Happening Now

The Missing Link

June 21, 2024

by Joe Aiello / Director of Community Engagement & Organizing


No. Not that one.

I have a habit of starting these blogs off with “those who know me…” and this will not be any different.

So, those who know me (sorry!) know that I got my start on the Association staff as the “Northeast Field Coordinator” while I was still living in Cambridge, MA back in 2018 after serving on the “NARP” Council - where I was appointed in the fall of 2016. Yes - even I predate the rebranding.

But this isn’t about that. It’s about the thing that led me here in the first place. That “missing link” (in more ways than one).

After getting my Masters at Northeastern under the mentorship of Former MA Governor Mike Dukakis in 2013, the “Duke” and I kept in touch and I started volunteering time to assist him, Former Governor Bill Weld, and Former State Representative John Businger on the formation of a working group that focused on a rail project that would correct a wrong cut during the Big Dig - one that would close the mile and a half gap between Boston’s two stub end stations and connect the entire NEC from Maine to Virginia.

Got the “link” reference yet?


There it is!

That project, the North-South Rail Link (NSRL), is back in the news this week thanks to a second run at an economic benefits study from the Harvard Kennedy School, backed and requested by Congressman Seth Moulton (MA-06) - a member of the working group I mentioned earlier (and of this Association). The initial report, also done by HKS and requested by Rep. Moulton back in 2017 was in response to figures being touted by MassDOT in their analysis of the project to the tune of nearly $22B for a full build. That analysis was released in 2018 which yours truly labeled as nothing more than a sandbag job.

MassDOT was able to scare people off just enough with their costs study (with ZERO report of benefits) that they felt they could shove the project in a drawer to let it collect dust and move on.

Then the IIJA happened. And people don't automatically roll their eyes at the thought of another "choo choo" project.

So much talk around the passenger rail world about mega-projects such as Brightline West, CAHSR, the Gateway & Douglass tunnel programs - just to name a few. But you never hear about the NSRL, at least not on a national level and nowhere near the others I mentioned. Hell, over the recent years, even around Boston it's only seen as “Mike Dukakis’ idea”. Which is sad, though I might be biased, because it's just as significant a project as any I listed. Yes, the two tunnel projects are critical to our national infrastructure - but they are still just replacing what is already there. The NSRL not only fills in the small and walkable gap between North and South Stations in Downtown Boston, which connects the NEC into one direct line, but it also unlocks the true potential of the MBTA’s near 400 miles of track into a modern regional rail system.

Subway, commuter, intercity. All in one.

1.5 miles. That’s the gap. That’s it.

About 10k steps stand in the way of unlocking the potential of BILLIONS in benefits. $4 returned for every $1 invested.

Environmental, housing, jobs, economic, equality, accessibility…

I always said that one of the reasons I care about this project so much, even after I moved from the East Coast, is because I wanted to see the photo of my mentor with the gold shovel in his hand as he finally got his “idea” done. I don’t know if that will happen (he turned 90 last November) but the thought is still there. And it’s well past time to #BuildTheLink.