To visualize the impact of the gap between our northern and southern rail systems we have only to imagine how our transit lines would function if they were similarly divided, as shown in this modification of the MBTA transit map.  Park Street would have to be a large terminal with a dozen platforms, from which trains would back out to begin each run. Absurd as this may seem, this is exactly how our commuter rail system works.   [© MBTA / Brad Bellows]

Connectivity is vital in all living systems. 

The purpose of transportation infrastructure is to create efficient connections between people, opportunities and resources. When this is done effectively and equitably, we thrive, and when it is not, inequalities arise and our region as a whole suffers.

With our highways congested and our rail system divided, economic connections between areas to the north and south of Boston are either nonexistent or unworkable.

To understand the impact the gap between North and South Stations has on our regional rail service, we only need to consider how poorly our transit lines would function if they too were divided in the center – if for example, Red Line service terminated at Charles Street and resumed again at South Station, with huge rail yards at each of these terminals, from which trains would back out with each new trip. It would be totally absurd, but that’s how our rail system works. No wonder it’s inefficient.

A worker living on one side of Boston might have to relocate their entire family to accept a job on the other side, or forego the opportunity. While this might once have been acceptable, the rise of two-earner families and more fluid employment markets makes this particularly destructive.

Likewise, employers seeking commercial space at less than Boston or Cambridge prices are forced to choose which population of workers they wish to have access to. Are there any other choices?

We pride ourselves on our efficient market economy, but the measure of a fair market is that all transactions are on an equal footing. This is hardly the case when transportation access is so unbalanced. The real estate bubbles in Boston and Cambridge are clear evidence that our housing and employment markets are broken.

The beauty of connectivity is that it is not a zero-sum game, in which an advantage for one area must be a disadvantage for another. Rather, a fairer market benefits all of us, makes us more attractive to investment and talent, and enlarges the economy of our Commonwealth and our region. 

While Massachusetts will be the major beneficiary of a unified rail system, there will be substantial benefit to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont as well. By failing to mend the gap between North and South Stations, we are effectively vetoing their access to the Northeast Corridor. A connected system will unlock New England’s potential as no other project can. By working together we can accomplish this long deferred goal.

The New Hampshire Capitol Corridor Project, still in the planning stages, would create a direct rail connection from Concord, Manchester and Nashua to the Massachusetts commuter rail network.   [NH DOT]

Amtrak’s DownEaster service from Boston to Portland, Maine has grown steadily since its start in 2001, and has been extended north to Brunswick.   [© Open Streetmap]