Until the 100-inches-of-snow winter of 2014-15 brought the entire 100-year-old system to its knees, and with it most of the regional economy, years of discussion about our state’s dependency on the misnamed Commuter Rail system had not broken through the public and politician’s unwillingness to raise the large amounts of revenue needed to fix things. Suddenly, we had to pay attention.
Unfortunately, we’re paying attention to the wrong things – the stoppages, the contract with Keolis, the budget shortfalls. The real problem is not the malfunctioning locomotives or the Fiscal Management Board’s short-sighted proposal to stop weekend service. The real problem is that the entire system is based on dysfunctional premises. Like being stuck in quicksand, the more we flail around the deeper we descend. Keeping the Titanic from sinking isn’t good enough if you’re living in the airplane era. What is needed is a new vision of both purpose and technology – and a new strategy for using what we already have as the foundation for a phased advance from today’s mess to that desired future.