NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 13, 2009

Rail cuts would threaten efforts

By Victor Tine

NEWBURYPORT — Mayor John Moak said reports that the MBTA might end all weekend commuter rail service is "disturbing."

Citing internal MBTA documents, The Boston Globe reported Friday that the T could cut all rail service on weekends and all weekday trains after 7 p.m. as a cost-saving measure. The agency is facing a deficit of $160 million.

There would also be cutbacks in bus and subway service and fare hikes. MBTA officials have declined comment. The Globe reported that the agency has not revealed its plan, which also includes station closures and layoffs, pending the Legislature's decision on a gas tax increase aimed at bailing out the state's troubled transportation system.

Exact ridership figures could not be obtained Friday, but numbers from 2006 indicated 683 people rode between Boston and Newburyport daily. That statistic is for weekdays; weekend numbers would presumably be lower.

Moak said the city would be hurt on several levels if weekend rail service were discontinued.

Newburyport is trying to market itself as a tourist destination and is also trying to promote a "green" image as an environmentally sensitive community, he said.

"We want to get people downtown, but it's more than that," he said. "If we're a green community, we're encouraging people to use public transportation."

The city has already contracted for a summer shuttle bus service to meet four trains each weekend day and transport passengers to downtown and Plum Island destinations, he said. Without any trains to meet, that service would be put in jeopardy.

In the long run, he said, Newburyport's overall train usage could slide, as has happened before.

By the early 1970s, only two trains a day ran between Boston and Newburyport, one inbound in the morning and a single one outbound at the end of the workday.

In 1976, the T discontinued service completely. It did not resume until 1998.

"When you lose that identity, lose that train, you find another way; and once you find another way, you don't go back," Moak said.

He said he was discouraged that the MBTA couldn't close its budget gap in a way other than cutting service.

"Our philosophy (in the city) is to try to keep the service. Some agencies take the easy way out and take the way that hurts people," he said. "This is going to hurt the people who live here more than the people trying to get here."