. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.