Lowell Lecture

The Future of Transportation: Global Foresight for Boston's Commuter Rail System

Date & Time

Nov. 14, 2018 at 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.


Old South Meeting House
310 Washington Street Boston, MA 02108
Driving Directions


Isabel Dedring, Bruce Mohl, Anna Pace

Presenting Organization

Old South Meeting House


Current Affairs Humanities Politics

Transportation is the backbone of our statewide and local economies,connecting people to jobs, healthcare, places of worship, thriving communities,and educational advancement. Despite its importance, the Commonwealth’s transportation system does not work well for those who need it. In 2017, US News & World Report ranked Massachusetts as the #1 overall state in the country, yet ranked us #45 in the category of transportation. Drivers face traffic congestion and navigate potholes, transit riders wait for delayed trains and crowded buses, and pedestrians and cyclists feel unsafe crossing the street or biking in their own neighborhoods.

As a key regional connector, the MBTA’s commuter rail service into and out of downtown Boston serves as a vital element in the region's economic success. As housing prices in the urban core continue to rise and as available land becomes scarcer, workers will look to live further and further from the city, all while continuing to effectively reach jobs downtown (which will likely remain as the dominant employment center geographically in the region). There have been numerous examinations of structural issues around the commuter rail system, including the current Rail Vision process by MassDOT, but this event looks specifically at one potential new model for the future of the region: Urban Rail.

The Future of Commuter Rail May Require a New Model At this event, we will examine a number of issues around the provision of more extensive urban rail service from the suburbs of eastern and central New England to downtown Boston. The focus of the event will be to examine the lessons learned from comparable models of service to be emulated from around the globe, focusing on two potential peer urban environments in London and Toronto. Both of these regions have transformed their rail systems in order to provide improved service within dense, urban environments. As Boston examines different models for rail service, we will face difficult challenges and trade-offs related to capital costs, contracting structure and station development. By examining this model through the lens of London and Toronto,Boston will be able to scrutinize the potential impacts to rails, stations,bridges and locomotives that come with such a change. We will examine how these cities shifted to such a model, and how Massachusetts may follow suit.

Learning from Successful Global Models: London & Toronto Suggested models for comparison include London and Toronto. London has dramatically shifted rail service within the urban area over the last decade.Toronto is in the process of implementing a long-planned goal of significant increasing service within the urban core. In our conversation with experts and implementers from these two cities, we hope to advance the ideas and conversations about what a reliable, resilient, efficient and equitable transportation system could be for the Boston region.