By Adam Swift
Local legislators want to see the MBTA place a greater emphasis on electrification of its rail, bus, and subway systems in its latest capital improvement plan.
On Thursday, April 13, the MBTA held the last of its three public input sessions on a proposed FY 2024 to 2028 five-year capital improvement plan (CIP).
The public comment period on the draft plan, which includes 600 capital projects across 30 MBTA departments totalling $9.2 billion, is open through April 24. The MBTA board would then vote on a final draft of the CIP in May, according to T officials.
“Reliability and modernization investments account for the majority of the planned investments, representing $8.7 billion,” said Jillian Linnell, the Senior Director for Capital Program Planning at the MBTA. “There are also 10 expansion projects totalling just over half a billion dollars.”
Linnell noted that over the past five to seven years, the MBTA has dramatically increased its overall capital spending and that it continues to sustain an unprecedented level of investment focused on the safety and reliability of the system, the modernization of assets, and the strategic expansion of the network.
“Many of these capital investments have been in the works for a number of years and continue to produce real and significant improvements to the condition of the MBTA’s many assets,” she said. “Many of these are well known and underway investments, including the SouthCoast Rail, (Green Line expansion), fare transformation, a number of notable vehicle procurements such as the Red Line and Orange Line vehicles and the Green Line Type 10 vehicles, hybrid buses, and the bilevel commuter rail coaches.”
Also included in the CIP are the Quincy bus facility modernization project, the safety-critical Green Line train protection project, track and signal work, automatic train control implementation, and the North Street drawbridge replacement.
Linnell said the MBTA is also looking at additional funding of just under $1 billion in the CIP that was programmed across the five-year CIP window.
That money will be used to help fund a total of 78 programs, 43 of which are new.
Lynn State Senator Brendan Crighton, who chairs the Senate’s transportation committee, said he and several other local legislators in the MBTA’s environmental justice corridor will continue to push for the electrification and decarbonization of the MBTA fleets.
“Four years ago, I shared similar testimony before the fiscal management control board, which approved Phase 1 of the commuter rail electrification project, including the Fairmont Line,” said Crighton.
Crighton said electrification and decarbonization would especially affect the environmental justice corridor, which includes portions of the Newburyport-Rockport Line as well as the Providence Line.
“The benefits of decarbonizing our commuter rail network are many, we can take cars off the road, we can reduce emissions, improve public health outcomes, and create easier access to jobs by modernizing and electrifying our system,” said Crighton. “We can improve reliability, frequency, and affordability, which will help bring riders back to the commuter rail.”
While the CIP creates a section related to regional rail, Crighton said the modest funding shows no specifics around the funding for Phase 1 of the regional rail electrification project.
“We don’t know the specific investments that will be made in the next five years to move this important effort forward,” said Crighton. “This document only includes generic language for future rolling stock and rail transformation planning studies. A CIP should be a declaration of the MBTA’s short-term goals and long-term vision.”
Crighton said he would also like to see more progress on the decarbonization of the MBTA’s bus fleet.
“I know the T is very much committed to this effort,” said Crighton. “This document includes funding to support the bus electrification strategy with a target completion of 2040, but for both rail and bus decarbonization efforts, we would like to see more effort and a more specific breakdown of these investments in this CIP.”
Crighton also stated that while track power, signal, and communication upgrades have been a priority in recent years and a lot of funding has gone toward work that is vital for addressing the backlog to keep the system in good repair, there are still speed restrictions and slow zones along the subway lines.
“We would like to see this document include an update on the scope of work that has been completed, what additional work needs to be done, and the schedule for the remaining work,” said Crighton. “Our riders deserve to know when they can expect a system running at full speed again.”
Crighton said many of the concerns he addressed were submitted previously in a letter signed by legislators in the environmental justice corridor, including state Senators Sal DiDomenico, Lydia Edwards, and Joan Lovely and state Representatives Dan Cahill, Jessica Giannino, Peter Capano, Dan Ryan, Donald Wong, Manny Cruz, and Jennifer Armini.
MBTA’s senior director of rail transformation, Alistair Sawers, said the T is making a major investment and outreach to look at new equipment to decarbonize. He noted that any investment in diesel locomotives is for repair work to existing trains to keep service running as it is now.
“We fully plan to invest in an electric fleet,” Sawers said.