Trying to get from Downtown Boston to the Seaport District could currently take more than an hour depending on what mode of transportation one takes, and city officials are looking to build a new mass transit route that will link Copley Square and the Seaport District. Public opinion about the project, however, is mixed.
The Copley-Seaport route will be built on Track 61 — an unused rail line Massachusetts already owns — in about two years, but the Commonwealth is already starting to plan the project. Most of the money needed will be spent purchasing diesel multiple units, a more cost efficient rail car, said Kelly Smith, deputy press secretary for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation
“The introduction of service of DMUs [diesel multiple units] is still in the preliminary stages as it will take at least two years to fabricate the DMU vehicles,” she said. “But, the vast majority of the infrastructure is already in place.”
The proposed route would run just over three miles one way with endpoints at the Back Bay Amtrak station and the Boston Convention and Exhibit Center.
Though it would run a short distance, John Harris, professor of economics at Boston University, said easier access to the two business districts could substantially help Boston’s economy.
“[The Seaport] district is exploding,” he said. “There are new centers popping up everywhere. Copley is, of course, big for businesses, too. As far as it [the rail] can affect new development, it sounds like a great idea. The devil is usually in the details, but on the surface, it sounds great.”
Although many residents said they like the idea of a rail connecting the two hubs, they demonstrated worry about the cost of the project.
Steve Burstein, 54, a resident of Arlington, said the line could be convenient, but the price tag was too high for a distance he can get close to without a train.
“It really just isn’t worth it for me because the Silver Line already gets pretty close to there,” he said. “It’s really not even that far, so it’s just too much. It just costs too much for something that I honestly could bike in a few minutes.”
Ed Okeefe, 59, an actor in Boston, said he was fine with the state spending millions of dollars to build the rail, but he was unsure the price would stay at the estimate.
“A lot’s being built in Copley and the Seaport, so if it’s done right, it could definitely work out, but I just don’t know,” he said. “The problem is, even if it’s just $1 million dollars now, it’ll cost $150 million by the time it’s built. After living here for a few decades, that’s just always how these projects go.”
While the cost may seem high, Harris said the rail could make money back for Massachusetts and create benefits in the long run.
“We should think about smart growth so as to reduce the reliance on cars and traffic,” Harris said. “This absolutely falls into that area and it could pay great dividends.”
Nancy Finnerty, 50, a Winchester resident who commutes to the Copley area frequently, said the rail service could only make Boston better.
“The cost will be high in the short run, I think, but we need to work on infrastructure regardless,” she said. “It’s awesome to hear this, though. We need more public transportation, more bike pathways and fewer cars. It’s ridiculous on the roads. The more projects like this, the better.”