Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority General Manager Beverly Scott discusses commuter rail improvements during the 495/MetroWest Parternship annual conference Friday at the Framington Sheraton Hotel. Photo/Michael Novinson
The commonwealth’s top public transit official said commuter rail ridership, performance and customer service must be improved over the next few years.
Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority General Manager Beverly Scott told attendees at the 495/MetroWest Partnership Annual Conference Friday morning that the share of the population using public transportation has dropped over the past decade.
“That must change,” Scott said to more than 175 people gathered at the Framingham Sheraton Hotel. “Our business is primarily butts in seats.”
The MBTA expects upgraded equipment and a tougher contract to be catalysts for that change.
French rail company Keolis will begin operating the commuter rail network July 1 after receiving an eight year, $2.69 billion contract from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in January. They will replace the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail Co., which has held the contract since 2003.
The MBTA has the largest fully outsourced commuter rail operation in the country, Scott said.
The contract inked with Keolis has significantly strengthened performance requirements that emphasize not only on-time performance, but also issues such as clean toilets, working heat and air conditioning units and proper fare collection, Scott said. New provisions also require more regular maintenance of the rail fleet as it ages.
“In a project like this, you’re married (to the contractor),” she said.
New equipment is also on the way, which Scott said is expected to improve both reliability and ridership capacity.
The MBTA will be receiving nine new trains with bi-level rail cars from Hyundai, which Scott said offer 50 percent more seats than the traditional single-level car. The T will also have 40 new locomotives in service by April 15, which Scott said should improve both emissions control and reliability of service.
In addition, seats and communications equipment will be replaced on 75 Kawasaki trains to extend their service life.
MBTA track purchases between Framingham and Worcester and the completion of renovations at Boston’s Yawkey station allowed rail service between Boston and Worcester to be increased to 20 trains per day in each direction, Scott said. The line was previously serviced with 17 daily trains from Worcester to Boston, and 16 trains from Boston to Worcester.
Improvements currently underway along the Fitchburg line are expected to reduce travel time and improve reliability, Scott said. The South Acton and Littleton stations will be upgraded, she said, and the terminus of the line will be extended from Downtown Fitchburg to the intersection of Route 2 and Route 31 in the west end of the city.
“You’ve got to eat the elephant one bite at a time,” Scott said. “I don’t know of any world-class place anywhere that doesn’t have top-class transportation.”