Last year, the fiscal management control board of MBTA, Boston’s regional transit agency, faced a critical decision. With area commuters enduring the worst car traffic in the United States, would the board greenlight a multi-billion-dollar revamp of its traditional commuter rail network, expanding it to offer bi-directional “regional rail” service every 15 minutes? Doing so would be a paradigm shift for a network that was designed to fulfill the more modest goal of bringing suburban commuters into the city in the morning and back out again in the evening.
The answer was yes. In November 2019, the MBTA’s board approved the commuter rail transformation project. Speaking after the vote, the board’s chair said that it was time to “provid[e] more aggressive service for the region … in order to decongest the roadway systems.” MBTA would still have to find upwards of $10 billion, but transit advocates were thrilled to envision a network that could accommodate Bostonians ill served by traditional commuter rail, such as workers traveling to suburban job centers, or parents scrambling to get to a midday doctor’s appointment.