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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Tales from the T: A new station for a new Allston


Anyone who’s traveled to the neighborhood of Allston knows how difficult it can be, requiring a trek from the Green Line, a bus ride through traffic or a drive along twisting highways. But a massive new project is promising to change all this by bringing a frequent rail service from South Station, Worcester and Kendall Square to a new West Station in Allston, alongside a brand-new highway and urban neighborhood on former industrial land. What’s the story behind this megaproject

Allston is currently the site of several concurrent developments, centered on the old Beacon Park Yard site. During the early 20th century, this was a bustling freight yard on the railroad between Boston and Chicago. Rail traffic declined, however, and in 1958, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority purchased the (now-underutilized) railroad east of the I-95 highway in order to extend the Massachusetts Turnpike into Boston alongside it. A massive toll plaza and interchange was built north of Beacon Park Yard. The result was a tangle of asphalt and steel permanently bisecting Allston. 

However, in 2013, Beacon Park Yard was closed, with remaining traffic shifted to a new yard in Worcester. Then, in 2016, the Massachusetts Turnpike switched to electronic tolling, making the toll plazas redundant. This meant that much of the massive Beacon Park Yard site was freed for redevelopment. 

The aging Massachusetts Turnpike viaduct and interchange would be rebuilt and resited, and a new urban neighborhood would arise on the vacated land, with new housing and bridges across the highway connecting to Allston, as well as a planned massive extension of Harvard’s campus. 

At its center, a new West Station was to be built. This was designed to serve not only existing commuter trains on the Framingham-Worcester Line but also new, frequent subway-like local trains. Inbound trains would run not just into South Station, but also up the Grand Junction Railroad. This currently disused line diverges near Boston University, running across the Charles and through MIT’s campus to Kendall Square, Everett and Chelsea, connecting more neighborhoods to Boston's rail network. Add in a new bus terminal, and West Station could become a true regional transit hub. 

West Station is not without its flaws, however (to say nothing of the criticism of its neighboring projects)! Its inefficient track layout means many commuter trains won’t even stop, bypassing the station instead. But perhaps that’s acceptable — it’s located near new developments but far from Allston’s existing commercial centers, requiring a lengthy detour for pedestrians and buses. In any case, the station will not open until said new developments finish, to gauge if rider demand will even materialize. Originally set to open in 2024, West Station is now planned to open in 2040 (not a typo), and skyrocketing costs may push it back even further. For comparison, the highway reconstruction will finish in 2025. It’s almost comedic that Boston may be underwater before Allston finally gets its train station — and that even if it isn’t, West Station may simply be too costly, too far, too little, too late. Is this truly the best we can do?