Lawmakers for Massachusetts' South Coast all had a single word in mind when they gathered Monday to cut the ribbon on a brand-new Freetown commuter rail station: "surreal."
Passenger rail service to Taunton, New Bedford and Fall River is not here yet but is visible on the horizon, set to begin by the end of 2023 after decades of discussion and debate. And for Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett, Rep. Carole Fiola of Fall River and Sen. Michael Rodrigues of Westport, the progress is both overdue and a bit disorienting.
All three called it "surreal" to visit a fully constructed station, proof that the long-promised ability to take an MBTA commuter rail train from one of the South Coast hubs to Boston is finally approaching.
"They said that the royal visit was probably the most exciting event to happen in Massachusetts this year, but for me and for us here, it is this day," Fiola said.
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MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, who like Gov. Charlie Baker will leave his post in early January, said the ribbon-cutting marks "substantial completion" of a $159 million contract for South Coast Rail's Fall River branch.
Another $403.5 million contract is ongoing for the New Bedford line, and MBTA officials expect service on both will begin late next year.