What is the Rail & Transit Division?

Freight Train Traveling Through Forest

The Rail and Transit Division provides oversight and manages funding for all 15 Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs), offers several competitive grant programs, and manages freight, passenger, and seasonal rail lines across the state.

The competitive grant programs offered by MassDOT include:

  • the Community Transit Grant Program, which provides funding for lift-equipped accessible vehicles and technical assistance;
  • the Workforce Transportation program, which provides funding for operating assistance, planning funds and incentive programs to increase commuting options;
  • the Intercity Bus Program, which awards subsidy to intercity bus providers operating routes in rural regions in MA; and
  • the RTA Discretionary Grant program, which provides additional operating assistance to RTAs for targeted operating assistance, technology improvements and various pilot projects.

MassDOT owns 14 rail lines (totaling 285 miles of track), 165 bridges, 747 culverts, 314 at-grade crossings, and 12 rail yards, working cooperatively with Amtrak and private railroad companies to provide intercity passenger and freight rail service to residents and businesses.

Organizational structure of Rail and Transit Division.

Regional Transit Performance

The transit section shares data on the 15 RTAs. RTAs in Massachusetts operate two main types of service:

  • Bus service, which includes regularly scheduled local routes and commuter routes which operate on fixed schedules (referred to as “fixed route” throughout this report); and
  • Demand-response service, which includes federally mandated paratransit service and other dial-a-ride services, whether provided through dedicated transit vehicles or taxi vouchers. This service will be referred to as “paratransit” throughout the rest of this report.

In fall 2018, MassDOT and the RTAs took part in a Task Force on Regional Transit Authority Performance and Funding, which produced a report titled A Vision for the Future of Massachusetts’ Regional Transit Authorities. Bilaterally negotiated Memoranda of Understanding have been signed between the Rail and Transit Division and each of the RTAs with agreed upon performance metrics andand reporting timelines.

This year, MassDOT will report on the performance measures and targets set through this process in Tracker. Impacts of COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the targets set by the RTAs were not reached, particularly in the areas of ridership and fare recovery. This aligns with nationwide trends for all transit agencies.

MassDOT Rail Performance

The MassDOT Rail Division manages freight, passenger, and seasonal rail lines across the state and maintains its rail assets. This includes overseeing the administration of former and current railroad property, supporting logistics efforts to reduce trucks on the road by shipping more goods via rail, and increasing the safety and reliability of rail traffic through grade crossing improvements.

The Division’s property staff handles Chapter 40/54A administrative hearings to address the use of former railroad property and to ensure the safety of rail travel during new building construction near railroad rights-of-way. Part of this involves the issuance of 50-100 licenses annually to contractors, utilities, cities, towns and private owners that need access or are working next to right-of-way for construction; the design and appropriate administrative review of this range of licenses requires extensive staff time.

Additionally, staff manage Chapter 161C applications for the sale of former or existing railroad property – a lengthy process involving extensive canvassing of impacted operating railroads (which may include the MBTA’s commuter rail).

The Industrial Rail Access Program (IRAP), run by the division, aims to minimize truck traffic by shifting goods delivery to rail. An annual program started in 2012 and funded by a three-million-dollar state bond and clients’ matching funds, IRAP works with railroads and logistics companies to build sidings and provide off-loading equipment that increases their processing capacity. The program supports at least six major investment projects annually.

Funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Railway-Highway Crossings Program (Section 130) enables the Rail division to rebuild or improve at-grade crossings throughout Massachusetts. Federal funding varies annually but typically provides at least $2.5 million (with a limited state match requirement). In 2019, the Rail Division completed an Asset Management Plan (AMP) which presents the current state of the Commonwealth’s rail assets and defines what is needed to achieve State of Good Repair across the system. Among other benefits, the AMP allows the Rail division to triage at-grade crossings and apply Section 130 investments to the highest priority crossings first.

Impacts of COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the MassDOT Rail Division saw lower ridership than expected in its seasonal rail lines that were active during the initial onset of the pandemic; in 2021, the seasonal CapeFLYER and ValleyFlyer services ran for their usual seasonal durations – a service increase from the shortened service season in 2020. Additionally, the pandemic continued to disrupt the contractor workforce and procurement of track materials, and delay the pace of asset condition work and inspections.