Lack of Unity at Union Station

Concerns over Worcester’s transportation result in renovations

Jacob Vider, Contributing Writer

For Clark University students planning a visit into Boston, the trip can involve a train ride into the city on the commuter rail, starting at Union Station. In recent years, Worcester’s transportation system has been the subject of hot debate due to complaints of ineffectiveness. 

Some Worcester residents, however, are not happy with the quality of commuter rail transportation. In response to complaints posted by Worcester residents and legislators, a MBTA stakeholder meeting was held last summer during which officials responded to concerns regarding the infrequency of trains passing through Union Station, the lack of accessibility for passengers with disabilities, and the frequency of delays. Participants emphasized the latter point, adding that, “lack of reliability has been a recurring complaint from riders.” They cited data released by the MBTA, noting that, “[60] percent of avoidable delays were due to malfunctioning locomotives/train sets, signals, and switches.”

During the meeting, government officials outlined plans for upcoming renovations that will take place over the course of two and a half years, starting in April 2020. The biggest change will involve the addition of a second platform to the station, which will allow more than one train to pass through at a time. This is intended to reduce delays caused by trains that are backed up on the same track and increase the total capacity of travelers on the MBTA commuter rail. An additional platform would also allow an increase in the number of express trains, including the nonstop trips from Worcester to Boston.

Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Timothy P. Murray spoke about the addition of this platform: “It will give some flexibility in terms of arrivals and departures which can allow tweaks in the schedule to allow for better reliability and perhaps another train set or two once they do the modeling,”

Some proponents of the renovations expressed worry that this change will not happen quickly enough. In the public hearing last August, a representative of the Worcester Redevelopment Authority (WRA) pushed for the renovations to occur on a faster schedule. “Our economy depends very much on better train service…we’re desperate that this be accelerated.” The WRA restored Union Station two decades ago and still owns and operates it today. WRA representative Michael Angelini spoke of an expected economic boost due to the increase in ridership after renovations.

This is not the first refurbishment that Union Station has undergone; in 2000, it was restored as a cultural hub, hosting formal and community events in the Grand Hall, and containing an attached restaurant, the 1920’s-themed Luciano’s Cotton Club. Primarily, Worcester’s Union Station is used for transportation purposes, with over 600,000 travelers passing through every year.

Today, the Framingham-Worcester line of the MBTA commuter rail system boasts a ridership of over 18,000 daily commuters measured in 2018, making it the second busiest line on the commuter rail system. 

Officials expect the renovations to bring about changes that will encourage those employed by Boston companies to move to Worcester, making the area more appealing to Boston companies and encouraging wealthier city-dwellers to move to Worcester. While renovations may bring economic opportunities to Worcester residents, allowing residents to travel more cheaply to jobs in the city, they may also contribute to gentrification, forcing out current residents who may not be able to pay rising rent prices. 

Since the beginning of the renovations, over $7 million has been invested in the station and is set to be finished by 2022.