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Transit Projects

The Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Improvement Project

Project Information 

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 Commuter Rail at Fitchburg station platform

The Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Improvement Project is a comprehensive, corridor wide series of projects that collectively will enhance safety and reduce transit time on MBTA′s longest commuter rail route that serves some 10,000 daily riders. With significantly improved service and reliability customers along this 50-mile long corridor extending from Fitchburg to Boston will enjoy modern stations, expanded parking opportunities and more intermodal connections.

The overall corridor program was developed through an extensive community based planning process. A long list of potential infrastructure improvements was prioritized and tested to develop the Locally Preferred Alternative that will result in many benefits to the riders, communities and operators of the Fitchburg Line:

  • Modernized, state of the art infrastructure allowing 80 mph travel speeds
  • 945 hours/day Travel Time benefits for Existing Riders alone
  • Service reliability increase from 83% to over 95% on-time performance
  • Significantly enhanced passenger experience
  • Support statewide and regional economic development goals
  • Reduced operating and maintenance costs, even while attracting new riders

The Alternatives Analysis report describes the program development. The Project entered the Project Development Phase in May of 2008, with design to be completed in December 2012. Construction commenced in January 20012 with completion scheduled for December 2015.

The Fitchburg Corridor Program was developed from this Alternatives Analysis with significant public and community input from throughout the region. The transition from planning to implementation included a detailed corridor assessment to evaluate existing conditions versus planned improvements. The planned improvements are designed to deliver a well-integrated and multi-modal program to provide enhanced commuting options in the Route 2 Corridor as well as potential reverse commute options for the growing employment base in the I-495 region. The Fitchburg corridor program is coordinated with the planned MBTA Green Line Extension project.

 Key Project Elements

The FTA/MassDOT-funded Small Starts Project includes replacement and realignment of the track structure, replacement or repair of eight bridge structures, upgrades to the signal and communication systems, and resolution of freight-passenger rail conflicts. This project element will include upgrades to the station at South Acton. Construction was substantially completed at the end of 2015 and new train schedules with faster service are expected to be implemented in May 2016.

The federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided additional funding that enabled the project to further enhance operational flexibility on the corridor, providing for new switches and sidings to address freight-passenger conflicts in Leominster. ARRA funding is also extending by some eight miles the amount of double tracking of the route to further enhance capacity and on-time performance along with improving the station at Littleton. This work commenced in 2009 and was substantially completed in 2013.

The Wachusett Extension, initially a stand-alone project, has been fully integrated in the overall corridor program with the receipt of ARRA TIGER funds (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery). This project extends the Fitchburg Line to a new terminal station conveniently located in close proximity to Route 2 enabling corridor commuters to divert from the highway to the Commuter Rail at Exit 28/Route 31 in West Fitchburg. A new overnight train layover facility will be constructed in Westminster to support this extension of service. Initial Commuter Rail service to Wachusett Station commenced on September 30, 2016; full service commenced on November 21, 2016.


 Purpose and Need

Residents of the suburban and western corridor communities have essentially only two options for commuting to and from the Boston metropolitan area. These modes of travel, highway, and commuter rail, have been unreliable and unpredictable, particularly for daily commuters. Ridership levels on the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line have been adversely affected by poor reliability, infrequent service, and long travel times, the longest in fact on the MBTA Commuter Rail network. The Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line has great potential to improve service for existing riders and to attract new riders.

Results from the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Service Expansion Study and the project's extensive public process indicate that improving speeds would have the greatest effect on reducing travel times and provide the greatest benefit to the area's commuters. Actions to achieve travel time savings were presented in the Fitchburg Line Improvement Implementation Plan, which was published in the fall of 2005. The overriding objective of the Implementation Plan was to reduce trip times between Fitchburg and Porter Square. In response to MBTA and FTA input, the project scope was modified to address the related issues of on-time performance and service frequency.

The primary goal of the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Improvement Project is to increase benefits to users of the transportation system by offering reduced travel times and improved service reliability throughout the corridor. In order to accomplish these objectives, substantial upgrades are necessary to overcome the significant geographical and infrastructure issues that have long plagued service on the Fitchburg Line. In sum, the project was deemed necessary to remedy the following issues:

  • The Fitchburg Line has the oldest infrastructure in the MBTA commuter rail system.
  • The Fitchburg Line is the longest in terms of both distance and travel time.
  • The Fitchburg Line has one of the worst on time performance records in the MBTA.
  • The Fitchburg Line serves a region with limited commuter options.
  • The Montachusett region has had significant population growth in the past decade.

Video: Watch MBTA replace entire Fitchburg Line bridge in one weekend


 (revised October 2015)