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; and
  • the Intercity Bus Program, which awards subsidy to intercity bus providers operating routes in rural regions in MA.

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 and reporting timelines.

MassDOT will report on the performance measures and targets set through this process in Tracker.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and MassDOT’s understanding that pre-pandemic performance is still an unrealistic goal, the RTAs used the first six months of FY21 to conduct the target setting process. As such, RTA performance in FY22 was more on target than in FY20 and FY21. In fact, many RTAs exceeded their ridership targets, signaling a greater return to ridership that has resulted from increased hybrid work options, in-person schooling and a return to in-person leisure activities. MassDOT is still tracking RTA recovery to pre-pandemic levels, using a “recovery baseline” of FY19.

High Level Summary for Scorecard

Over the past three years, the Rail and Transit Division worked closely with the Regional Transit Agencies (RTAs) to move towards a performance-based planning approach. The RTAs and MassDOT worked together in FY2018 to develop a report intended to guide the RTAs in developing metrics and aligning goals. From this process, MassDOT entered into a second iteration of a two-year Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with the RTAs that set several targets. Asset management and financial performance measures include a one-year target for FY22, while ridership and customer service targets were set for FY23 with a one-year milestone in FY22.

Like all other transit agencies, the RTAs were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since a pandemic-era lows in April 2020, RTA ridership has recovered approximately 79% of pre-pandemic fixed route ridership and 67% of demand response ridership at the close of FY22. Farebox recovery ratios have also seen a rebound, though remain lower than pre-pandemic levels due to local decisions to pursue fare free options for RTA customers. Most RTAs continue to reach their on-time performance goals, though increased congestion has lowered performance from previous pandemic years.

For MassDOT Rail, the targets set for the first time in FY20 for asset conditions build off of the 2019 Asset Management Plan, which evaluated and catalogued rail assets across the state. The division is now tracking the number of asset inspections completed during the fiscal year. In addition, all reported safety measures have also improved (number of derailments, number of hazmat incidents, and number of highway-rail incidents).

Rail Scorecard

Performance Goal Area Performance Measure FY22 Performance FY21 Performance 2022 Target 2024 Target Long-term Target
Budget & Capital Performance

Budget & Capital Performance

Capital Budget Spent 59% 89% 95% 95% 95%
Hartford Line Ridership 97,338 29,386
Vermonter Ridership 25,842


Number of Derailments – Per 1,000 Track Miles (Five Year Rolling Average) 3.65 4.90      
Number of Highway-Rail Incidents – Per 1,000 Track Miles (Five Year Rolling Average) 4.16 2.90      
Number of Reported Hazmat Incidents – Per 1,000 Track Miles (Five Year Rolling Average) 1.18 1.30      
System Condition

System Condition

Bridge (Percent Good and Excellent Condition) 24% 23% 33% 39% 85%
Bridge (Percent Poor and Non-Operable) 7% 7% 2% 3% 1%
Culvert (Percent Good and Excellent Condition) 12% 12% 12% 15% 85%
Culvert (Percent Poor and Non-Operable) 12% 12% 11% 9% 1%
Grade Crossing (Percent Good and Excellent Condition) 56% 46% 48% 51% 85%
Grade Crossing (Percent Poor and Non-Operable) 3% 2% 7% 4% 1%
Inspections by Asset Type – Bridge 95% 96% 100% 100% 100%
Inspections by Asset Type – Culvert 91% 94% 100% 100% 100%
Inspections by Asset Type – Grade Crossing 95% 92% 100% 100% 100%
Inspections by Asset Type – Track Segment 93% 93% 100% 100% 100%
Track Segment (Percent Good and Excellent Condition) 62% 35% 72% 80% 85%
Track Segment (Percent Poor and Non-Operable) 1% 1% 1% 1% 1%

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 delayed the pace of asset condition work and inspections

RTA Scorecards Disclaimer*

Unlike other Tracker sections, RTA targets are not split into 2-year, 4-year, and long term targets. Instead, targets are derived from TAM Plans, Safety Plans, and Memoranda of Understanding, producing different time horizons for each measure. Asset management and financial performance targets use one year targets (evaluated for FY22), while ridership and customer service targets are on a two-year cycle and were not evaluated last year, but are for FY2021, below.

At time of publication, both TAM Plans and Safety Plans are currently under review by NTD.