Open main menu

South Coast Rail is a project to build a new southern line of the MBTA Commuter Rail system along several abandoned and freight-only rail lines. The line has been planned to restore passenger rail service between Boston and the towns of Taunton, Berkley, Fall River, Freetown, and New Bedford, on the south coast of Massachusetts. It would restore passenger service to some of the southern lines of the former Old Colony Railroad and the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (service along the southeastern lines was largely restored in 1997 and 2007).

South Coast Rail
Fall River Railroad Tracks.jpg
Planned site for the new Fall River Depot
TypeCommuter rail line
SystemMassachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
StatusUnder construction
LocaleSoutheastern Massachusetts
TerminiBoston South Station
Battleship Cove (Fall River branch)
Whale's Tooth (New Bedford branch)
Stations25 (10 new)
Daily ridership4,570 (estimated)[1]
Opened2023 (Phase 1)
2030 (Phase 2)[2]
ClosedPrevious New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad service ended on September 5, 1958
OwnerMassachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
CharacterElevated and surface level
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
ElectrificationPhase 2 only

After previous service was discontinued in 1958, the project surfaced in the 1980s. A full planning process was held from 1990 until its suspension in 2002. Planning restarted from the beginning in 2007; the Final Environmental Impact Statement was issued in August 2013. Several separately-funded projects, such as bridge reconstructions, have been undertaken, including major tie replacement (beginning in November 2013), and $2.3 billion was appropriated to the project in an April 2014 state bill.[3] As of June 2017, the project is expected to cost $3.42 billion and not reach completion until 2030, with some service beginning in 2023.

Project historyEdit

Route of the Fall River Railroad and the original Old Colony Railroad in 1846

Previous serviceEdit

The lines planned for commuter rail service date largely from the 1840s and were later part of the Old Colony Railroad network. The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad leased the entire Old Colony system beginning in 1893, and ran commuter and intercity service to Fall River and New Bedford until 1958.

Restoration planningEdit

Geographic map of current plan, with service to both Fall River and New Bedford via Stoughton
Junction between proposed New Bedford (left) and Fall River branches in Myricks
Tracks at Forge Road in Assonet proposed for restoration on the Fall River branch

In the 1980s - during the first expansion of commuter service in Massachusetts in decades - the restoration of the lines to New Bedford and Fall River was proposed. Since the Mansfield Branch was permanently severed by a grade separation project in the 1950s, three possible routes to the South Coast were placed under consideration: an extension of the Stoughton Branch of the Providence/Stoughton Line past Stoughton, a route following the Providence Line to Attleboro and then branching onto the Attleboro Secondary, and a route following the Old Colony mainline to Middleborough then the Middleboro Secondary westwards. (All three routes used the same lines from Taunton south to Fall River and New Bedford). By 1988, the MBTA was tentatively planning to extend service to Taunton via Stoughton.[4]

The first serious study, completed in January 1990, concluded that the Stoughton Branch was the most viable route. The study was criticized for not considering other alternatives, including express buses.[5] In March 1991, newly elected governor William Weld asked the state legislature to authorize the sale of bonds to finance further studies.[6]

In the early 1990s, the Old Colony Lines Middleborough/Lakeville Line and Plymouth/Kingston Line, plus the delayed Greenbush Line) were chosen as Big Dig environmental mitigation instead of routes to Fall River and New Bedford; the first two routes opened in September 1997 and Greenbush in 2007.[7] The Old Colony mainline was rebuilt with restricted single-track sections through parts of Dorchester and Quincy, limiting the capacity required for reaching the South Coast via Middleborough - such that service could be operated to one of Fall River and New Bedford, but not both.[5]

However, planning for service to the South Coast continued. The March 1995 Expanded Feasibility Study analyzed routes absent from the 1990 report, concluding that both the Stoughton and Attleboro routes would be viable and that a partial Stoughton Branch extension to North Easton would be most cost-effective.[5] In September 1995, the MBTA filed an Environmental Notification Form with the EPA for service via the Attleboro route, with a curved 3-mile 'Attleboro Bypass' connecting the Northeast Corridor to the Attleboro Secondary just north of Attleboro proper. The then-$156 million project was to be completed in 2000.[8]

