Funds to design the Newtonville, West Newton, and Auburndale Commuter Rail Stations were approved at the Fiscal and Management Control Board meeting on Aug. 12. The design is for Alternative One, a plan that aims to make the stations more accessible.
A conceptual design will also be created in order to determine the cost and schedule of Alternative Two, which would build platforms on both sides of the track rather than just on the south side.
Architectural and engineering services have been hired for the designs. The preliminary designs are expected to be created between September 2019 and June 2020, with the final design slated to come out in July 2020.
The construction bid phase would run from August 2021 to November 2021, and construction would be planned for December 2021 until June 2024, according to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). This schedule is contingent upon all funding being secured before the construction contract bid phase, according to the MBTA.
The construction will increase passenger and system safety, improve railroad operations, improve customer experience, and help the MBTA reach reliability and modernization goals, according to Beth Larkin, assistant general manager for Capital Delivery in the MBTA. Larkin presented the proposal at the Fiscal and Management Control Board meeting. The cost of implementing Alternative One would be $46 million, including the $5 million allocated for design, Larkin said at the meeting.
The Newton commuter rail stations are currently inaccessible to people in wheelchairs, elderly people, or people with strollers because of the stairs required to get to the platform, said Kay Khan, the representative for Newton.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who spoke at the meeting, said that the staircases at the stations vary between 35 and 40 steps, some of which are wooden.
“Here’s the bottom line,” she said. “Vote yes today when you get the Newton item in front of you.”
Alternative Two would add a platform on the north side of the tracks in Newton, demolish the south side tracks, and rebuild. It would help with allowing the trains to increase in frequency. The Worcester-Framingham line is among the fastest growing in ridership, said Emily Norton, a city councilor for Newton.
The construction would cost $129 million because it would require builders to put in ramps and elevators on both sides of the platform, and there would need to be a structure to transport people from one side of the track to the other. The entire budget for stations in the five-year Capital Plan is $372 million. If Alternative Two is implemented, it will take up one-third of the budget for the next five years, said Stephanie Pollock, the secretary and CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Representatives from Newton and its government were in support of Alternative Two.
“The current single-line platforms are hampering service on the entire Worcester-Framingham line, and upgrading the stops in Newton to have platforms on both sides of the track would be an investment that would have benefits for the entire ridership,” Norton said.
Other riders complained that the single-side platform caused delays and stops were sometimes skipped.
“Reconstructing these stations as two-track facilities is an investment in reliability and modernization for the entire Worcester line,” said Garrett Wallman, who rides on that line.
The option for reverse-peak train services will also be explored, according to Larkin, even though increased service was not included as one of the goals of Alternative One and Two. The cost estimates for that service could be available in January or February, Larkin said.
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