Rhode Island Intrastate Rail (RailRhode)

August 28, 2021

This post is a collaboration post with Cedric from The Providence Planner. Thanks Cedric for working with me to bring this amazing post to both of our blogs!

Both Ben and Cedric have made posts on the MBTA’s Rhode Island expansion, and why it's terrible. But while we offered our own solutions, they could cause some issues with the MBTA, especially with the length of the route, state line conflicts, lack of funding, and the MBTA being broke and stuff. So let's stop being dependent on the MBTA and do it ourselves! On the Rails and The Providence Planner present the first collaboration between Miles in Transit guest blogs; Rhode Island Intrastate Rail (thanks to Evan a year later, we're now calling this RailRhode).

Currently, Rhode Island’s rail service isn’t that great. The MBTA Commuter Rail’s Providence/Stoughton Line has three stops in the state, Providence, TF Green Airport, and Wickford Junction. TF Green Airport and Wickford Junction see 10 trains in each direction on weekdays, and no service on weekends. All MBTA trains stop at Providence, with a train at least every hour on weekdays, and every two hours on weekends. Amtrak also stops at Providence, as well as Kingston and Westerly on their Northeast Regional service, which has 5 trains stopping at all 3 stations every day. The MBTA has much lower fares than Amtrak, with a one way ticket from Providence to Wickford Junction costing $3.50 on the MBTA, and a similar journey to the nearby Kingston station costing $14. Unlike Boston, where commuters can use their monthly passes for unlimited bus and subway rides, these fares don’t have much of a benefit for commuters connecting to local bus service in Rhode Island, as RIPTA has a separate fare system that is not integrated with the MBTA or Amtrak.

A map of the full proposal.

Our idea for the intrastate rail would mostly replace the MBTA segment in RI. The first phase of the main rail line would run hourly service on weekdays from Kingston to Pawtucket (will be referred to as the “core section” of the network from here), making stops at the existing TF Green Airport and Wickford Junction stations, with RIPTA service centered around the stations. This would allow MBTA Providence Line service to be cut back to Providence, improving frequencies on the rest of the line, and perhaps timed transfers for service to Boston could be worked out. Select trips continue to serve TF Green Airport. This service would require new platforms and sidings to be built at Wickford Junction and TF Green Airport (there is currently only a single platform/siding, severely limiting frequencies), but it wouldn’t be too expensive to implement, as well as the completion of the Pawtucket station currently under construction, but that’s happening anyway. The first phase would also permanently close the MBTA’s South Attleboro station, which was already temporarily closed due to deterioration, and is adequately served by local buses operated by RIPTA and GATRA.

Fares along the new rail network would ideally be priced around $2 - $3 per ride, making it slightly more expensive than RIPTA’s bus service, which is what the MBTA does, but still affordable enough that riders don’t get turned away from the railway and instead make multiple bus journeys. Timed unlimited passes could also be offered at comparable prices to what RIPTA currently offers, which is $6 for a day pass and $70 for a month pass.

This intrastate service could free up capacity and resources for the rest of the busy Providence Line, while expanding service and improving frequencies within Rhode Island by, like, 150%, not to mention taking cars off of the extremely busy I-95, RI-4, and RI-146. With tracks already in place, the initial cost would just be trains, and 2 platforms, in exchange for cascading benefits for the entire state, like reduced traffic, lowered emissions, new economic activity and more, and even small benefits for people who live NOWHERE near Rhode Island! Seems like a good deal to me!

Back in July, Ben suggested an overhaul of RIPTA's local bus service, and this rail service throughout Rhode Island would play a key role in connecting passengers to reach their final destination easier, as all the bus routes would run to a hub at both the Kingston and Providence train stations.

Assuming this service is successful, the second phase of the expansion would include infill stations in Cranston and East Greenwich and an extension to Westerly, Mystic and New London, with headways in the core section improved to half hourly on weekdays with new hourly weekend service. Service to Westerly would be hourly on weekdays and weekends, with every other train continuing to New London. North of Pawtucket, the network branches into two segments. One segment will follow the MBTA and Amtrak corridor to Attleboro. The other branch will follow the Providence and Worcester Railroad with new stations built in Lincoln and Woonsocket with alternating trains providing hourly service on weekdays and every 2 hours on weekends.

To provide additional service and easier trips to passengers commuting between southern Rhode Island and the shore towns of Connecticut, CTtransit’s Shore Line East services would be extended full-time to New London, as currently only a handful of trips go to New London, the rest terminate in Old Saybrook. Select Shore Line East trips in peak hours would be extended further to serve Mystic and Westerly. This would be managed by CTtransit, but could possibly be funded with the same money as the Rhode Island rail project.

A complete schedule of the proposed network can be found here.

After all of these changes, Rhode Island would have an amazing railway network! This plan that we put together utilizes all the available trackage within the state, and provides frequent service to those looking for an easier car-free way to travel around. This plan will bridge the commuter rail gap between Rhode Island and Connecticut, not to mention the new economic opportunity it will bring.

We hope you enjoyed reading this comprehensive plan that Ben and Cedric put together, and we look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions.


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Heli on August 28, 2021 at 3:00 pm: It was pretty fun working with you and seeing your ideas combined with mine... the final product ended up being pretty cool! Thanks for writing with me and tolerating me! Oh yeah, and next time please don't stay up until 2 AM making a schedule... I didn't even CONSIDER making a schedule