In August 1996, Weld signed a bill giving $136 million to commuter rail expansion, while the state legislature directed the MBTA to further study alternatives.[9] However, in 1997 the Expanded Alternatives Analysis showed vastly increased costs - $410 million via Attleboro, $426 million via Stoughton, or $312 million via Middleborough. The report recommended the Stoughton route as the most cost-effective due to its high ridership, despite the higher cost.[6][10]

A groundbreaking ceremony was held in October 1998, but since planning was not complete no real construction began. Based on an April 1999 analysis of South Station operations, the July 1999 Draft Environmental Impact Report concluded that the Stoughton route was the only viable route, with projected service of 20 trains per day to each of Fall River and New Bedford for an estimated total of 4,325 daily riders.[11][12] In January 2000, following then-governor Paul Cellucci's reapproval, the state reported that construction would begin in late 2002 and last until 2004.[6] The Draft Environmental Statement certificate was received in November 2000; the EPA confirmed that Stoughton was the only practical route but required a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).[9] The FEIS was released in April 2002 and approved in August; however, in July 2002 the MBTA revised the project cost to $600 million with an opening date of 2007.[6][9]

Due to ballooning costs, Governor Romney's administration suspended the Growth Task Force and stopped project planning in November 2002; the environmental approval process was stopped in May 2003.[9]

Planning restartEdit

Projected cost of South Coast Rail at the time of release of various planning documents and funding bills

In October 2004, the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District restarted the Growth Task Force, even while the MBTA was conducting its review of the project.[9] In March 2005, Romney allowed the project to proceed and allocated $670 million for the project, then projected to open between 2011 and 2013. In June 2005, the Chief of Commonwealth Development stated that the cost could be as high as $1 billion.[6]

In April 2007, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation released South Coast Rail: A Plan For Action, which restarted the planning process from the beginning. The plan estimated project costs at $1.435 billion (including $163 million for procuring additional rolling stock and $31.6 million for expanding South Station) with opening in December 2016.[13] A Strategic Environmental Permitting Plan was released in August 2007, followed by a Phase 1 Alternatives Analysis Report in April 2008 which narrowed 65 options (including unlikely modes like heavy rail metro and monorail) to five plausible alternatives including Attleboro, Stoughton, and Middleboro routes plus express bus service or a mixture of Attleboro and Middleboro service.[14][15] In May 2008, MassDOT issued a formal request to the US Army Corps of Engineers to allow discharge of fill materials into wetlands - effectively starting the formal environmental review process.[16] A federal Notice of Intent and state Environmental Notification Form were filed in November 2008.[9]

In a May 2009 interview, Commonwealth Treasurer Tim Cahill stated that "it is virtually going to be impossible" for the state to open the lines in 2016 as planned due to the recession, adding that federal funding was unlikely to be obtained because "[t]he federal government doesn't trust us anymore because of the Big Dig."[17] However, the state continued to publish studies, releasing the South Coast Rail Economic Development and Land Use Corridor Plan in June 2009 and the Phase 2 Alternatives Analysis Report (which indicated electric or diesel service through Stoughton as the best choice) in September 2009.[18][19]

On October 2, 2008, the state government announced an agreement with CSX Transportation for the purchase and upgrade of several of CSX's freight lines in the state. CSX agreed to sell its lines from Taunton to Fall River and New Bedford for use by the South Coast Rail project, as well as the Grand Junction Branch, the Framingham-to-Worcester section of the Worcester Line, and the South Boston Running Track. Other parts of the agreement included plans for double-stack freights west of Worcester and the abandonment of Beacon Park Yard.[20] The agreement was signed on September 23, 2009.[21] On June 11, 2010, the state and CSX completed the first phase of the agreement, including the transfer of the South Coast Rail lines to MassDOT.[22]

In February 2010, MassDOT received a $20 million TIGER grant to replace three bridges in New Bedford built around 1907, for immediate freight use and future South Coast Rail service.[23] The grant represented part of the $71.4 million the state had applied for to fund the Fast Track New Bedford project, which would have included a fourth bridge, construction of Whale's Tooth station with bus and ferry facilities, and pedestrian and bicycle access improvements.[24] The MBTA opened bidding in July 2010 and issued a Notice To Proceed in October 2010; the replacement bridges opened for Massachusetts Coastal Railroad freights in November 2011.[25]

