NORTH KINGSTOWN — On Tuesday evening, the North Kingstown Planning Commission held a lengthy discussion with officials from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation regarding the town’s vision for the Wickford Junction area.
Over the past several weeks, commission members have debated the merits of developing the parcels surrounding the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) train line in order to attract ridership, as well as future residential and commercial opportunities.
Stephen A. Devine, chief of Intermodal Planning at RIDOT, and James Eng, the project manager for the Wickford Junction Station, were on hand to first outline the state’s present and future plans and challenges with public transit.
“The site has great highway access with the Route 4 interchange, and a lot of the MBTA stations are near highways because they are great capture areas,” said Devine. “We have worked closely with the town of North Kingstown over the years on the project, and have an active study of other potential sites and extension, to the south in Kingston and possibly Westerly.”
“MBTA is our train provider today, but that doesn’t mean they will be the long term, and we are looking at other options,” he added. “We bought train equipment, for example, for them, and participated in a major funding process for a major maintenance facility in Boston. In exchange for that capital funding, they run trains into Rhode Island. For right now, it has been a great relationship.”
Eng specifically referenced the need for RIDOT to work with MBTA in order to develop train schedules which can accommodate successfully passengers who need to travel to and from work, whether to Providence or Boston. Currently, the first train leaves Wickford Junction at 4:50 a.m., and the last returns at 9:55 p.m. on weekdays. During the weekend, however, there is no service to or from the station.
“I worked with the MBTA for 30 years,and know what they are capable of, but they are in big trouble with a huge deficit,” said Eng. “The timing to ask what we can service is not good, but what I think we could do is propose a trial weekend service to see if there is attractiveness in the area.”
“Right now, there isn’t a train that leaves Providence at 4:15 p.m., so who will wait over an hour after they get out of work?” he continued. “No, they want to get home to their families. I have looked at all the windows that are available to use to see if we can move a train into a slot that will get people getting out of work at 4 p.m. to take people south to Wickford. We want to get people off the highway.”
Devine further stated that with an out-of-state transit authority operating service into Rhode Island, communication between RIDOT and MBTA is even more emphasized. He stated that approximately 170 people per day, round trip, use the commuter rail at Wickford Junction.
“[MBTA is] obviously concerned with trains getting on time to Boston, and we are trying to accommodate both the Boston and Providence demand,” said Devine. “That is challenging because there are essentially two railroads we have to deal with in order to make even the most minor tweaks in the schedule.”
For the rest of this story and more local news, pick up the Sept. 19 edition of the Standard Times.