Fairmount advocates oppose Foxborough pilot plan

Fairmount Line advocates this week asked for more time to revise a Baker administration-backed pilot project that would enhance MBTA rail connections to Foxborough and Gillette Stadium.

Frustrated by what they say is a lack of engagement with city neighborhoods, the Fairmount activists argued this week that MBTA officials should either table or deny the pilot plan, which was discussed before the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board (FCBM) at its monthly meeting on Monday.

The board decided to postpone a public question-and-answer session and a possible vote on the pilot until its next session on Aug. 14.
Under the plan — which would be partly subsidized by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft — the MBTA and its rail operator Keolis would increase daily service to Foxboro Station.

Eight existing Fairmount Line trains and one existing Franklin Line train, would visit the stop in Foxborough under the proposal, which is backed by town officials.

“The MBTA will continue to serve the Fairmount Line as the Line is served today,” a T evaluation of the pilot reads. “The operation of the Pilot does not reduce existing Fairmount Line service, stops, or frequencies.”

This extension would bolster access to the stadium where the Kraft-owned Patriots play, as well as its Patriot Place shopping complex.

With operation costs estimated at about $1.2 million for the pilot, the Kraft Group has pledged to subsidize up to $217,000 to help offset any increase in per-passenger ridership cost. The Krafts will also provide 500 revenue-generating parking spaces for the plan.

The T expects to foot a net cost of $514,000, after accounting for the Kraft subsidy and an estimated $459,000 of new revenue from ticket sales.

Talks have effectively put the interests of Foxborough town officials, the Baker administration, and some local businesses in conflict with those pushing for better overall service on the Fairmount Line.

“One of the things we were most disturbed by is this notion that … we were somehow fighting against town of Foxborough,” said Allentza Michel, Fairmount/Indigo Network Coordinator for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. “We’re not against the town; we are in fact not against the Kraft Group. We’re committed to working with them, but this jeopardizes everything we’ve been fighting for.”

Fairmount advocates cite years of meeting with MassDOT officials to improve operations along the 9.2-mile Fairmount line, which is the only commuter rail route to operate entirely within Boston city limits. They were only made aware of ongoing talks about the Foxborough extension last year, and Michel said neither the Krafts nor the T has made a case for Fairmount Corridor community benefits derived from the expansion.

US Congressman Michael Capuano told the Reporter on Wednesday that he is all for floating new ideas for better fixed rail service, but only if local communities aren’t undermined or inconvenienced by the service changes.

“My initial thoughts are that community groups in Dorchester and Mattapan have legitimate concerns,” he said in a phone interview. “I understand the T wants to extend service to more people — it’s awfully hard to say give it to us and nobody else. We’re happy to share, but not if it’s going to cost us poorer service or worse service.”

Around 150 new daily riders would board from the Foxboro Station, well within the Fairmount Line’s capacity, transit officials say. About 790 people boarded the line on an average weekday in 2012, according to a Boston Foundation study, while June 2016 showed about 2,260 on average.

“Presume the T’s right, then good, no problem,” Capuano said. “If they’re wrong and [Foxborough riders] take up all the seats when you get closer to South Station, is the T prepared to add extra trains?”

Capuano has a track record of throwing out test balloons for the Fairmount Line. He spent $53,000 of his campaign funds to finance two weeks of free ridership in May. The Foxborough extension should live and die by the impact on those along the corridor, he said.

“In concept, I have no problem with it,” Capuano said. “But the devil is in the details, in making sure that measurement for success is equitable and fair.”

Jennifer Smith can be reached at jennifer.smith@dotnews.com or follow her on Twitter at @JennDotSmith