NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) - Commuters will be able to pay $18 for a round-trip train ridefrom North Kingstown to Boston and back when MBTA service isextended to South County a little more than a year from now.
Federal and state officials broke ground Wednesday morning on anew train station at Wickford Junction in North Kingstown. Theeight-acre site at 1051 Ten Rod Rd. is near the intersection ofRoute 4 and Route 102.
• Related: Thelong and winding road to Wickford Junction (WPRI Blog)
Federal money will cover $43 million of the project’s $52million cost, which includes planning, track improvements andconstruction of the station and a parking garage with 1,100 spaces,according to U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
With the addition of Wickford and the opening of thenear-finished intermodal facility at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick,Rhode Island is getting its first extension of commuter railservice since Providence-Boston service restarted 22 years ago.
Adding Wickford Junction “really opens up South County toeffective commuter rail service,” Reed told Eyewitness News.“It makes the station at the Warwick airport even moreproductive because now it becomes part of a larger system. And itprovides relatively low-cost, environmentally appropriate,energy-efficient transportation – which is great.”
Eight $18 daily trips
The MBTA plans to make three round trips daily betweenBoston and Warwick when the airport station first opens this fall.That will increase to eight by the time Wickford opens next year,according to R.I. Department of Transportation spokeswoman DanaAlexander Nolfe.
The number of passengers using the Wickford Junction stationdaily is forecast to rise from about 1,500 when service starts in2011 to 1,669 in 2020, according to projections made in 1995 andcited by state planners. An additional 240 commuters are expectedto use the Warwick station.
A ticket from North Kingstown to Boston will cost $9 each way,and a monthly pass will cost $280, Nolfe said. To go from NorthKingstown to Providence, a one-way ticket will cost $2.75 and amonthly pass will cost $101.
One-way trips from Warwick will cost slightly less – $2.50to Providence and $8.25 to Boston. Officials hope the airportstation will be ready to open in October. That project’sfinal cost is estimated at $267 million.
Environmental, traffic benefits
An estimated 82 percent of Rhode Islanders travel to work alonein their cars, while just 2 percent take mass transit, Census datashowed in 2000. Getting more cars off the road will improve theenvironment and relieve traffic congestion, Reed said.
“That is going to be the future of the Northeast, in termsof providing rapid, high-speed service between urbancenters,” he said, adding that Rhode Island and Massachusettswere right to work together on expanding a regional system with theMBTA.
A train station "becomes a focal point for economic renewal andredevelopment,” Reed said. “People want to live there,people want to walk to the station, they want to set up shop therebecause you can get on, and in and out.” A developer, RobertCioe, plans to build a retail plaza next to the Wickford Junctionstation.
Expansion took decades
The big expansion of regional train service over the next yearmarks a sea change from attitudes in 1981, when MBTA trains betweenProvidence and Boston stopped after ridership fell below 400 a dayand a federal subsidy ended.
Ridership proved more robust when Providence-Boston trainsstarted running again in 1988, with about 1,000 daily passengersbetween the two capitals today. In 1990, a station opened in SouthAttleboro, as well.
Bringing commuter trains to North Kingstown – which losttrain service after more than a century when its old station wastorn down in the late 1960s – has taken decades.
Discussions began in the late 1980s, and federal authorizationwas granted in 1998, the same year officials in Rhode Island andMassachusetts signed an agreement to add more MBTA trips and stopsin the Ocean State.
Meanwhile, Reed put together about $33 million in federalearmarks for the station piece by piece over the past decade.“It’s a challenge,” he said.
Kingston, Westerly next?
The DOT is starting to examine whether additional commuter railstops could be added further south once the Warwick and NorthKingstown stations are open.
The federal government awarded the department $1.2 millionearlier this year for upgrades to South Kingstown’s135-year-old Kingston train station, which is already served byAmtrak. Those improvements could allow MBTA trains to stop there,as well.
Officials are also looking at the potential for MBTA trains togo to Westerly, which has an Amtrak stop but has not had commuterservice to Providence since 1977.
Also being studied are potential MBTA stops in Cranston, EastGreenwich and Pawtucket, the last of which already hosts an MBTAlayover facility. Those discussions are only in the very earlieststages, Nolfe said.
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