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Wachusett (MBTA station)

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A silver and purple train at a station platform
The first revenue train at Wachusett station in September 2016
Location 55 Authority Drive
Fitchburg, Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°33′12″N 71°50′52″W / 42.5534°N 71.8477°W / 42.5534; -71.8477Coordinates: 42°33′12″N 71°50′52″W / 42.5534°N 71.8477°W / 42.5534; -71.8477
Platforms 1 side platform
Tracks 3 (2 mainline plus 1 station siding)
Connections Bus transport MART: Gardner-Wachusett Commuter, Intermodal-Wachusett-Great Wolf Shuttle
Bus transport Wachusett Mountain shuttle bus (Winter only)[1]
Parking 359 spaces ($3.00 fee)
8 accessible spaces
Bicycle facilities 10 spaces
Disabled access Yes
Opened September 30, 2016[2]
Passengers (upon opening) 400 daily (forecast)[3]
Preceding station   MBTA.svg MBTA   Following station
Terminus Fitchburg Line

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.


Former service[edit]

A derailed freight train with broken and mangled boxcars
Freight wreck at Westminster station in 1914

The station is the successor to a pair of former stations on the Fitchburg Railroad which were on the Vermont and Massachusetts Railroad line, opened in 1851.[4]:163

Westminster station, serving Westminster, Massachusetts, was located on Bartherick Road off State Road (MA 2A), about a mile west of the new station site.[5] In April 1914, an 17 cars of an eastbound freight derailed and damaged the station building.[6] Service to the station ended around 1945.[7]

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.[5] A freight wreck at the station in July 1905 killed two men.[8] Service to Wachusett station lasted until 1960, when all passenger service west of Fitchburg was terminated by the Boston & Maine Railroad.[4]:203 The derelict freight depot, located just south of the station, was demolished in 2005 or 2006.[9]

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.[2]

Planning for restoration[edit]

An abandoned railroad station platform with a freight train next to it
Restoring service to this station in Gardner, which had previously run from 1980 to 1986, was considered but rejected in favor of a shorter extension to Wachusett

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.[10]

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.[4] 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.[11] 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.[12]

Funding and design[edit]

A construction site with several colorful signs
Entrance to the station construction site in January 2013. Signs noting the contributions of the Federal Transit Administration (part of US DOT) are displayed.

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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15][16] 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.[17]

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.[18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

Layover yard controversy[edit]

A panorama of a construction site
Wachusett Layover under construction in November 2015

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.[21] The layover, with six 1,000-foot (300 m) tracks, replaced a similar, smaller yard in East Fitchburg.[18] 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.[22] 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.[23][24] By early 2014, the MBTA proceeded with construction of the layover yard.[25]


A construction site next to a railroad line
Station under construction in December 2014

The MBTA begin soliciting bids for pre-construction site preparation for the station and the associated layover yard in June 2012.[26] A $3.75 million contract was awarded and notice to proceed given on November 26, 2012.[27] 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.[28] 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.[29] Track and signal work and bridge repairs were placed in separate contracts.[30]

Notice to proceed for construction was given on June 14, 2013.[28] A second publicized groundbreaking was held on August 12, 2013.[31] In January 2014, an MBTA presentation stated that service would begin in "early 2015".[25] 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.[32][33]

In October 2014, MART announced that it would run dedicated bus service from Gardner to Wachusett station when the station opened.[32] 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.[30] In January 2015, the opening was delayed further to Fall 2016.[30]

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.[33] Limited service began on September 30, 2016, with two weekday round trips; full service began with the schedule change on November 21, 2016.[2]

By February 2017, ridership averaged just 45 to 75 passengers per day, but was growing.[34] 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.[35]

Bus connections[edit]

The Montachusett Regional Transit Authority (MART) operates two shuttle routes to Wachusett station:[36]

During winter months a free shuttle bus is offered to the Wachusett Mountain Ski Area. The shuttle is timed to connect with an MBTA "ski train", which includes a passenger car with ski racks.[1]


