West

Acton

Fitchburg commuter line improvements to be finished by end of 2015

Planned improvements along the Fitchburg/South Acton commuter-rail line will continue this year as the state is on track to complete the $277 million project by the end of 2015.

The MBTA and its consultant briefed lawmakers and business leaders last week as officials gear up for work this spring on several bridges and signal systems. Work will also continue on the replacement station in South Acton, and a new station in West Fitchburg and layover facility in Westminster.

Democratic state Senator Jamie Eldridge of Acton, who attended the briefing, said he’s pleased with the progress. He said he’s excited to see the work on schedule to end within two years so commuters traveling to Boston, and jobs along Route 2 and Interstate 495, will have a more viable and reliable public transportation option.

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“What they outlined for us is that the entire commuter line will be done by 2015,’’ he said. “That’s the goal.’’

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The massive state and federal project along the 50-mile corridor of the T’s Fitchburg/South Acton Line calls for new tracks, signals, stations, and bridges. Officials say the improvements will reduce trip times, provide more scheduling flexibility, and improve service reliability along the commuter-rail route, which is among the oldest and slowest in the state.

According to a PowerPoint presentation provided by the MBTA, 8 miles of new double-tracking have been completed. A new station has been built at the Littleton/495 stop, and a new parking garage was recently finished in North Leominster. Signal upgrades and bridge work have started in many locations, with additional work scheduled for this year.

Eldridge said the additional parking in Littleton has gone over so well that town officials there are looking to build a garage with 200 more spaces.

He said between the new parking in Leominster and Littleton, and planned spaces in Ayer and at the new Wachusett Station in Fitchburg, there will be an additional 1,000 parking spots available along the line when the work is done.

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“The thing that really struck me is that, in addition to the general improvements to the commuter rail and train stations, one of the more exciting things is there will be dramatically more parking at these stations,’’ Eldridge said. “You’re talking 1,000 more parking spots west of South Acton, and that is key to reducing congestion into Boston and helping us do our part to reduce global warming.’’

However, parking is expected to remain tight in Acton, said David Martin, chairman of the South Acton Train Station Advisory Committee. Martin said town officials are looking into providing additional spaces for the commuter-rail station and the proposed Assabet River Rail Trail, which will end nearby, but nothing is planned.

“Parking is a big problem for a lot of commuters,’’ Martin said. “We don’t have any magic solutions.’’

Work is continuing on the new train station that is being constructed in South Acton, though Martin said it is about six months behind schedule. The new inbound platform is now expected to open in the fall instead of this spring, and the rest is expected to be done in early 2015.

Also continuing this year will be bridge work along the line, some of which got underway last year. Like last year, some of the work will lead to the suspension of weekend train service. According to the MBTA, weekend service along the line will be suspended from April through November. Also, starting in August, bridge work in Concord will require some adjustments to the weekday train schedule, though Martin said he expects them to be minor.

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A spokeswoman for the MBTA said updates and reminders will be announced ahead of time to prepare commuters for the changes.

Martin said no one was happy about the schedule’s changes last year, but said they were announced well ahead of time so people could plan for them.

He said commuters are eager to have the work done so they can experience faster trip times and more flexible schedules.

“We’re really looking forward to the improved train service and reliability,’’ he said. “Everyone is curious to see how the new schedule works out, but we have to live with this for a couple more years.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@ yahoo.com.