The MBTA service area covered by the existing Commuter Rail service—an area roughly equivalent to the communities designated as “Metropolitan Boston” by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC)—contains nearly 75% of the state’s population and 75% of its jobs. This region deserves an intercity rail service that reflects these realities. Instead we are settling for a service delivery model that remains essentially unchanged from its mid-20th century origins. Massachusetts can and should embark on a transformative approach to regional mobility that more effectively supports a growing 21st century economy. This white paper outlines specific steps that can be taken in the short, middle, and long terms to fulfill this vision.

The current Massachusetts Commuter Rail system operates on the long-outdated 20th century belief that intercity rail service exists primarily for suburban workers who need to get in and out of the city on traditional 9 to 5 rush hour schedules. This approach diminishes the utility of our intercity rail assets and ignores how people work and live in this century. Our regional rail vision is practical, cost-effective, and based upon national and global experience and best practices. See Appendix A and the Lessons Learned from International Best Practices referenced there for examples of these principles in action. It is a forward-looking vision, one that recognizes the untapped power of rail to move large numbers of people throughout the day in a relatively low-carbon and efficient manner. Massachusetts has most of the tools, and a good deal of the infrastructure, necessary to implement this plan; what is now needed is the commitment to make it happen.

This report is the product of a collaborative effort among TransitMatters members. We hope it will inform MBTA and regional policymaking, and spark earnest dialogue and discussion among all stakeholders. Our rail network looms as the most important, and most poorly utilized, mobility asset we have. This can—and should—be an opportunity to cast away old ways of thinking about rail and move toward implementation of a forward-looking Regional Rail system.