The MBTA’s $23 Million 11th-hour Sweetheart Deal with Gillette Stadium

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$23 million 11th-hour sweetheart deal by the MBTA will stick taxpayers with a jaw-dropping $10 per one-way ride subsidy on a new full-service Gillette Stadium commuter rail line

As the curtain falls on Governor Patrick’s administration, officials at MassDOT have been rushing furiously behind the scenes to pull off one of the most egregious and secretive taxpayer abuses in state history: the execution of a binding $23 million contract to purchase a CSX freight line to provide full-service daily commuter rail service to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. If the new commuter rail service is provided, the financial benefit to the owners of Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place will be enormous.

The MBTA has been offering additional train service for Patriots games and stadium events since 1989.  Several years ago, the MBTA rejected a request by the Kraft Group for full-time MBTA service in large part because of capital costs, the cost of the added engines and coaches, and operating costs. According to David Mohler Executive Director of Planning for MassDOT, the state began meeting with Kraft Group officials in January about potentially proceeding with full-time service.  The last minute deal in the works today will instead commit the state to purchasing and upgrading rail lines to provide a full-service MBTA commuter rail line operating regularly throughout the year.

The MBTA has studied new service options that would run weekday trains from South Station to Gillette Stadium with multiple stops on the existing Franklin Branch commuter rail line or alternatively from South Station to Readville and then express through Walpole to Gillette Stadium.

The MBTA is rushing to execute the rail line purchase before the Baker administration takes office, aiming for a contract execution by the end of November,  just days away.

When word of the pending CSX rail line purchase leaked out several weeks ago, local officials reacted strongly against it, citing lack of local demand for the service, resultant service delays on existing commuter rail lines, excessive tax-payer funded costs, and lack of necessity for a new line since four commuter rail stations exist already in nearby communities.

According to a Boston Globe news report three weeks ago, MBTA officials were miffed when word leaked out about the MBTA’s pending actions when the Foxboro town manager informed local officials.

“As a courtesy to the town manager, he was given some preliminary information,” spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail Wednesday. “It’s unclear why he decided to discuss that preliminary information publicly before MassDOT and MBTA officials had an opportunity to brief all of the elected officials in the Foxborough/Walpole area.”

MBTA spokesperson Pesaturo’s remarks to The Boston Globe are astounding in at least two respects: 1) he describes the information that the MBTA provided to the Foxboro town manager as “preliminary” notwithstanding the fact that the MBTA Board of Directors had already granted full legal and financial authorization for the CSX rail line purchase in June without consulting local officials; and, 2) he complains that the information was leaked before local officials could be “briefed.”  Notice that the MBTA apparently deems it sufficient for local officials to be briefed of its decision to proceed with the CSX rail line purchase, rather than to ask for input from them in the first place.

According to a study commissioned by the MBTA in 2010, taxpayer-funded subsidies will be required to finance the new rail service, up to $10.11 per one-way ride.  In addition, the MBTA will absorb up to $84 million in capital costs to construct and equip the new commuter rail line.

The first public meeting about the proposal did not take place until one week ago on November 18thLocal officials complained about the plans secrecy.  “Why would you approach this without approaching the towns most impacted by this first?” asked Selectman John Gray. “Why was this done quietly and without our participation?”

According to the most recent data reported by the Federal Transit Administration, in 2012 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and MBTA communities subsidized $823 million of the MBTA’s $1.295 billion operating costs, with ticket revenue paying for only 36.4%.  Even by the most optimistic of the MBTA’s own projections, this new Gillette Stadium rail service will add millions more to the MBTA chronic operating losses.

MassDOT and the MBTA should hold off on signing any binding contracts with CSX and allow the new administration to consider what to do next.

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