MASSACHUSETTS CONSIDERS NEW BEDFORD STACK SERVICE

MASSACHUSETTS CONSIDERS NEW BEDFORD STACK SERVICE

Gov. William F. Weld has sparked hopes for a new double-stack rail route to the Port of New Bedford, Mass., that could serve as an option for Consolidated Rail Corp. if access to Boston docks proves unfeasible.

Gov. Weld's comment on possible New Bedford service came in answer to a question about the state's double-stack rail plan following the recent World Economic Forum Industry Summit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."Upgrading our port capacity and capability is high on my list," Gov. Weld said. "We're not going to be able to compete with the embedded investment in New York unless we can double-stack out of Boston and/or New Bedford."

The reference to the state's southernmost port is the first since April when Gov. Weld unveiled plans to finance some $150 million in bridge clearance work for double-stack links to Boston docks.

A major question mark for the plan, which has since grown to around $200 million, has been the feasibility of getting to the Massachusetts Port Authority's Conley Terminal in South Boston on Conrail rights of way.

Conrail and state officials acknowledge that there are still problems with the Conley access. The New Bedford option may be one of several possible alternatives, said Andrea Just, a Conrail spokeswoman in Philadelphia.

But Gov. Weld's remark sent aides scrambling, caught between concerns that the governor either misspoke or let a cat out of the bag.

A transport official said Gov. Weld may have confused the freight rail option with a plan to extend commuter lines to New Bedford but conceded that in context the only discussion was about double-stacks.

Several sources speculated that the New Bedford idea may have been floated at a high level, saying Conrail Chairman James A. Hagen also attended the industry summit.

Conrail's route to New Bedford follows much of the same track as the line approaching Conley, which is to be shared by both Conrail and Guilford Transportation Industries Inc. of North Billerica, Mass. The New Bedford route turns south at Framingham from Conrail's east-west mainline but instead of hooking north at Walpole toward Conley, it runs south to Attleboro over line used by Amtrak before connecting with New Bedford. The option appears to have as many pros as cons.

While the famous commercial fishing port has no container operations, it has attracted general cargoes such as fruit from South America as well as liquid bulk products, according to city and Coast Guard officials. It is nearly half a day closer to New York than Boston in sailing time and could offer the same advantages of Massachusetts rail links to Chicago.

State-funded development also could be justified for the recession-wracked city.

The idea was welcomed by Rep. Stephen J. Karol, an Attleboro Democrat and co-chairman of the Legislature's Joint Transportation Committee, who has previously criticized the state plan to bear 90 percent of clearance costs.

The service would give a needed shot in the arm to nearby New Bedford, Rep. Karol said, adding, "I would be very intrigued. If the governor's interested in talking about it, I'd be happy to come down and discuss it."

"We would welcome rail development," said Jim Sylvia, assistant to Mayor Rosemary S. Tierney. "We need all the help we can get."

Mr. Sylvia added that a recent study by the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, a quasi-public agency, backed both freight and commuter rail investment.