Mansfield train station

The Mansfield Train Station. (Sun Chronicle file photo)

MANSFIELD — A magazine writer has a modest proposal for improving the state’s South Coast Rail project — run trains through Mansfield and Norton.

Commonwealth Magazine recently published an opinion piece by Ari Ofsevit of Transit Matters advocating a route through the towns rather than the currently planned Middleboro path. The latter would include Brockton and Braintree on the Boston to Fall River line.

The route that would go through Mansfield and Norton would branch of the Northeast Corridor and run above Route 140 in Mansfield. It would place tracks in the median of I-495 and possibly use part of a former railbed through the towns.

Alternatively, it would continue to follow I-495 into Taunton and past the Myles Standish Industrial Park before rejoining the already planned south coast rail right of way. The article states that the Mansfield route would be superior to the Middleboro one because it would reduce travel times.

The magazine, which also contained a map, featured a similar scheme in an April edition.

Mansfield officials, however, aren’t enamored of the suggestion.

“It’s hard to believe somebody came up with this without talking to anyone in Mansfield,” Town Manager Kevin Dumas told selectmen Wednesday.

Town Planning Director Shaun Burke said he sees a number of pitfalls with the suggested route. Specifically, he cited limited capacity to add passenger trains on the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Providence and an option using an existing railbed that now carries a multi-town sewer interceptor.

“With trains running there, you could compare our wastewater to a James Bond cocktail,” he said. “Shaken, not stirred.”

Paul Mission, chief transportation planner for the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, called the proposal “intriguing” but cited various flaws.

While transit within highway medians has been suggested previously, Mission said the reason for the wide separation between the north and southbound lanes is to prevent head-on crashes. To fill that void with tracks and trains raises safety concerns.

“When trains and passenger cars come together, it never ends well for cars,” he said.

Mission also noted that in addition to the regional sewer line, the dormant railbed in Mansfield and Norton also hosts Mansfield’s bike path. Norton is also planning to add a bike path on its portion of the line.

Rick Foster can be reached at 508-236-0360.

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