By Jack Minch
FITCHBURG -- The MBTA will suspend service along the Fitchburg line on weekends from June 1 through Nov. 24 to make track upgrades -- a project that will impact riders who use the trains to get to work or visit Boston.
"This is certainly going to be a lot of pain for Central Massachusetts communities, to shut down commuter service," said Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong.
Service will be suspended from Fitchburg to South Acton at first and then, starting Aug. 3, will be suspended all the way to the Brandeis/Roberts station.
"The overall corridor program was developed through an extensive community-based planning process," the MBTA said in a statement released by spokeswoman Rhiannon D'Angelo. "A long list of potential infrastructure improvements was prioritized and tested ... that will result in many benefits to the riders, communities and operators of the Fitchburg Line."
The work will improve the infrastructure to allow trains to reach 80 mph; increase on-time service reliability from 83 percent to more than 95 percent; and support both regional and statewide economic development goals while reducing operating and maintenance costs, even while attracting new riders, according to the MBTA.
The MBTA is not planning to provide shuttle service for riders, but MART is scheduled to conduct a survey of weekend commuters on May 18 to determine a need for shuttle service.
The train service and tracks are MBTA property, so MART must determine how deeply it can get involved, Wong said.
Riders who won't be on the train May 18 should contact MART at 978-345-7711 to share their thoughts, she said.
"I think that's one of the top priorities, to make sure people can get to work," she said.
Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella said he finds it frustrating to listen to the MBTA talk about extending service to other parts of the state when it must shut service to Central Massachusetts. He noted that families, college students and many others use the trains on weekends.
"It's a busy place on weekends," he said.
The MBTA will add a track and modern signals for trains and the payoff could be substantial at the end of the work, Wong said.
"Those two things are needed to have better service to Boston, Wong said.
Commuters arriving home on the 5:49 p.m. train Wednesday were uncomfortable with the suspension.
Brian Cabrejos, of Fitchburg, works weekdays for US Airways on the ramp at Logan Airport but getting overtime shifts will difficult without the train.
"I can't really pick them up because no trains," Cabrejos said.
Danny Ciccariello, of Leominster, said he doesn't commute on weekends but his friends do. He suggested reducing service rather than shutting it down.
"If they reduce service, they would still get the traffic," he said.
Many people use the train to catch a Celtics or Red Sox game on the weekends, said Martha Fusaro, of Leominster, was waiting for her son to arrive home from work from Charlestown.
"I think it's a bad idea. A lot of people don't have transportation and use the train," Fusaro said.
Train stations affected along the line include Fitchburg, North Leominster, Shirley, Ayer, Littleton at Interstate 495, South Acton, West Concord, Concord, Lincoln and Kendall Green.
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