The Army Corps of Engineers released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement in March 2011.[26] Concurring with previous documents it recommended that South Coast Rail be routed through Stoughton, citing in particular the need to add a billion-dollar fourth track from Back Bay to Forest Hills to accommodate service through Attleboro. However, the DEIS differed from the previous reports by strongly recommending that service be electric, stating that the higher ridership (9,580 projected daily riders versus 8,140), decreased travel time due to the higher acceleration of electric locomotives and their 100 mph top speed versus 79 mph for diesels, and reduced pollution outweighed the increased cost of electrification.[26] The electric alternative was projected to cost $1.88 billion versus $1.48 billion for diesel service, with the increased cost from the overhead wire infrastructure as well as the cost of buying electric locomotives plus new coaches capable of 100 mph speeds.[26] (Current coaches are limited to 80 mph even on sections of the Northeast Corridor rated for 150 mph.[27])


In July 2013, after substantial discussion the Massachusetts Legislature overrode Governor Deval Patrick's veto and passed a major transportation funding bill providing an average of $600 million per year in additional funding. The bill mentioned South Coast Rail as deserving funding but did not specifically allocate monies to the project.[28][29] In September 2013, the Army Corps of Engineers released the Final Environmental Impact statement, with few changes from the Draft statement and cost revised slightly downwards to $1.817 billion.[16]

In mid-November 2013, MassDOT began replacement of 42,000 ties along 33 miles of the Fall River and New Bedford branches, funded as a freight improvement project that also serves as a prerequisite for South Coast Rail.[30] On November 13, 2013, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Transportation approved a $12 billion spending authorization that includes $2.2 billion for South Coast Rail.[31] The spending bill, which also included $1.3 billion for the Green Line Extension and $300 million for South Station expansion, was then sent to the Massachusetts House and Senate for debate.[32]

On April 18, 2014, a modified version of the bill was signed into law, allocating $2.3 billion for South Coast Rail, $1.33 billion for the Green Line Extension, and $325 million for South Station.[3]

Early contract awardsEdit

On June 18, 2014, the MassDOT board awarded a $12 million one-year contract (with to $210 million possible over 10 years) to Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. for "program management, early design development, and environmental permitting".[33]

On October 22, 2014, a $18.4 million contract was issued for upgrades to grade crossings in Taunton, Freetown and New Bedford. Work on the crossings will last from November 2014 until late 2016.[34] The Dean Street (US-44) crossing in Taunton was replaced in August 2015.[35]

On November 25, 2014, a $42 million contract was awarded for the replacement of three bridges (President Avenue, Brownell Avenue, and Golf Club Road) in Fall River plus the Wamsutta Street bridge in New Bedford. The bridge work is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2016.[36]

On December 14, 2018 a contract was awarded to Progress Rail for long lead time special track work to be used in South Coast Rail construction.[37]

On March 6, 2019, an $18.3 million contract was awarded to J.F. White for the removal and replacement of 46 culverts along the corridor, along with cleaning 16 culverts, drainage and grade crossing improvements, and construction of wetland impact mitigation areas.[38][37]

On April 22, 2019 a $22 million contract was awarded to J.F. White for the replacement of four rail bridges (Cotley River North, Cotley River South, Cedar Swamp River, Fall Brook), one culvert, and associated track replacement. These bridge replacements will allow for faster freight and passenger trains and restore the second track over Cotley River. Substantial completion of all bridge replacements is expected by Fall 2020.[39]

Project changesEdit

The existing Middleborough/Lakeville station would be closed or reduced to shuttle service under the revised plan released in 2017.

