The primary reason the MBTA wants to activate this railroad line is to remove cars from the highway and thus reduce pollution and traffic
congestion. That is a very noble purpose and I agree that something needs to be done about these problems. However, Hingham (which is not the only
town on the Greenbush route to oppose the train) has been accused of standing in the way of progress because of its opposition to the restoration
of the Greenbush line, but let me list some reasons why I don't view implementing 1800's railroad technology as "progress".
I also really resent the MBTA's arrogant behavior in this project, and its treatment of the towns who opposed the railway (including Cohasset and
Scituate). Originally, the state applied for 80% federal funding for the Old Colony Railroad project to be applied to all three branches, and it
sold this concept to the voters to get project approval and tax dollars, but when confronted with the fact that the Hingham Historic District and
wetlands were federally protected areas (meaning strict environmental laws) it announced that it would build Greenbush exclusively with "state"
money to avoid complying with those laws. Now that's pretty sleazy. This "segmentation" of the financing was the basis of a lawsuit the town of
Hingham brought against the MBTA in the U.S. District Court.
- Public health / air pollution
A 1997 EPA study declared that toxic emissions from diesel locomotives can cause cancer and premature death, and that pollution from locomotives
"causes serious respiratory illness and exacerbates asthma attacks in children." The study further states that "a typical locomotive can produce
as much nitrogen oxide in one year as 3,000 passenger cars." The MBTA estimates that 1,331 vehicles will be removed from the road as drivers
switch to the train. In other words, each train will cause even more pollution.
- Public safety
There is a high risk of accidents at the 43 grade-level crossings (17 in Hingham alone) that will be produced by the train tracks. There have
already been fatal accidents at crossings on the other two branches of the Old Colony since they were activated in 1997. The Federal Grade
Crossing Act of 1994 attempts to eliminate grade level street crossings because of their inherent dangers, but the MBTA chooses to ignore this.
- Noise pollution
With the average distance between grade crossings being less than ½ mile (in many instances only a block) along the 17 mile Greenbush
route, and with trains required by law to blow whistles far in advance of these crossings, there will be almost continuous whistle-blowing from
each train on the entire route. With the 24 trains the MBTA plans to run each day through densely populated residential neighborhoods, there
won't be many extended periods of silence. According to a study issued by the Federal Railroad Administration in December 1999, titled, "Proposed
Rule for the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings", a corridor more than one mile in width will be adversely affected should a
heavy diesel rail line be built.
(Since I wrote this I have learned that Greenbush is a whistle-free zone, and
whistles would be sounded only for emergencies.)
- Environmental harm
Some of the Greenbush line goes though wetlands, which are nature's great nurseries. It is well documented how development and pollution around
wetlands can increase local water pollution and flooding. In Hingham almost the entire route of the train is in the Lincoln National Register
Historic District, and all the emissions and vibrations from the trains will certainly have harmful effects on the historical buildings
surrounding the tracks, some as close as a few feet. The wetlands and historic districts are federally protected areas, but rather than complying
with this the MBTA is trying to find a way around the laws.
- Restricted access for emergency vehicles
When a train is going through a crossing, traffic is temporarily blocked. If a fire truck or ambulance needs to cross the tracks at this time, it
will have to wait like any other vehicle on the road for the train to pass and the arms to raise back up. What will be the result of that? Will
someone die? Will a house burn down?
- Harm to the Hingham business district
The Greenbush tracks go right through the center of Hingham Square, within feet of some of the buildings. In this view of Main Street looking South (this is a July 4th picture, not a typical day in town), the tracks would slice
through the intersection immediately behind the car approaching the crosswalk. Some of the local
business owners can remember the noise and shaking from the trains as they came through before the line was closed in 1959, and they know that a
return to the conditions of that era would certainly have a negative impact on business.
(Since I wrote this Hingham
and the MBTA have reached an agreement that if the train is built a tunnel must be created under the business district.)
- Traffic congestion
In addition to traffic jams at railroad crossings, there will be greater pollution from idling cars at the crossings waiting for the trains to
pass, and increased tension and anxiety levels of the drivers of these cars, which can lead to heart problems and even road rage or other
harmful driving behavior. Some cars will try to avoid the congestion by driving through neighborhoods on roads that were not designed for
- Reduced property values
It has been said that more people will move to the South Shore as a result of increased public transportation (yeah, like we will really benefit
from more development and congestion...) but I think in reality, for those who live in the vicinity of this noisy, polluting train the value will
go down. OK, call me a NIMBY, but we bought our house in Hingham in 1982 because we loved the town, and it just won't be the nice, peaceful town
we chose to raise our family in if the train comes roaring through.
- Huge cost
There have been cost estimates by the MBTA of building the Greenbush line ranging from $285 million to $400 million. Are we, the state taxpayers,
really willing to pay that much for a system with so many harmful effects and so few benefits? I like the suggestion of taking the money and
applying it to the Big Dig, which in a March, 2000, Federal Highway Administration audit, was already $1.4
billion over-budget, and has gone way beyond that now.
As I stated above (this used to be a section on my Hingham page), I take the
commuter boat into Boston every workday as do many others, and I will continue to do this even if the train does come. There are many alternatives
to heavy diesel rail service to get cars off the road, including increased boat service. One of my favorite suggestions is a mono-rail down the
center of Route 3. All of the proposals I have seen cost less than building the train. I once read that it would be cheaper to hire a private
limousine to pick up each of the 1,331 drivers whose cars each train would purportedly remove from the highway and take them to existing public
transportation each day than to go forward with the Greenbush project. Now there's an idea!