Walpole airs its railroad concerns
Local officials, state legislators and townspeople harshly criticized a pilot program to bring commuter rail service to Foxborough.
Representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the MBTA attended the Jan. 22 Board of Selectmen meeting to address a number of ongoing questions and concerns the board had raised - especially regarding the Summer Street railroad crossing.
Jody Ray, the assistant general manager of the commuter rail, gave an update on the program, noting that the pilot was set to begin in May. This, he said, coincided with a regular schedule change in the spring.
Representatives noted that gates will be installed at the Summer Street crossing (which trains will travel through on the way to Foxborough) before the program begins. There will also be an active warning system at the current rail station with gates, lights and bells along the driveway and crosswalk there.
The board had asked the state to lower the speed limit on the rail in the Summer Street area. Ray said the track had been rated to a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour, but estimated trains would only be traveling at 40 to 45 miles per hour there.
Board members had noted that Police Chief John Carmichael had requested trains go even slower through that zone, and expressed worries about children from the nearby Boyden School crossing the rail. Ray said he felt such a restriction was unnecessary.
“There’s many places where we’re going through crossings at 79 miles per hour every day, with a lot more traffic,” he said, noting that if one wishes to convince people to ride a train it needs to move quickly. “Forty-five miles per hour is very slow for a commuter rail crossing.”
Selectman Nancy Mackenzie expressed worries about safety along the rail, and doubts that a brief slowdown would make or break the program.
“I understand your job is making trains run really fast,” she said. “Our job is making sure this doesn’t kill any of our kids.”
Mackenzie said the state had not been considerate of Walpole residents in its plans.
“It’s just mean and wrong,” she said.
Fellow board member James O’Neil asked the representatives to examine how different speeds would affect transit times.
“Walpole’s taking a lot of risk, and I don’t see us getting any benefit at all,” he said.
State Sen. Paul Feeney (D-Foxborough) said he wished to ensure Walpole had an opportunity to share concerns as the pilot progresses and as the MBTA reviews the program moving forward.
State Rep. Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) doubted there was much demand for the service.
“Foxborough doesn’t have a need (for this)... this was all done for Bob Kraft,” he said, adding that he believed the service becoming permanent was a fait accompli. “I don’t think any person here believes this is truly a pilot program.” Kraft is the owner of the New England Patriots. The team plays its home games in Foxborough.
Several residents said they felt the state was forcing things on Walpole.
Representatives said they would provide answers for a number of questions asked at the forum, and spoke of scheduling a future meeting closer to the pilot start date.
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