FOXBORO - The Kraft Group and the state took a major step this week toward establishing daily commuter rail service between Boston and the Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place complex.
Despite selectmen's request to allow more time for public scrutiny of the deal, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation signed an agreement Monday with a Kraft entity that would start daily commuter service to the existing stadium station by the end of next year.
"It still remains to be seen whether that will be funded - we're talking millions of dollars," Town Manager Bill Keegan said Tuesday night when announcing that MassDOT and the Kraft Group had inked an agreement.
Acquiring the existing CSX freight line that runs past the stadium will cost $23 million, and upgrading the line for regular commuter service will cost an additional $35 million, according to MassDOT.
The state is also mulling the purchase of a fleet of self-propelled rail vehicles to replace traditional locomotives pulling coaches.
Elected state and local officials concerned with the cost of the plan and the impact on Foxboro and Walpole neighborhoods had expressed hope that MassDOT would hold off on the plan until Charlie Baker, who will be dealing with a massive state budget deficit, takes charge as governor.
Instead, the agency sealed the deal with Kraft's Foxboro Realty Associates four days before Baker's inauguration today.
The agreement says: "studies conducted in 2010 and 2011 have indicated a need for additional commuter rail service to this growing region, and demand for such service has continued to grow in this underserved area of the southern Metro-west region, including Foxboro and Wrentham."
Among other terms, the Kraft Group would pay for design of the improvements to the freight line; maintain the existing stadium station, which would be renamed Patriot Place Station; provide at least 500 parking spaces at the station; and share the parking revenue with the state after covering the company's costs.
The company would also provide the MBTA with land for a train layover and maintenance area.
While the exact location is undetermined, residents in the North Street area of Foxboro and nearby in Walpole have voiced fear the project will bring noise, fumes and danger.
Service between South Station in Boston to Patriot Place station is anticipated to start in December 2016, the agreement says.
Trains would use the Fairmount Line, which runs between South Station and Readville, and would link to the stadium through Walpole via what is now the CSX Framingham Secondary. Trains would run express from the Readville stop to Foxboro.
Last Friday, in response to written questions from Keegan on selectmen's behalf, MassDOT Director of Planning David Mohler indicated the local governments cannot derail the plan.
"MBTA commuter rail service is operated on a regional network to serve local and regional travel needs," Mohler wrote Keegan. "As such, local governments do not have the authority to approve or disapprove the operation of commuter rail service through their towns."
The Kraft Group is taking steps to refute transparency complaints aired by Foxboro and Walpole residents and officials, and some state legislators, who learned in October that the company and MassDOT had signed a preliminary deal last March to bring commuter rail service to the stadium complex.
MassDOT and the company will jointly operate an interactive website providing documents and other information, both about the history of the rail initiative, the work progress, and answers to questions readers post, Kraft Group spokesman Jeremie Smith said.
"Some have publicly suggested that this proposal/agreement was rushed or done secretly," Smith wrote Wednesday afternoon in an email. "To the contrary, I believe this state initiative has been the implementation of a well-established and beneficial idea that is expected to improve transportation and further economic growth throughout the region."
Smith offered a documented timeline dating as early as 1971, when special event MBTA rail service to Foxboro began.
"We have heard from several leaders in the Foxboro business community who support commuter rail expansion, including Schneider Electric, several members of the Route One Business Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the YMCA."