MBTA to make permanent 8 extra weekday trains on Fairmount Line

Maria J. Smith

Local

“What’s clear is this has worked.”

Patrick D. Rosso for Boston.com
  • Marty Walsh says improving this MBTA line could be a ‘game-changer’ for parts of Boston

The additional eight weekday trips added to the MBTA Commuter Rail’s Fairmount Line under a pilot program in 2020 are now here to stay, agency officials announced Tuesday.

The extra service has increased frequency, effectively ensuring a train arrives every 45 minutes, on what is the system’s only Commuter Rail line to be fully within Boston city limits, from South Station through the city’s southern neighborhoods and into Hyde Park’s Readville.

“These additional trips make the service more convenient,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said during a press conference. “They alleviate what is a very lengthy commute using some of our other services and they do it on this fantastic, fast commuter rail line.”

Tuesday’s announcement marked the culmination of decades of work for some transit advocates and local leaders, who say the expanded service is transformative in its ability to better connect Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, and Hyde Park to jobs and other economic opportunities downtown and vice-versa.

“It is fundamental with all the other investments we’re making in affordable housing, in climate infrastructure, in green jobs, in schools. People have to be able to get where they need to go to access any and all of that,” Mayor Michelle Wu said. “And so this is really fundamental that today, we no longer have to worry if this will continue on in the future. It is here to stay.”

Additionally, as part of the continuation of extra service, the MBTA will make permanent other perks explored during the pilot program, such as the option for Fairmount Line riders to pay their fare using CharlieCards. Fairmount riders also can transfer for free to the red and silver lines and local bus service in Zone 1A stations.

Beginning on May 23, riders with bicycles will also be allowed to bring their bikes onboard around-the-clock, every day. Bicycles are typically only allowed at certain times, except on Greenbush, Kingston, and Middleborough/Lakeville-bound trains, where they are allowed at all times.

The Fairmount Line’s expanded service pilot program was a joint effort by the MBTA and the City of Boston that was first unveiled in 2019.

Then-Mayor Marty Walsh said the approach would be a “game-changer” for residents and riders.

“One-fifth of Boston’s population lives along the nine-mile route of the Fairmount Line,” Walsh, now U.S. Secretary of Labor, said at the time. “Eighty-three percent of those residents are residents of color. They need and deserve better service. They’ve been fighting — quite honestly — for better service for decades. And we have an opportunity now to make sure that becomes a reality.”

So far, riders seem to be taking advantage of the increased service: Poftak said the Fairmount Line’s ridership return amid the COVID-19 pandemic has outpaced other branches of the transit system. The Fairmount Line has currently attracted about 70 percent of its pre-pandemic weekly ridership, he said.

“What’s clear is this has worked, there is room to grow,” MassDOT Secretary Jamey Tesler said Tuesday. “There is demand here together and we will build on this.”

Marilyn Forman, president of the Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition, with her excitement evident, praised the system’s ability to now shuttle riders from the edges of the city to the downtown core quickly and without a flurry of T and bus transfers.

But Forman and others have set their sights next on lowering the 45-minute window between trains, with the hope to someday have trains arriving in intervals of 15 minutes.

“We’ve come this far by faith, but we still have far to go and so I’m going to extend my hand and ask you to grab it and let’s do this together,” Forman said. “Let’s continue to build to make this community what we want it to be.”

On Tuesday, Keolis Commuter Services, which operates the Commuter Rail, also announced its spring/summer schedule will take hold on May 23.

The latest schedule will continue the new “clock face format” launched last year to provide consistent service throughout the day on all lines, Keolis said in a statement.

Other updates include the return of express service on the Worcester Line to Boston, which will allow passengers to travel between the two cities in about an hour, Keolis said. The agency also announced mid-day service to Foxboro on the Franklin/Foxboro line.

“The schedule update allows us to leverage recent investments made by the MBTA, plan for upcoming infrastructure improvements, and respond to input from the communities we serve to improve service for our passengers,” Keolis CEO Abdellah Chajai said in a statement.

Keolis also said for the first time in over two years, passengers on the Newburyport/Rockport Line will be able to board trains between Rockport and Beverly stations when the Gloucester Drawbridge reopens on May 23.

Regular service on that line is expected to resume on June 6, although “passengers should anticipate periodic adjustments for ongoing signal work,” Keolis said.

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