In June 2016, the MBTA announced that the project cost had been revised to $3.42 billion, with completion not expected until 2030. The substantial delay and increase in cost caused officials to consider alternate plans, including an earlier, interim addition of service to New Bedford via Middleborough.[40] However, that plan would decrease service to Middleborough/​Lakeville.[41] In March 2017, the state announced a revised plan intended to provide service sooner for a total cost of $3.42 billion. The $1.1 billion Phase 1 would follow the Middleborough route and open in 2024; Phase 2 would follow the original route through Stoughton (including electrification) and open in 2029.[42]

By June 2017, the planned completion dates were changed to Phase 1 in 2022 and Phase 2 in 2030, with stations at Freetown and Battleship Cove in Phase 1 rather than Phase 2 as proposed in March.[43] The revised plan has attracted criticism from several directions, including some of those who had previously advocated for the project as well as previous opponents.[2] Middleborough and Lakeville officials were critical of the possibility of abandoning the current Middleborough/Lakeville station - which has attracted transit-oriented development - or requiring its riders to take a shuttle train, as well as possible traffic issues from a downtown Middleborough station. The New Bedford mayor was critical of the longer travel times of the Middleborough routing, and the Taunton mayor was critical of Phase 1 lacking the downtown Taunton station of the previous plan. Stoughton, Easton, and Raynham officials continued their previous opposition to South Coast Rail.[2]

Phase 1 permitting and fundingEdit

On April 22, 2019, Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack announced that funding and Army Corps of Engineers permits for the Phase 1 plan were in place and that the project will proceed "full speed ahead," with a late-2023 target date. The $1.05 billion cost for Phase 1 will be covered by state bonds, not MBTA debt. [44]

Route diagramsEdit

Phase 1 (2023) Phase 2 (2030)
South Station
Quincy Center
Kingston/Plymouth Line
Middleborough/Lakeville Line
Middleboro Yard
East Taunton
North New Bedford
Fall River
New Bedford
0.0 mi
0 km
South Station
1.2 mi
1.9 km
Back Bay
2.2 mi
3.5 km
5.0 mi
8 km
Forest Hills
(Needham Line only)
8.4 mi
13.5 km
Hyde Park
9.5 mi
15.3 km
(Franklin and Fairmount Lines only)
11.4 mi
18.3 km
Route 128
14.8 mi
23.8 km
Canton Junction
15.6 mi
25.1 km
Canton Center
18.9 mi
30.4 km
21.4 mi
34.4 km
North Easton
22.7 mi
36.5 km
Easton Village
29.1 mi
46.8 km
Raynham Place
34.3 mi
55.2 km
37.5 mi
60.4 km
East Taunton
New Bedford Branch
51.9 mi
83.5 km
North New Bedford
54.7 mi
88 km
New Bedford
Fall River Branch
45.7 mi
73.5 km
51.1 mi
82.2 km
Fall River
52.1 mi
83.8 km
Battleship Cove


