Metro, The T, Newton

MBTA Plans to Improve Accessibility at Three Commuter Rail Stations in Newton

The MBTA announced its plans to reconstruct three commuter rail systems on the Worcester Line in Auburndale, West Newton, and Newtonville. The 30-percent design, which includes the conceptual design and preliminary engineering, will improve accessibility for riders with disabilities and accommodate for bidirectional service, according to the MBTA. 

At these three stations now, the low-level platforms on Track 2 can only be accessed by stairways, according to the MBTA website. The improvements include two fully accessible and elevated platforms at each station. The project also involves modification to the Walnut Street Bridge at Newtonville Station. 

“The updated stations will be fully accessible,” Lisa Battiston, deputy press secretary of the MBTA, wrote in an email to The Heights. “Both platforms [will] have two accessible means of access. The designs incorporate accessible access to the station for pedestrians, parking, drop-off, and The Ride.” 

Battiston also said the two-side platform design is necessary to provide high-frequency and bidirectional services. Without platforms on both tracks, trains would need to bypass the Auburndale, West Newton, and Newtonville stations, according to Battiston. 

The planned construction is estimated to take five years and the MBTA is in the process of securing funding for the project, Battiston said. As of now, Battiston said the project does not have construction funding. 

At Auburndale Station accessibility upgrades include sloped walkway connections to the Auburn St. parking lot, sidewalk, and pick-up and drop-off area; a ramp connecting the Auburn Street Bridge to the station; and elevator and stair connections between the station platforms, according to the MBTA website. 

Accessibility improvements at West Newton Station involve elevator and stair connection from the Washington St. sidewalk to the station, elevator and ramp connection between the Washington St. parking lot and pick-up and drop-off area to the station, a sloped pedestrian walkway form the Webster St. parking lot to the station, and elevator and stair connection between the station platforms. 

Similar improvements are planned for Newtonville Station, including an elevator and stair connection from the Washington St. sidewalk and the pick-up and drop-off area and elevator and stair connection between the station platforms. 

The current single-platform design only allows for one direction of travel at a time. With a single track, trains traveling in the opposite direction cannot stop in Newton. An original design plan for these stations to improve accessibility was presented in 2019, but involved a single-platform design. 

“Finally, the MBTA is addressing the significant design flaws so residents, employees and visitors will have frequent, accessible rail service from all three stations, [which are] each such an important part of these village centers and the surrounding neighborhoods,” Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller wrote in a statement on Oct. 7.

In a letter to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, Fuller criticized the gaps in the commuter rail schedule on the Worcester Line in April 2021. In the letter she said that the one-sided platform at the three stations is a serious and ongoing problem that causes limited service. 

Since the letter, Poftak and Jamey Tesler, secretary of transportation and CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, committed to funding a 100-percent design, which includes a detailed engineering design of the three stations, according to Fuller. 

“We still have a long way to go, but we finally have real progress,” Fuller said. “The MBTA is indicating that construction on all three rail stations could be completed in seven years. (Accessible platforms on the northside of the tracks at all three stations could be completed even sooner.).” 

Featured Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

October 17, 2021