Wachusett (MBTA station)
The first revenue train at Wachusett station in September 2016
|Location||55 Authority Drive
|Platforms||1 side platform|
|Tracks||3 (2 mainline plus 1 station siding)|
|Connections|| MART: Gardner-Wachusett Commuter, Intermodal-Wachusett-Great Wolf Shuttle
Wachusett Mountain shuttle bus (Winter only)
|Parking||359 spaces ($3.00 fee)
8 accessible spaces
|Bicycle facilities||10 spaces|
|Opened||September 30, 2016|
|Passengers (upon opening)||400 daily (forecast)|
Wachusett is a commuter rail station on the MBTA Commuter Rail Fitchburg Line. It is northwest of the intersection of Massachusetts Route 2 and Route 31 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. It serves as the northwestern terminus for Fitchburg Line trains. The opening of Wachusett extended service 4.5 miles (7.2 km) west from Fitchburg on the Pan Am Southern main line, lengthening the Fitchburg Line to 54 miles (87 km). The station is expected to draw 400 daily riders.
After years of planning and discussion, work on the station began with site preparation in December 2012. Construction began in mid-2013. The station opened for limited weekday service on September 30, 2016, to satisfy the terms of the federal grant that funded it; full service began on November 21, 2016. At 54 miles (87 km) from North Station, Wachusett is the outermost MBTA station in Massachusetts; only Wickford Junction in Rhode Island is further from Boston.
Westminster station, serving Westminster, Massachusetts, was located on Bartherick Road off State Road (MA 2A), about a mile west of the new station site. In April 1914, an 17 cars of an eastbound freight derailed and damaged the station building. Service to the station ended around 1945.
Wachusett station was located south of Princeton Road (MA 31) in the Crockerville section of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, about half a mile east of the new station. A freight wreck at the station in July 1905 killed two men. Service to Wachusett station lasted until 1960, when all passenger service west of Fitchburg was terminated by the Boston & Maine Railroad.:203 The derelict freight depot, located just south of the station, was demolished in 2005 or 2006.
MBTA Commuter Rail service was extended west from Fitchburg to Gardner in January 1980, but trains did not make stops at Wachusett or other intermediate stations. Service was cut back to Fitchburg at the end of 1986.
Planning for restoration
Restoring commuter rail service past Fitchburg has been considered since 1987. In 2000, the Massachusetts State Legislature passed a bill that directed the MBTA to "conduct a feasibility study regarding the reestablishment of the commuter rail line to the cities of Gardner and Athol on the existing Fitchburg/Gardner/Athol spur line" as one of many expansion and improvement projects.
However, restoration of service all the way to Gardner, much less Athol, was deemed impractical for several reasons. Gardner is 64 miles (103 km) and Athol 81 miles (130 km) by rail for North Station – outside normal commuting distances. The line between Fitchburg and Gardner would cost $104.2 million to double track, and speeds are limited due to the grades going through the Wachusett Mountain range. Because the Route 2 expressway is faster along the corridor than rail service would be, the station at Gardner would have attracted just 50 riders per day. The Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Service Expansion Study was released in February 2005; it recommended an shorter interim extension to a new park-and-ride station off Route 2 in West Fitchburg, with possible extension to Gardner later.
Funding and design
On February 17, 2010, the US Department of Transportation awarded a $55.5M TIGER grant for the station in West Fitchburg and a new layover facility in the town of Westminster. In June 2010, the MBTA and Pan Am Railways reached an agreement for trackage rights and fees on several lines, including MBTA access to Wachusett station and the layover on the Pan Am Southern mainline partially owned by Pan Am Railways. The project officially began with a publicized groundbreaking on October 18, 2010, and was originally scheduled to be completed by the first quarter of 2012. However, by February 2012, the station was just at 30% design phase, with track and signals to reach 30% design by late spring. As of then, the estimated completion date was October 2013.
The new station includes a single gently curving, high-level side platform 800 feet (240 m) long, located on a siding that allows trains to pull fully clear of the more-curved Pan Am Southern mainline. The station has a parking lot with 359 spaces as well as a Montachusett Regional Transit Authority (MART) bus dropoff area and a kiss-and-ride area.
