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 delayed the pace of asset condition work and inspections.