City’s commuter train plan chugs ahead

City’s commuter train plan chugs ahead

WOONSOCKET – Investor Vincent Bono expects to make major progress this week on his goal of transporting guests from the Woonsocket Train Depot to somewhere other than the North Pole.

Leaders from municipalities as far away as Nashua, N.H., are set to converge on the historic downtown train station, known for its holiday rides to a mythical North Pole, to discuss how they can help make Bono’s dream of additional regional commuter service a reality.

While Bono could not release all of the details of the meeting planned for Monday, July 24, he noted that the news for his fledging company, Boston Surface Railway Company, is big, and it will help the business gain access to needed funding.

“We are putting together a public/private partnership in hopes to work out a more regional transportation solution,” Bono, a Woonsocket resident, told The Breeze.

The investor began looking at options for launching commuter train service through Woonsocket in early 2015, and signed a lease for the depot with the state Department of Transportation last year. Initial plans would have seen trains running between Worcester and Providence twice a day, with a single stop for passengers at One Depot Square beginning next year.

But in the complex business of commuter train service, it seems things don’t always go exactly according to plan.

In addition to purchasing trains to run the service, Bono must negotiate fees for use of the tracks themselves, a crucial element of his plan that hit an unexpected snag last year when Genesee & Wyoming purchased longtime track owner Providence & Worcester Railroad Co.

For years, the tracks have been used exclusively by freight trains and opened to the public for just a few months a year, when the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council operates “The Polar Express,” a fanciful ride to the North Pole as depicted in the classic book by Chris Van Allsburg.

Bono has said he’s committed to continuing the holiday tradition, and has moved forward with plans for the depot itself, a city landmark built in 1882. Recent renovations of the interior space included much attention to detail – with use of colors, copper edging and oak bar tops all in keeping with the original design.

“We went through a huge effort to make it match the historic station,” Bono said. “All of that took so much time.”

Now, a coffee shop run by local entrepreneur Anna Marie Aponte-Rivera is set to open in a month. The cafe will offer tabletop seating for commuters and will serve snacks like fruit cups and yogurt in addition to various caffeinated beverages.

Where commuters might travel to may be subject to change.

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt is expected to join leaders from several New England communities Monday to hash out some kind of agreement, after which, Bono says, Boston Surface will launch a new website. He says the original route between Worcester and Providence is still his focus, though his vision may have expanded.

Bono said he could not discuss which communities are involved in the potential deal, but noted that Worcester is the second largest city in New England, but only serviced by one Amtrak train a day.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “As residents have been complaining about for years, the MBTA is very Boston-focused.”

Woonsocket, he said, is even more under-served.

“It’s kind of like, the left-behind cities,” said Bono. “Woonsocket has been forgotten by Smith Hill.”

The investor said changes, including new – and costly – safety requirements passed by the federal government, have set him roughly a year behind his anticipated 2018 launch date, but he’s still hopeful something could happen before the end of next year.

And Monday’s announcement is expected to gain his company more access to both local and federal funding.

“There are opportunities for both passenger and freight service,” said Bono.

The Trump administration, he said, has made it easier for smaller transportation companies to access money previously limited to state entities.

“The new administration is more aimed at encouraging smaller private entities to pick up where government either left off or didn’t start in the past,” he said.

Bono said he’s making slow but steady progress in working out a deal with Genesee & Wyoming.

“They move much slower than the Providence & Worcester,” he said, adding that Genesee is a “very professional” railroad company. “The P & W was more like a family business.”

And while many details are still in the making, his projections for the city’s new commuter service are still very good.

“If we hit our numbers, which are very conservative, we would make good money,” he said.

Comments

The mayor's drive, network of connections, ability to surround herself with the right people that actually understand how to get things done and love for the city. This is how projects as such get off the ground and fulfilled....same with the WWII park that some people complained about before completion...

Imagine if there was support for all of these positive initiatives instead of buffoonery on the council.

See here's the difference - the mayor is (referencing my hand about shoulder height) up here and the majority of the council (referencing my hand to waist level) is down here. It appears as if she's above the pettiness of bickering about food truck approvals and is actually working on things that will benefit the community long run.

The council has NO VISION for our future. Time to get them out.

Woonded -

No offense, but what exactly has been done here that you are giving the Mayor credit for?

Best I can tell, there is a meeting scheduled for July 24th for which "Bono could not release all of the details of the meeting" and "Bono said he could not discuss which communities are involved in the potential deal". So what exactly is it that you are claiming to have been accomplished and what exactly is it that the Mayor did to accomplish what ever it is you are referring to? I guess attending a meeting is a significant event worthy of praise?

If there is something Mr. Bono would like the City Council to do to assist him in his endeavors, I can assure you that he has not communicated such a request.

Regarding Food Trucks - remind us, what was the Administration's position / recommendation / input on that issue.

If there was a reason for anyone to commute to Woonsocket, i'd say great. Unfortunately, there are no jobs here. Oh wait, Papa Gino's is hiring delivery drivers. Now there's a career worth commuting to.

Woonsocket has been forgotten by industry as well.

Bono is never going to get the rail service going - the resources are not there...