NEW BEDFORD — South Coast Rail can move full steam ahead now that local voters have overwhelmingly chosen to join the MBTA.

The ballot question was one of the final steps before commuter rail trains can transport riders between Boston and New Bedford in late 2023. It passed in New Bedford with more than 80% of voters casting a “yes” vote.

In Fall River, 78% of voters answered “yes” to the same question on their ballot.. 

The project is more than three decades in the making, but this referendum was the first time voters were directly asked if the trains should roll.

HOW NEW BEDFORD VOTED ON QUESTION 4
YesNo
Ward 11,5422,450
Ward 27891,050
Ward 39201,073
Ward 41,163886
Ward 51,7661,757
Ward 68821,059
Totals9,708.0010,084.00
Results are unofficial until certified
Ward totals include votes cast on Tuesday, Nov. 8
Totals include mail-in votes and early voting counted so far.

“People have been waiting a long time,” said Susan Dickens, who voted Tuesday to join the MBTA. “It’s time.”


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Some voters said they voted for South Coast Rail so they could get to Boston more easily. The commuter rail would make the trip easier for seniors, they said, and for people looking for higher-paying jobs outside New Bedford.

“I said yes, ‘cause why not?” said Joshua Pounds. “I would go to Boston more if it wasn’t for the traffic.”

Residents who voted “no” said they worry that the train will accelerate gentrification. Jamie Bonneau is one of them.

“I think it would turn New Bedford into another Boston in terms of real estate values,” he said. “We really can’t afford it.”


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Higher rents were also on the minds of “yes” voters, but many didn’t think that commuter rail service would necessarily make it worse.

“There’s already gentrification,” said Amber Allen. “So I’m not really concerned.”

Some “no” voters said they believed that the city would need to raise taxes to pay the MBTA for the service.

In reality, New Bedford will get the train for free. While MBTA communities do have to pay a fee to the transit authority, they get to deduct any contributions they make to regional transit services. Last year, New Bedford spent $1,304,651 on the SRTA bus system, which is more than the $699,347 it would have had to pay to the MBTA, so the fee comes to $0.

Construction is almost done on tracks that will connect the South Coast to Boston via the Lakeville/Middleborough commuter rail branch. But sometime in the 2030s, a new electrified route will bring riders through Stoughton instead.

New Bedford will have stations at Church Street and near the Whale’s Tooth parking lot. The MBTA estimates that a combined 740 riders will board the train at the two stations each day.

The project is targeted to launch in December 2023, but test trains could start running this summer.

Email Grace Ferguson at gferguson@newbedfordlight.org.