Thursday, October 02, 2008

More Wormtown Choo-choos

For a few minutes, today's press announcement had the makings of another MBTA joke. At 10:06 a.m. the 10:00 a.m. function had not started and such notables as Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and U.S. Sen. John Kerry were not there.

That might not be an issue — most pols are notoriously late. However, this was in South Station and it was to announce more, better train service from and to Worcester. The big shots were taking the train from Wormtown after doing their do there a couple hours earlier.

It did not rise to the stereotypical jokes about MBTA skeds. The P518 actually had an arrival time of 10 and the guys strode in together by ten after. In fairness, photographers and reporters had slowed them from the platform too.

Our man Murray (the less tall of the pair above) went directly to the podium and immediately started. He was in his low-key style. Anyone who's met him sees quickly that he has an almost Midwestern humility and calmness. I try to imagine him raising his voice for any reason other than to warn someone of imminent disaster.

He spoke quietly and didn't brag. He could have though, but he let Kerry (the less short of the pair) speak for him on that.

Kerry noted that long before Murray became lieutenant governor, he was deeply into improving transportation, particularly trains for both humans and freight. As Worcester city councilor, then mayor and now in the State House, Murray has aimed for such deal as today's.

The Telegram has all the details, but the key ones include:
  • As of 10/27, five more Boston-Framingham commuter trains will go on to Worcester daily. That's Worcester to Boston from 10 to 13 and the other way from 10 to 12.
  • The state will at some point purchase CSX' rights to the Boston-Worcester line.
  • By next June, the state will buy the CSX' rights to the New Bedford-Fall River line.
  • The state will elevate some bridges over the main line between N.Y. State and I-495, and CSX will lower the tracks in those areas. Together, this will allow CSX to run their double-stack freights along the whole line.
  • The deal is worth $100 million, was four years in the making, and should be completed by 2012.
As a candidate for his current office, Murray caught my ear when he spoke of such deals when campaigning. His vision of fast, inexpensive and frequent train service is what most European and Asian nations have enjoyed for a long time. Here on the most obvious level, that would mean fewer motor vehicles on the road, with less congestion, pollution, wasted time, road accidents and on and on.

The real benefits go to what Kerry said is a vision "of how we're going to grow and live." He spoke as Murray the candidate did of trains that go from where people work to where they live. This will give companies and employees much greater flexibility of where they work and where they buy their homes. This would be a huge benefit to towns and cities without real mass transit and distant from business and manufacturing centers. As a side effect, it should increase sales of more affordable homes in these areas.

In that vein, Kerry got to be his usual cocky self. In truth, he had particular reason to be. The Senate had tossed its much improved bailout bill over the wall to the House. It was not the panicked, whatever-you-say version that the Bush administration had tried to frighten Congress into passing.

Moreover, he noted that yesterday they also passed a $13 billion bill to bolster Amtrak. We are still a far cry from the European and Japanese high-speed trains, but these investments work toward that. They also dovetail with deals like the one with CSX.

Kerry was the best entertainment in the brief conference, reflecting his ebullience. He called the Bush bailout version a way of protecting "too many foxes (that have been) guarding the hen house and they were put there on purpose." He got to answer the obligatory question about tonight's VP debate. He couldn't restrain a chuckle and managed to hold it down to saying that the bar had been considerably lowered for one of the candidates.

No one asked what the state or country money troubles would mean for such efforts. Apparently this effort is funded for the purchase and expanded train service. We just heard that the state will ask departments to trim their budgets by 7% to reflect lowered expected tax revenue. Beyond that we can't know yet and it may be up to Tim Murray and others to keep track of and focus on moving us away from cars and into trains and other mass transit.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the description of the press event for those of us who couldn't be there.