South Coast Rail is gaining steam, with key stations in the project almost complete, according to officials at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The project, which will connect Fall River, New Bedford and Taunton with Boston by MBTA commuter rail, is still on track for a summer 2024 opening.
The South Coast Rail project will feature six new stations for passengers: Middleborough, East Taunton, Freetown, Fall River Depot, Church Street and New Bedford. Two layover stations have also been built, which are facilities to house MBTA crews and equipment and store trains when not in use: Weaver’s Cove in Fall River and Wamsutta in New Bedford.
The Freetown and Fall River Depot stations have been completed since 2022.
Here are the latest milestones, construction updates and warnings:
When will the Taunton and New Bedford stations be done?
Very soon. According to Lisa Battiston, deputy press secretary at the MBTA, the remainder of the stations to be constructed for the South Coast Rail project are nearly there.
“East Taunton Station is progressing very well and is the most complex station in the program – work at East Taunton is expected to be substantially complete next month,” she stated. “In addition, Church Street and New Bedford stations are on schedule for substantial completion by the end of this month.”
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What about the New Bedford pedestrian bridge?
Almost halfway there. “The New Bedford pedestrian bridge is nearly 40% complete with east and west abutments in place, work on the elevator tower and stairway in progress, and the installation of bridge support structures beginning next month,” wrote Battiston.
Construction on that part of the project takes place Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Purchase Street between Pearl and Willis, near the MassHire Greater New Bedford Career Center.
When will I start to see test trains?
About now. The MBTA said they’re in a months-long testing and commissioning phase, which will continue through the spring.
“We will be completing full-scale drills, and dress rehearsal train operations, starting now and throughout the year, with trains traveling up to full speed (79 mph),” the MBTA said.
This means people need to keep off the railroad right-of-way and watch for signals at crossings.
Running the numbers: Would South Coast Rail be the cheapest way to commute to Boston?
What about freight trains – how do those fit in?
They’ll be later in the day. According to the MBTA, from Feb. 5 to 9, Mass Coastal Railroad may be moving its daily freight operations to evenings to accommodate that testing. People who live near the rail lines in Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford could see freight trains passing through on weekdays between 5 p.m. and midnight.
Is there anything else to watch out for?
Brush-cutting. Crews will spend the next couple of months clearing out vegetation along the right-of-way up and down the South Coast Rail lines, for safety and visibility reasons. Expect that work to take place between Mondays and Fridays, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Signal testing. MBTA workers are installing and testing the signal systems along the entire rail line. If you see a flagger guiding traffic through a train crossing, follow their directions.
Dan Medeiros can be reached at [email protected]. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.