Train company launches bus service

Train company launches bus service

Boston Surface Railroad Company Vice President of Business Development Chip Selley, Founder Vincent Bono and Director of Marketing Angela Milinazzo stand in front of the company’s new 65-passenger bus during a press event announcing thruway bus service on Monday. The company is currently in a legal dispute with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation over use of the Woonsocket Train Depot at 1 Depot Square. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)
Company officials: Bankruptcy filing is ‘business strategy’

WOONSOCKET – Less than one month after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the state of New Hampshire, the company looking to bring passenger rail service to the Blackstone Valley is introducing a new transportation method.

The Boston Surface Railroad Company announced this week they plan to offer thruway bus service between Woonsocket, Providence and Worcester, Mass., beginning next February. The service will offer commuter-time transportation between the three cities, with seven round trips from Woonsocket and four round trips from Worcester planned daily.

“This is, of course, a pre-service to our intercity rail service which will be launching one year later,” Vincent Bono, company founder, said during a press event on Monday.

The announcement came just three weeks after the company filed for bankruptcy in Concord, N.H., on Oct. 6. The company incorporated in Concord last year after initially incorporating in Massachusetts in 2013.

Defending the filing on Monday, company officials said it was a “business strategy” intended to forestall the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s attempts to evict them from their current office location at the Woonsocket Train Depot. In April, RIDOT filed suit against the company for allegedly failing to make lease payments for several months. A District Court judge ruled against the company in June, awarding more than $8,000 in lease payments to RIDOT. The company appealed the decision in Superior Court but filed for bankruptcy before a court date could be set, halting the judicial process.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Bono said the decision to file was made in order to protect the company’s current status within the train station and was discussed internally in advance. The next step, he said, is for a judge to issue a decision on their organizational documents within 30 to 90 days.

“None of our potential investors are upset with out current situation,” he said.

RIDOT responded to the announcement on Monday, issuing a statement that questioned Bono’s commitment to the train project. In the statement, RIDOT confirmed the company founder submitted a check for the lease payments since the June ruling but claimed they were unable to cash it due to the bankruptcy filing.

“We tried to work with him for four years and during this time we saw no concrete improvements being made to the Woonsocket facility to create the service he claimed he was working toward,” said RIDOT Director Peter Alviti.

“The only sub-leases to businesses in the facility of which we are aware were to a massage parlor and a medical office, neither of which was approved per the terms of his lease and do not even approximate the start of a train service.”

The agency said it had not given the company approval or had any discussion with Bono about using depot for a bus service.

The company clapped back at RIDOT’s characterization in a statement issued the following day, denying their bankruptcy status prevented the agency from cashing the check and accusing the agency of failing to maintain proper conditions in the building.

The RIDOT action is one of several lawsuits filed against the company in recent years related to failure to make payments. Last February, Kun Realty sued the BSRC for approximately $70,000 after the company defaulted on payments related to the sale of an Arnold Street property. The previous year, a Johnston-based law firm filed a similar lawsuit for failure to pay approximately $5,000 in legal fees.

Bono and BSRC Vice President of Business Development Chip Selley downplayed the RIDOT dispute on Monday, saying the company remains “in pretty good financial shape.” Since founding the company, they said, they’ve raised about $500,000 from investors and another $600,000 in bonds. The company so far has spent about $1.8 million on track improvements and equipment, mostly of Bono’s own money, and plans to spend about $6 million before getting its first trains on the track.

Though previous projections had slated the first trains to run between Woonsocket and Providence in spring 2020, Bono said on Monday the company now expects to begin passenger service in spring 2021, with testing beginning late next year. The bus service, he said, will help fill a transportation gap in the meantime and generate interest among their ridership.

“This is so that people know that we’re here and committed to the Blackstone Valley,” he said.

The bus rides will cost $8 one-way between Woonsocket and Providence, $10 between Woonsocket and Worcester and $14 between Worcester and Providence. Bono said he expects riders to include CVS commuters from Worcester and students attending classes in Providence. Though the company acknowledged the price is higher than RIPTA bus service, they said they expect customers to trade the extra cost for comfort in the form of restroom facilities and electrical outlets.

“Even if it’s more expensive than a RIPTA bus, you get more comfort and you get more productivity time, and that’s what people want nowadays,” said Selley.

The company currently has one 65-seat coach bus at its downtown facility and three others being reconditioned. They expect to purchase another in the coming months. The buses are all Motor Coach Industries models with between 700,000 and 900,000 miles on them.