  1. ^ "MBTA South Coast Rail PROJECT UPDATE: Middleborough Public Meeting" (PDF). Massachusetts Department of Transportation. September 22, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Laidler, John (June 16, 2017). "Sharp differences over latest plan for South Coast Rail". Boston Globe. Retrieved June 18, 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Session Laws: Chapter 79 of the Acts of 2014". Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 18 April 2014. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  4. ^ Howe, Peter J. (January 24, 1988). "MBTA plans for big increase in rail service". Boston Globe. p. B1 – via  
  5. ^ a b c Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (March 1995). "Expanded Feasibility Study: Draft Report" (PDF). New Bedford/Fall River Commuter Rail Project. Retrieved 6 October 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d e "A timeline of South Coast Rail developments". The Herald News. 5 October 2013. Retrieved 6 October 2013.
  7. ^ Belcher, Jonathan (23 March 2013). "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district" (PDF). NETransit. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  8. ^ Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (September 1995). "Environmental Notification Form: Volume I" (PDF). New Bedford/Fall River Commuter Rail Project. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Southeastern Massachusetts Metropolitan Planning Organization and Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (2012). "Commuter Rail" (PDF). 2012 Regional Transportation Plan. Retrieved 6 October 2013.
  10. ^ Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (February 1997). "Comparative Estimate Summary Worksheet" (PDF). Expanded Alternatives Analysis Report: Attleboro, Stoughton, and Middleborough Lines. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. p. 149. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  11. ^ Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (April 1999). "South Station Operations Analysis Report" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  12. ^ Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (July 1999). "Draft Environmental Impact Report" (PDF). Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  13. ^ Patrick, Deval; et al. (4 April 2007). "South Coast Rail: A Plan For Action" (PDF). Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  14. ^ TRC Environmental Corporation; et al. (August 2007). "South Coast Rail Strategic Environmental Permitting Plan" (PDF). Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  15. ^ Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (April 2008). "Analysis of South Coast Rail Alternatives: Phase 1 Report" (PDF). Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  16. ^ a b "Final Environmental Impact Statement/ Final Environmental Impact Report on the South Coast Rail Project proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation" (PDF). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New England District. August 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  17. ^ Unger, Bob (17 May 2009). "FROM THE EDITOR: A dose of reality from Cahill". South Coast Today. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  18. ^ Spillane, David; et al. (June 2009). "South Coast Rail Economic Development and Land Use Corridor Plan" (PDF). Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation and Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  19. ^ Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (September 2009). "Analysis of South Coast Rail Alternatives: Phase 2 Report" (PDF). Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  20. ^ "PATRICK ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT TO PURCHASE RAIL LINES" (Press release). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. October 2, 2008.
  21. ^ "PATRICK-MURRAY ADMINISTRATION FINALIZES AGREEMENT WITH CSX TRANSPORTATION" (Press release). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. September 23, 2009.
  22. ^ "The Massachusetts Rail Program" (PDF). Massachusetts Department of Transportation. June 2010. p. 7. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
  23. ^ "Governor Patrick, Congressional Delegation Announce $20 Million Federal Stimulus Transportation Grant for South Coast Rail Project" (PDF) (Press release). Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Department. 17 February 2010. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
  24. ^ "Fast Track New Bedford: EOT TIGER Discretionary Grant Application" (PDF). Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation. 15 September 2009. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  25. ^ "GRANTS - AWARD SUMMARY". Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  26. ^ a b c "Draft Environmental Impact Statement/ Draft Environmental Impact Report on the South Coast Rail Project proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation" (PDF). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New England District. February 2011. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  27. ^ "Commuter Rail Executive Summary" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2010. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  28. ^ Laidler, John (1 August 2013). "No guarantees for South Coast rail in transportation bill". Boston Globe. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  29. ^ Massachusetts State Legislature (24 July 2013). "Chapter 46: An Act Relative To Transportation Finance". Session Laws. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  30. ^ "Fall River, New Bedford Rail Line Improvements". Massachusetts Department of Transportation. 14 November 2013.
  31. ^ Wittenberg, Ariel (14 November 2013). "Transportation Committee votes to fully fund South Coast Rail". South Coast Today. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  32. ^ Metzger, Andy (14 November 2013). "Transportation bill includes earmarks for South Station, Green Line, South Coast rail". Boston Globe. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  33. ^ Jessen, Klark (18 June 2014). "South Coast Rail Project Contract Approved". Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  34. ^ "South Coast Rail making big tracks with $18.4 million at-grade crossing improvements, 22 assistance grants". Herald News. 22 October 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  35. ^ Winookoor, Charles (15 August 2015). "MBTA commuter rail work smooths out bump on Dean Street". Taunton Gazette. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  36. ^ Jessen, Klark (24 November 2014). "South Coast Rail: Bridge Replacements Move Forward" (Press release). Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  37. ^ a b "South Coast Rail - Phase 1 Capital Programs Committee Meeting" (PDF). Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  38. ^ "MassDOT R & T Construction Contract: 609258 SCR Early Action Culverts" (PDF). Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  39. ^ "MassDOT Highway Construction Contract: 106704 SCR Early Action 4 Bridge" (PDF). Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  40. ^ Dungca, Nicole (27 June 2016). "South Coast rail could cost $1b more than estimated". Boston Globe. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
  41. ^ Standard-Times, Mike Lawrence New Bedford. "Dukakis: 'Stick with Stoughton' for South Coast Rail route". The Enterprise, Brockton, MA. Retrieved 2017-01-10.
  42. ^ Dungca, Nicole (March 22, 2017). "State changes gears on Middleborough commuter rail plan". Boston Globe. Retrieved April 10, 2017.
  43. ^ "South Coast Rail Corridor Map" (PDF). South Coast Rail - Summer 2017 Fact Sheet. Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Summer 2017. p. 3.
  44. ^ Lisinski, Chris (April 22, 2019). "Permit, funding hurdles cleared for South Coast Rail". The Boston Globe, via State House News Service.

External linksEdit