Nicholson, Crighton push MBTA to jumpstart electric rail project

Mayor Jared Nicholson and State Sen. Brendan Crighton spoke to the MBTA Board of Directors Thursday.

BOSTON — Lynn Mayor Jared Nicholson and state Sen. Brendan Crighton spoke to the MBTA Board of Directors Thursday to advocate for increased efforts from the agency to electrify commuter-rail service in the Environmental Justice Corridor.

“I’m here again to say we need to pick up the pace,” Crighton, who serves as chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation, said during his remarks to the board. “I know it’s a long road ahead, but we need to approach it with a great deal of urgency.”

Electrification of the commuter rail in the corridor, which encompasses service from North Station through Lynn and the Beverly section of the Rockport line, is part of a capital investment plan that was approved by the board Thursday. The $9.7 billion plan includes $120 million in funding for regional rail-improvement projects.

“We are eager to work with the MBTA team, once it staffs up, on all of these plans,” Nicholson said in his comments to the board. “There’s going to be local contributions needed, local thinking needed, and we are ready to do that.”

Crighton and Nicholson urged the board to use more resources for the efforts, something they said was doubly important given the current lack of commuter-rail service in Lynn.

Nicholson noted that improvements to MBTA commuter-rail service, which has not run in Lynn since the station was shut down for a $72 million renovation project in October 2022, would open up more economic opportunities in the region.

“The residents of Lynn need and deserve better access to better transportation to bring them to jobs, education, and healthcare,” Nicholson said in an interview with The Daily Item. “[Residents] have been underserved by the MBTA for too long.”

Nicholson noted the impact the project’s acceleration would have on the city’s future development, which would be enhanced as a result of improvements to the transit network.

“We’re fully committed to transit-oriented development,” Nicholson said to the board. “Those units are going to need access to reliable public transport.”

The project dates back to 2019, when the board passed a resolution to electrify the commuter rail, which would create more frequent service to many communities and implement near-rapid transit at subway rates from Lynn to Boston. 

Crighton and Nicholson both said in their remarks that the MBTA had not addressed the need for reliable commuter-rail service or concerns of health disparities in the community in the past four years.

“We’ve not seen the progress we need,” Crighton said in his remarks. “Our communities continue to bear the negative public-health impacts of a diesel fleet of commuter-rail vehicles.”

Crighton explained in an interview with The Daily Item that electrifying the commuter rail in the Environmental Justice Corridor would not only alleviate some of the environmental concerns around the current diesel fleet, but also allow for more efficient and frequent service in lieu of Blue Line expansion to Lynn.

“We feel like this is a much more efficient way to get that type of concept to Lynn,” Crighton said.

Board member Thomas McGee was one of the local leaders lobbying for the project when he served as mayor of Lynn in 2019.

“The phase-one electrification project must be included as part of the FY2022 and FY2026 capital investment plan to introduce modernized transit options to more Massachusetts communities,” McGee told The Daily Item in April 2021. 

On Thursday, McGee was the only member of the board to respond to Nicholson and Crighton’s remarks.

“I think both the mayor and senator have laid out a really good picture,” McGee said. “It’s an exciting opportunity and we have two really great advocates supporting this.”

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