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Commuter rail riding slow track.

Byline: George Barnes

COLUMN: BARNESTORMING

It is kind of amusing that the state made a grand announcement last week that because of new GPS technology, commuters on trains heading to Boston would receive computerized announcements when nearing the Fitchburg station.

Although it is a lot like Apple Computer announcing it has come out with an improved iPod, it is nice to see the state is getting its train service into at least the 20th century. It needs to move into the 21st century and be looking at the century beyond that.

The Fitchburg and Leominster commuter line functions basically as an above-ground version of the Boston subway system. It is an extension of service provided inside Boston, even if there is a bit of disconnect that makes it train, rather than subway, service. It really should be extended to Gardner and Athol as well, but that is another issue for some other time.

Updating the equipment along the rail line is important. Along with the onboard announcements, there will be message boards in the Fitchburg station to warn people the train is drawing near.

Why that has not happened before and why it is not yet in the Leominster station is puzzling, but it is nice to see progress.

No doubt it is a matter of cost, but public transportation is both a transportation and environmental issue.

Getting people from where they live to where they work and do business is important. Making that transportation mass transit as opposed to individual motorists bopping down Route 2 to Boston is important, because the pollution created by the flood of cars and trucks on the highway is killing this planet. The more people who commute as a group to Boston, the better it is for the environment and the better it is for future generations.

If you build it, there is no guarantee that people will use it. If you make it comfortable, easy, clean and efficient, more and more will use it.

For a long time, America has failed to get it. Mass transportation has always been thought of as a big-city thing. But the burbs are filling with people and their cars are filling the air with pollutants.

In this country, we need to ramp our efforts to get cars off the road but still keep people moving comfortably to their destination. This region is getting better and better served by transportation, but the country as a whole lags behind Japan and countries in Europe, especially in high-speed transportation.

The economy has people thinking that any time the government spends money, it is bad. If it came to a vote, it would not be surprising to see people support cutting all taxes. That is the mindset. You can't blame them. They are feeling pinched and financially threatened.

It is a mistake, though, to confuse value with fat. Good-quality, comfortable and easy-to-use public transportation is value. The better quality the transportation, the more it will be used. The more it is used, the less will have to be paid for road upkeep, the easier it will be for people to visit or work in Boston and for people out there to visit or work here.

Spending money to create a better product is almost always a winning idea. People will use transportation they feel comfortable in.

Contact George Barnes via e-mail at gbarnes@telegram.com.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 18, 2010
Words:564
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