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Collaborative Guide Project: Worcester Research Wayfinder: Transportation

This guide consists of data sources about Worcester, compiled by the Worcester Academic and Research Collaborative (ARC) Research and Instruction SIG.

History of Worcester Transportation

Freight and passenger trains have been passing through Worcester since the 19th century. The earliest passenger trains were part of the Boston & Worcester Railroad, which opened in1835 (WorcesterMA.gov, Union Station) and eventually merged with the Western (Mass.) Railroad, and others, to form the Boston & Albany Railroad (UMass Amherst Archives & Special Collections). Parts of the Boston & Albany Railroad tracks are still in use by Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited LIne and the Framingham-Worcester MBTA line (Boston South Station).  This led to the building of several depots around the city, most notably the original Union Station, constructed in 1875 in Washington Square downtown. Union Station served as an important part of area transit, serving approximately 10,000 passengers daily (WorcesterMA.gov, Union Station; visit Library of Congress for an image of the 1875 station). 

A new station was constructed in 1911 in the French Renaissance style (WorcesterMA.gov, Union Station), in part to adjust the railroad grades (Great American Stations). This station featured two 175-foot towers (see Library of Congress). In 1926, the towers had to be taken down, since vibrations from the railroad had made them unstable (WorcesterMA.gov, Union Station). At that time the station served over 10,000 passengers and 140 trains daily. 

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) was founded in 1964, partially in the interest of developing a system of mass transit (About the MBTA - History). This was shortly before the founding of the US DOT's Urban Mass Transportation Administration, which offered, among other things, funding for mass transit systems, and it was at this time that the MBTA began to look into the creation of a commuter rail system. By the 1970s, transit in Worcester had slowed, as the development of the Massachusetts Turnpike had lessened train traffic in the 1960s (WorcesterMA.gov, Union Station), and Union Stationclosed in 1972 due to disrepair and declining traffic (WorcesterMA.gov, Union Station). Amtrak, which had taken over many inter-city trips following its 1971 founding, constructed another building next door to use instead (Great American Stations). 

In 1973, the MBTA purchased the tracks east of Framingham, and two years later state funding for routes west of Framingham stopped  (Boston South Station). The Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA),  which now provides bus routes to 37 communities, was founded in 1974 (Worcester Regional Transit Authority).

Interest in restoring Union Station began to appear in 1992, and in 1995 the station was purchased by the Worcester Redevelopment Authority (Great American Stations, WorcesterMA.gov, Union Station). Restoration plans were drawn up in 1996, and the renovation was mostly complete by 1999, reopening to the public in July 2000 (Great American StationsWorcesterMA.gov, Union Station). The renovations included the restoration of the double tours which had been disassembled in 1926.  

Some train service from Worcester to Boston had resumed around 1994-1996 (Boston South Station). However, the Framingham-Worcester Line tracks west of Framingham were still owned by CSX and used primarily for their freight trains, causing some interruption to commuter rail service. Then-Governor Deval Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray campaigned for election in 2006 on the basis of improving transit service between Worcester and Boston.  The CSX Worcester-Framingham tracks were purchased by the MBTA in 2010 (MBTA, Boston.com).

Current Resources for Worcester Transportation

Art of Science Learning: Worcester and Transportation

The Art of Science Learning's Worcester Project on transportation, with sponsorship from the EcoTarium:

Worcester competed successfully with several other and much larger communities to be one of the AOSL incubators, developing their winning proposal through a high level of initiative, creative planning and excellent collaboration between local sponsors and organizations.

The lead organization in Worcester is the EcoTarium, a unique indoor-outdoor museum, whose mission is to “contribute to a better world by inspiring a passion for science and nature through discovery”. The Worcester Incubator Advisory Council has 20 leaders from education, museums, businesses, and city government helping to guide the effort and organize participation and contributions.

Worcester’s civic challenge is to integrate arts-based learning with STEM learning to research, plan, and develop new transportation solutions to enhance Worcester’s economic productivity, connect its neighborhoods and communities, and improve the quality of life for its residents and visitors.

Art of Science Learning: Press Release