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MBTA Delays Fall River/New Bedford Rail Service ‘Til 2025

The expanded commuter rail service is forecast to add considerable expense in the T's operating budget – which is also facing a $700 million shortfall in 2025.

The end of an MBTA commuter rail train next to a train platform. Purple signs on the platform indicate it is Freetown station. Several workers in yellow vests are under a canopy at the far end of the platform in the distance.

The South Coast Rail project’s new Freetown commuter rail station, pictured here in March 2023. Courtesy of the MBTA.

On Thursday evening, MBTA General Manager Phil Eng told audiences in Fall River and New Bedford that they'd need to wait one more year before they can ride commuter rail trains to South Station.

When the South Coast Rail project started construction in earnest in 2019, the T had predicted the service would start carrying passengers in 2023.

On Thursday evening, Eng told Fall River stakeholders that “it became apparent that the schedule does not match what we had publicly advertised,” according to a report from the Fall River Herald News.

In a construction update issued earlier this month, project managers announced that the T would soon start operating test trains along the new tracks.

New start date is perched the edge of MBTA's fiscal cliff

The South Coast Rail project had always been expected to add more costs to the MBTA's strained budget.

In a budget presentation earlier this month, the T predicted that new South Coast Rail service would add $19 million in new operating expenses to its budget (see note below).

The newly-announced delay gives the T some breathing room this year – but the new service start date will coincide with a massive budget shortfall for 2026.

MBTA officials typically prepare their budgets over the spring, and send them to the Board of Directors for approval every June.

In May 2025, when South Coast Rail service is now projected to begin, the T will also be in the midst of preparing a budget that, under current policies, will have a $700 million deficit.

In a report released earlier this month, the MBTA Advisory Board warned that there was no way the T could fill that budget gap "without basically ending all public transportation service outside of short windows on weekdays."

*See page 7, "FY25 expense growth," which states that South Coast Rail accounts for a 0.7 percent increase in the MBTA's expenses from FY24 to FY25. 0.7 percent of the T's FY2024 expenses is $19.1 million.

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