  1. ^ a b "Ski Train To Wachusett". Wachusett Mountain Ski Area. 2016. Retrieved December 11, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Belcher, Jonathan (March 25, 2017). "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district 1964–2016" (PDF). NETransit. 
  3. ^ Montachusett Regional Planning Commission (August 24, 2011). "Transit" (PDF). 2012 Regional Transportation Plan. Montachusett Metropolitan Planning Organization. p. 32. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Karr, Ronald Dale (1995). The Rail Lines of Southern New England. Branch Line Press. pp. 163–5, 200, 203. ISBN 0942147022. 
  5. ^ a b United States Geological Survey (1890). "Massachusetts – New Hampshire: Fitchburg Sheet". Atlas of Massachusetts (Prelim. Ed. 1884–1888). p. 19 – via WardMaps LLC. 
  6. ^ "Train Accidents in April". Railway Age Gazette. Vol. 56 no. 23. June 5, 1914. p. 1236 – via Google Books. 
  7. ^ United States Geological Survey (1944). "Historic Aerials". Nationwide Environmental Title Research, LLC. Retrieved December 5, 2012.  Westminster station is marked on 1944 and earlier maps, but not 1946 and after.
  8. ^ "GEORGE E. POWERS FREE.: B & M Conductor Who Figured in Wachusett Wreck Pardoned". Boston Daily Globe. October 19, 1906. p. 13 – via Proquest Historical Newspapers. (Subscription required (help)). 
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "An Act Providing for an Accelerated Transportation Development and Improvement Program for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority". Session Laws: 2000. Massachusetts State Legislature. June 30, 2000. Retrieved July 5, 2015. 
  11. ^ Central Transportation Planning Staff (January 2004). "Chapter 5C: Service Expansion" (PDF). 2004 Program for Mass Transportation. Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization. pp. 56–57. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 19, 2011. 
  12. ^ McMahon Associates (February 2005). "Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Service Expansion Study" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. pp. 27–28. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 18, 2006. 
  13. ^ U.S. Department of Transportation (February 17, 2010). "Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grants" (PDF). p. 8. 
  14. ^ "Massachusetts" (PDF). Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports. 10 (06B): 10–12. July 1, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Patrick-Murray Administration, U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood, Congressman Olver Kick off Wachusett Commuter Rail Extension Project" (Press release). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. October 18, 2010. 
  16. ^ Montachusett Regional Transit Authority. "Fitchburg Commuter Rail Extension Project: Environmental Notification Form" (PDF). Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 6, 2012. 
  17. ^ "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. 
  18. ^ a b "MBTA Wachusett Commuter Rail Extension Project". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  19. ^ Owen, Paula J. (March 17, 2012). "Input is sought on smart growth corridor". Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Retrieved March 17, 2012. 
  20. ^ Hartwell, Michael (October 3, 2012). "MART to get $3.6M in federal money to extend Wachusett rail line". Sentinel and Enterprise. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  21. ^ Melanson, Alana (February 7, 2012). "Layover-station critic in Westminster calls for study". Sentinel and Enterprise. Retrieved February 21, 2012. 
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ Flanagan, Joseph E.; et al. (March 25, 2013), Re: MBTA Wachusett Extension Project (Massachusetts) Award No. MA-78-0002, Town of Westminster 
  24. ^ Owen, Paula J. (March 27, 2013). "Littleton train station to have big impact". Worcester Telegram and Gazette. Retrieved March 16, 2016. 
  25. ^ a b "Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Improvement Project: Project Update" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. January 2014. p. 16. 
  26. ^ "Construction Bid Solicitation". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. June 11, 2012. Retrieved June 11, 2012. 
  27. ^ "Awarded Contract: D40CN01". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. November 26, 2012. Retrieved December 3, 2012. 
  28. ^ a b "Construction Bid Solicitation #D40CN02". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. February 15, 2013. Retrieved February 22, 2013. 
  29. ^ Owen, Paula J. (May 23, 2013). "Contract awarded for Westminster layover train station". Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Retrieved May 24, 2013. 
  30. ^ a b c "Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Improvement Project: Project Update" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. January 2015. p. 38. 
  31. ^ Jessen, Klark (August 12, 2013). "West Fitchburg: New Wachusett Rail Station" (Press release). Massachusetts Department of Transportation. 
  32. ^ a b Petalas, Kimberly (October 24, 2014). "MART announces plan for commuter rail access for Gardner residents". Leominster Champion. Archived from the original on 26 October 2014. Retrieved October 26, 2014. 
  33. ^ a b Dumcius, Gintautas (July 11, 2016). "Massachusetts spending more on Wachusett commuter rail project to cover delays and remain on-time". Mass Live. Retrieved July 12, 2016. 
  34. ^ Barnes, George (February 25, 2017). "Ridership, interest grow at new Fitchburg T station". Worcester Telegram. Retrieved March 21, 2017. 
  35. ^ "Ridership and Service Statistics" (PDF) (14th ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014. 
  36. ^ "Wachusett Shuttles". Montachusett Regional Transit Authority. Retrieved December 11, 2016. 

External links[edit]