In Praise of the Indigo Line

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This space generally takes a dim view of several MBTA expansion projects, but there is one we can get behind — the Indigo Line.

What’s that? Its the MBTA’s expansion of the low volume (~1600 passengers per day) Fairmount Line to create more stations and improve the existing ones. The Fairmount Line is unique in the MBTA’s commuter rail network — its starts and terminates in Boston (South Station – Readville) and only has five stations.

Officially known as the Fairmount Line Improvement Plan, the project will add four stations to the line. So what’s good about that?

First, it will provide rail access to a dense urban population center that is currently dependent on slower buses. Take a look at this map — the line cuts through Dorchester and Mattapan — then think about that population density relative to some of the other projects in the planning stages.

Second, this project takes an existing MBTA asset and, by making incremental investments, significantly improves transit access. Again, compared to some of the greenfield expansions in the queue, this project has a modest cost.

The ‘Indigo Line’ moniker comes from an advocate-supported approach of making this line behave more like a subway line than a commuter rail line. Right now, the Fairmount Line has rush hour headways of 26 – 40 minutes and non-peak hour headways of over an hour. By comparison, the Red Line has peak headways of 9 minutes.

To make the Indigo Line work, the MBTA is going to have to run more trains, price the service at the same rate as the subway, and probably do some marketing outreach to consumers.

The MBTA has a chance to serve an underserved community and do it with incremental dollars, not a massive capital outlay. In our current climate, this is the only type of expansion the MBTA will be capable of for years. We should make sure we get it right.

Crossposted at Boston Daily.