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Rush hour traffic and pedestrians cross the railroad tracks that border MIT’s campus where they intersect Massachusetts Avenue. The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority is considering upgrading these rails for commuter rail use, which would lead to increased train traffic at busy intersections like this one.
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Railroad may see commuter traffic by 2012

Simmons residents may need to get used to a lot more train whistles come 2012. Last year, Massachusetts purchased the railroad tracks between Albany and Vassar Streets and has proposed to the Cambridge City Council that it be used as part of a commuter rail linking Boston’s North Station and Worcester. That may mean as many as twenty trains will run along the north edge of MIT’s campus every day, potentially as early as next year.

The tracks, known as the Grand Junction Rail line, pass under the Boston University Bridge, run directly adjacent to Simmons Hall, cross over Massachusetts Avenue, and pass under Building 46 (Brain and Cognitive Sciences), after which they cross Main Street. The Commonwealth is looking to spend a few million dollars upgrading the Grand Junction tracks to support a commuter rail line that would provide service between North Station and Worcester. That service would send between five and twenty trains through Cambridge every day, according to an October 2010 article in the Cambridge Chronicle.

In response, Cambridge City Council passed a resolution on September 13 condemning the state’s decision-making process: “At no point has the Patrick-Murray Administration included the City of Cambridge in the conversation of expanding rail service through the city,” said the Council. The Council further expressed that it would oppose “additional rail traffic through Cambridge that could have a negative impact on our residents and community.”

About the impact of commuter rail, Council member Leland Cheung MBA ’10 told the Chronicle, “Twenty trains per a [sic] day racing through east Cambridge would be devastating to that part of the city.”

Councilor Tim Toomey has made opposing the new commuter rail link a priority. Increased use of Grand Junction, he says, would “further snarl traffic on already congested Cambridge streets, increase the amount of car exhaust being released into the atmosphere, and increase the noise pollution throughout the eastern part of the city,” according to his website. In an October interview with the Chronicle, Toomey expressed the need for Cambridge residents to voice their concerns. “I want to know what we can do as a city to start mobilizing these neighborhoods and these universities,” said Toomey.

The Tech reported last August that development of commuter rail would not affect plans to build a new pedestrian tracks crossing near Building W59.

The Grand Junction corridor has been previously considered for a number of transportation projects. Cambridge, in consultation with MIT, has had plans to develop the corridor into a Rail-with-Trail bicycle and pedestrian path between Boston, MIT, and several Cambridge neighborhoods. Cambridge has asked the Community Development Department to determine how upgrading Grand Junction to commuter rail would interfere with a Rail-with-Trail project.

As it stands now, the Rail-with-Trail project is intended to be compatible with existing Urban Ring transportation proposals involving the corridor. The Urban Ring is an MBTA project designed to build a new public transportation route connecting various transit lines already in place.

Ethan A. Solomon