Temperatures were frigid on the Blue Hill Avenue station platform Wednesday afternoon, but the mood was celebratory as music blared, attendees cracked jokes, and city and state officials gathered to mark the official ribbon-cutting opening of the newest commuter rail stop on the Fairmount Line.
The station, which began serving passengers last Monday, represents the last of four stations to open in recent years as part of an ongoing effort to improve public transit access in sections of Mattapan and Dorchester that have long been underserved by convenient, reliable public transportation. The presence of Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin Walsh at the ceremony, in addition to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak and a score of local representatives, underscored the significance of the station coming online.
Baker touted the $130 million fronted by the state to expand the Fairmount Line, approximately $17 million of which went towards the new Blue Hill Avenue station. The governor pointed out that the $8 billion being invested in MBTA infrastructure over the next five years is “more than twice what the T has spent in any five year period.”
Rep. Russell Holmes, whose local team spearheaded efforts to complete the project, spent most of his speech shouting out those who had put in hours of work on the ground to make the plan a reality.
Project Manager Desiree Patrice “walked the neighborhood and knocked on doors,” said Holmes, having conversations with neighbors to ensure the project’s best possible outcome. Feedback from residents of Woodhaven Street, which borders the railroad tracks, saw plans for two exterior platforms converted to one central platform, explained Holmes, who grew up a block and a half from the station.
“Having folks from the neighborhood who understand the neighborhood is so important,” he emphasized.
Rep. Dan Cullinane, whose 12th Suffolk District includes much of the Mattapan neighborhood in the vicinity of the station, called the day “the exact definition of what a big victory for transit equity looks like.”
“Access to opportunity is everything,” said Cullinane, addressing the crowd. “If it’s too hard to get there or it takes too long to get there, then that access to opportunity isn’t really real.”
Before the station opened, nearby residents had to choose between sporadic bus service and a circuitous route that took them from Mattapan Square to South Station via a trolley and a Red Line train. Now, the commuter line station provides an option that whisks passengers to South Station in 23 minutes.
According to Keolis, which operates the commuter rail line for the MBTA, the Fairmount line can point to a strong performance rating in recent months, including a 96.6 percent on time performance so far in 2019. Since Keolis took charge of the rail line in 2014, there are 2,500 more train trips annually and the line’s ridership has grown by more than 200 percent since 2012.
“We’re pleased to see that with this new station’s opening, there are more transportation options available to the communities surrounding Blue Hill Ave. and Mattapan Square,” said Keolis CEO and General Manager David Scorey. “The Fairmount Line has one of Commuter Rail’s best rates of on-time-performance and with 40 daily trains Blue Hill Avenue passengers can travel to or from South Station in less than 30 minutes. As ridership grows on this line Keolis will continue to partner with the communities we serve and market the service to new riders.”
Mela Bush, a longtime advocate for more Fairmount Line access, encouraged residents to take advantage of the train line’s expanded service.
“When I was a little girl, I used to look through the fence at the trains going by; I could never get on one,” she recalled. “We need to own this. We need to get on board. We need to celebrate by using this train to access the opportunities it provides.”
For Bush, the new station offers a chance to reclaim time that would have been otherwise wasted in transit.