Every time the topic of whether or not Foxboro officials and citizens should welcome commuter rail to town comes up, the discussion almost immediately seems to get off-track (pun intended).
As both the town and MBTA prepare for a pilot program that would run four trains per day between Boston and the general area of Patriot Place along tracks that have existed for many decades, it is time to focus on the facts. In a town with a recent history of deciding major issues before evaluating their true impact, this will require some serious effort by officials and residents alike.
Foxboro could use less emotional, knee-jerk reactions and more careful, thoughtful consideration when reviewing plans for a possible MBTA stop at the stadium. It is a very important opportunity for Foxboro. It will have long-term effects on the stability of the community's financial picture, as well as impacting what kind of place to live Foxboro will be in the years ahead.
Under the plan, there would be a commuter rail station at Gillette Stadium with parking available. It would, in part, be subsidized by the Kraft organization.
Of course, the KO would stand to benefit from a train bringing folks directly to the doorstep of their stadium, large shopping center and restaurants. In turn, those places will contribute mightily to the town's coffers through the property tax, meals tax, and ancillary businesses they help support.
In addition, the establishment of commuter rail service would greatly help other businesses by providing access to a completely new and different work force. It could help local commuters make a more efficient, cost-effective trip to their jobs in Boston. It could help relieve the number of cars clogging our roadways.
Business groups and organizations are voicing general support for the project. Some town officials have cited it as a great opportunity. But there are others who have very legitimate concerns and questions that need to be answered before the project becomes reality.
Selectmen had given their blessing to the pilot project with a number of conditions attached. Those conditions included no trains "laying over" at night in Foxboro, no grade crossing in town, and no increased fees from the MBTA.
In other words: "We gladly accept this project that could give our community a tremendous economic boost - but only if you guarantee it will cost us absolutely nothing, and in no way inconvenience anyone in town."
Um, yeah. That would be nice. But it's not the way the world works.
The topic of trains laying over is an important one. People in the North Street area would be affected because the tracks are literally in their back yard. If trains are going to idle in the late night or early morning hours, their quality of life must be taken into consideration and protected.
There no doubt are ways to do this. Their effectiveness, desirability, efficiency and other factors must be carefully evaluated. Then, after thoughtful study, an informed decision on what is best for the community as a whole must be made.
It would be unfair to North Street residents and the surrounding area to not carefully consider all aspects of this project. But it would be just as unfair to dismiss it out of hand simply because of the possible impact on any particular neighborhood - especially before studying it.
The mistakes made during the Great Casino Non-Debate must not be repeated here.
The good folks around North Street have always known there are train tracks near their homes. Where tracks are, trains usually follow. The number and frequency is certainly a factor, but it is not unreasonable to assume tracks may eventually have trains on them.
The argument this will not create new MBTA riders, but simply poach them from other stations, is absurd. That's a ridiculous conclusion that is contradicted by the obvious facts.
Here is hoping the townspeople and their officials take a good, reasonable approach to this project. This is not a train for Bob Kraft. This is a vital decision for the future of Foxboro, and it deserves more than political grandstanding and a chance to air old grievances.
And as always, not everyone will be happy with the end result.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.