Massachusetts can, at a stroke, solve its bedeviling traffic problems, public transit budget issues and promote healthy lifestyles with a key reform to its biggest transit agency.

Goodbye commuter rail and hello to what I am proud to call Green Rails, an agile, leadingedge, organically-powered solution to the MBTA’s financial crisis. 

Had it up to here with all the hand-wringing and bellyaching over the MBTA’s $575 million-plus budget gap?  

Me too. 

We don’t need more money, we don’t need any tax increases and we certainly don’t need any more whining from the transit advocates.  

We need solutions. 

And, after a total of 30 minutes of intensive online research  and the equivalent of seven iced espressos  I can confidently report that I have found the answer. 

It’s all I can do to contain myself right now. 

The savings are staring us right in our pasty little faces in the MBTA’s audited financial statement. 

Just look under the commuter rail section and you will find a big fat, $549 million under the category operating expenses. Maybe not $580 million, but close enough for me. 

How about that for some quick work! 

It’s still $40 million off, you say? What are you, some ninnynanny spreadsheet geek? Worse, some fancytalking, numberspewing transit advocate? 

Anyway, after you fully understand the concept of Green Rails – and the many, many market synergies and governmental efficiencies it will spawn – you’ll be ashamed. 

Organic and Human-Centered 

Before we launch into the gory – oops, I mean glorious – details here, let’s get one thing straight. 

We are not talking about getting rid of the commuter rail. Absolutely, positively not, and don’t pull any Fake News nonsense with me, buddy. 

I spent eight years at the Boston Herald – I know a thing or two about that. 

I can’t stress enough the simple fact that this is not about cutting any government service, never, ever, ever. 

This is solely about the upgrading, the modernizing, and most importantly, the greening of one of our state’s key transportation assets: the commuter rail. 

And yes, it will also save approximately $549 million, but, to repeat – and I will do keep doing this all night, if I must  that is not the point of Green Rails or, to use is more formal name, The Green Rail. 

The Green Rail, to use the most precise terminology currently available in the English language, circa 2020, is an organically-powered, human-centric and unquestionably sustainable commuter service connecting our region’s suburbs – and yes, our Gateway Cities too  with the commercial hub better known as downtown Boston. 

Eminently Sustainable Power 

Organically powered, you ask? Yes: There will be no need for diesel fuel, electricity or any form of greenhouse gas producing energy, with the exception maybe of some minor emissions of methane. 

For the fuel to power this will be the ultimate renewable energy, nothing other the hearty breakfast – think IHOP’s “Breakfast Sampler” and throw in a couple more flapjacks for good measure  Green Rail “riders” will be sure to wolf down each morning before they start their commute. 

Commuters on the Green Rail will have two options, both greener than green. 

First option will be not old-fashioned, but rather new-fashioned railroad handcars built for the 21st century, but with a long enough platform to carry a dozen or more passengers at a time. 

Instead of handpumps, forward motion will be provided courtesy of Peloton, with twin stations, pedal-powered at the front and back manned – and, yes, womaned – by certified Green Rails fitness conductors. 

Like I said, new-fashioned. 

The other mode of transportation is the greenest of all green transportation modes, human leg and foot power – yours, to be exact. 

While the new Peloton-powered “Green Cars” will be riding our new Green Rails, footpaths will be provided on the side of the “tracks,” for all Green Rail foot and hoof commuters. (Yes, horses will also be available to rent, thanks to a public-private partnership between the The Green Rail and our state’s remaining racetrack in Plainridge, which is repurposing its racehorses after the sudden death of its last live-racing customer, who, if you must know, was just 110 years young.) 

But giving a new lease on life to old racehorses – well that’s just the icing on the cake when it comes to synergies. 

Fair Fare Structure 

Just think of the possibilities all those now empty commuter rail cars pose. With just a few minor upgrades and alterations, we are talking about dozens of tiny homes perched alongside the Green Rail. 

Now, that’s the real deal when it comes transit-orientated development.  

I know, you have more questions. Figures. Always got more questions, always want more information, I know your type, but here goes.  

No, wise guy, Green Rails will absolutely not – let me repeat so I am clear, here – will absolutely not, period, exclamation point, whatever other emphasis you want to put on it  lead to an increase of cars on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Nada, no, never, however you want to put it, absolutely not. 

All Massachusetts residents who insist on continuing to commute to work – ever heard of work from home? And no, timing is everything in life, so it’s not my fault you have schoolage kids – will have a choice of not one, but two – remember that – two options. 

Green Rail passes will be available, at a reduced cost based on age and health, for those ready to ride the new Green Rail, whether on a Green Car or under their own bi-pedal, locomotive power. 

Commuter passes will be granted, on a strictly limited basis, to those drivers currently commuting to work in Boston who are not yet ready to ditch their satanic, carbonspewing, metallic monsters. 

Scott Van Voorhis

And no, if you currently hold a commuter rail pass, or have used the commuter rail in the past month – and all it takes is just one ride  you will not be eligible for a Green Rail commuter pass, so absolutely, positively no driving for you. 

Like I said: two options, one choice. 

But no need to be jealous of those Mass. Pike drivers who were grandfathered in. 

Just wait is until our next big leap forward into a green new world. 

Bikes on the Pike, anyone? 

Scott Van Voorhis is Banker & Tradesman’s columnist; opinions expressed are his own. He may be reached at   

A Modest Proposal to Fix the MBTA Budget

by Scott Van Voorhis time to read: 4 min