On March 16, 2012, a kickoff event was held for a "smart growth corridor" consisting of 12,500 acres (5,100 ha) acres within a 2.5-mile (4.0 km) bikeable radius of the station. In October 2012, $3.6 million in federal funds was given to the now-$63 million project to cover a budget shortfall due to design and site issues. The station was then expected to be completed by the end of 2013 and to open in Spring 2014.
Layover yard controversy
Although the station itself was not the subject of significant controversy, the proposed layover facility 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the west met with community opposition in Westminster over noise pollution effects. The layover, with six 1,000-foot (300 m) tracks, replaced a similar, smaller yard in East Fitchburg. Work on the layover began in late 2012; on December 28, 2012, the town issued a stop work order over allegations that the MBTA had not obtained the proper permits. In March 2013, the town filed a complaint to the Inspector General of the US Department of Transportation, alleging that delays in the project were a result of the MBTA misleading town officials rather than ordinary construction delays, and asking the DOT to stop work on the project pending an investigation. By early 2014, the MBTA proceeded with construction of the layover yard.
The MBTA begin soliciting bids for pre-construction site preparation for the station and the associated layover yard in June 2012. A $3.75 million contract was awarded and notice to proceed given on November 26, 2012. Site preparation work began in early December. Bidding on a nominally-$27.592 million contract for the primary station and layover yard construction opened in February 2013. Bids came in lower than expected; a $22.9 million contract was awarded on May 22, 2013, for construction to be completed by the end of 2014. Track and signal work and bridge repairs were placed in separate contracts.
Notice to proceed for construction was given on June 14, 2013. A second publicized groundbreaking was held on August 12, 2013. In January 2014, an MBTA presentation stated that service would begin in "early 2015". By October 2014, the planned completion date slipped to later in 2015, partially due to a bonding company taking over for the original contractor which went out of business.
In October 2014, MART announced that it would run dedicated bus service from Gardner to Wachusett station when the station opened. By the end of 2014, retaining walls for ramps to the platforms and concrete bases for light poles in the parking lot were in place. Track and signal work on the Pan Am Southern mainline began in Spring 2015. In January 2015, the opening was delayed further to Fall 2016.
On July 11, 2016, the MassDOT Board approved spending an additional $19 million to finish the station by the end of September, bringing the total cost of the extension to $93.3 million. The additional cost included replacement for several Pan Am Southern-owned bridges which were in poorer shape than originally thought, and night and weekend work to speed completion. Service to the station had to begin by September 30, or the state risked a revocation of the $59.2 million in federal funds. Limited service began on September 30, 2016, with two weekday round trips; full service began with the schedule change on November 21, 2016.
By February 2017, ridership averaged just 45 to 75 passengers per day, but was growing. At 54 miles (87 km) from North Station, Wachusett is the outermost MBTA station in Massachusetts; only Wickford Junction in Rhode Island is further from Boston.
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- Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Economic Affairs; United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, Google Earth aerial imagery, Google Inc. The freight depot is visible in April 29, 2005 imagery but is gone in September 10, 2006 imagery.
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- "Meeting of the MART Advisory Board: Tentative Agenda". Montachusett Regional Transit Authority. February 16, 2012.
Design is at approximately 30% completion for Jacobs and HNTB is expected to complete the 30% track and signal design by late spring... Project completion is expected in October 2013.
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- Owen, Paula J. (December 28, 2012). "Westminster orders MBTA to stop work on station". Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
Selectmen today issued a cease and desist order on alleged unlawful earth removal at the construction site of the proposed Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority layover station in Westminster Business Park.
- Flanagan, Joseph E.; et al. (March 25, 2013), Re: MBTA Wachusett Extension Project (Massachusetts) Award No. MA-78-0002, Town of Westminster
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- "Ridership and Service Statistics" (PDF) (14th ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014.
- "Wachusett Shuttles". Montachusett Regional Transit Authority. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
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