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MBTA Regional Rail Schedule Changes Add More Service on Worcester, Fairmount Lines

An MBTA commuter rail train with a purple front and a T logo on its side approaches an under-construction station platform in the center of the image. In the right foreground are two other railroad tracks. To the left behind the platform are two domed spires rising above a train station building.

A new passenger boarding platform is under construction at Worcester Union Station. When complete, two trains will be able to stop in Worcester at the same time. Courtesy of the MBTA.

At Thursday's MBTA board of directors meeting, MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng announced two big regional rail service improvements that will restore an express train to Worcester and deliver a big increase in rail transit service to the Fairmount Line in Boston.

These changes, along with several other minor schedule adjustments to other regional rail lines, will take effect on May 20th.

Worcester express train returns (but only in the mornings)

"We're adding back an express train that will shorten the trip for Worcester (riders), but also allow all the other stations along that corridor to not be impacted that have enjoyed improved service and frequency," Eng told board members Thursday morning.

As we reported here last week, the MBTA changed its Worcester Line train schedules at the end of 2023 to trade a daily "Heart to Hub" express train, which made the trip from Worcester to Boston in under an hour with only one stop in Framingham, with a "zonal express" that makes local stops between Worcester and West Natick, then runs express into Boston.

The change benefited suburban riders, whose stations were no longer getting bypassed by an express train. But it also created a longer commute (adding up to 40-45 minutes in both directions) for Worcester residents whose rush-hour trains now make more stops at suburban stations.

Eng told board members that last winter's schedule change accompanied "significant growth in ridership," but he also acknowledged that he'd gotten an earful from stakeholders in Worcester who want their express service back.

An MBTA press spokesperson later clarified to StreetsblogMASS that the new express train would only run from Worcester to Boston during the morning rush hour; there will be no evening express running back from Boston to Worcester (at least for now).

The new express would arrive in South Station by 8:45 a.m.

Less waiting on the Fairmount Line

Eng also announced a major increase in transit service for the Fairmount Line, the only regional rail line that's entirely inside the City of Boston, and one that serves predominantly Black neighborhoods in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park.

"Frequency is important," Eng told board members. "We saw, and we heard from one of the (public comment) speakers earlier, how the 45-minute frequency improved ridership on the Fairmount Line. We're going to 30 minutes on this spring schedule, 7 days a week."

"That represents a 33 percent increase in weekday train trips, and a 100 percent increase in weekend train trips," added Eng.

The current Fairmount Line schedule generally gives riders a 45-minute wait between most weekday trains, and a 90-minute wait on weekends.

As recently as 2020, the Fairmount Line ran only once an hour on weekdays, but the T and the City of Boston have prioritized the line for service improvements.

In 2023, Keolis, the company that contracts with the MBTA to operate commuter rail service, announced that Fairmount Line ridership had surged with the additional service. While the rest of the regional rail system is still seeing ridership that's below pre-pandemic levels, ridership on the Fairmount Line is now 30 percent higher than it was in 2019.

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