Despite the cold, damp and blustery weather, hundreds came out Monday for the grand opening of the long-awaited commuter rail station at Wickford Junction.
A ceremonial first train left Providence Monday morning, bound for Wickford Junction and carrying Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed, Reps. James Langevin and David Cicilline and others.
Many passengers on the train were friends of Bob Cioe, the man behind the dream of bringing rail service back to Wickford. The journey has been a long one for Cioe, owner of the Wickford Junction plaza, who bought the land 30 years ago.
Gathering in the four-story parking garage at Wickford Junction, the crowd heard remarks from the governor, the congressional delegation, Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis, Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey and United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
The rail service will run from Wickford to Warwick, Providence and Boston’s South Station. Trains will run Monday through Friday and include 20 trips per day. (Check here for the full schedule and ticket prices.)
“It saves in terms of congestion on highways, it’s a more efficient mode of transportation and it will attract jobs here in Rhode Island, which we need,” Reed said.
The morning’s speakers commended the congressional delegation for securing the more than $50 million in federal stimulus funds for the project. Reed, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who authored legislation for almost $33 million in federal money for the project, was one of the primary forces behind the push for an extension of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) service to Wickford Junction.
The congressional delegation and others also praised work done by Chafee to improve transportation in Rhode Island, dating back to his days as the mayor of Warwick and as a U.S. senator.
“You know what this project did? It put friends and neighbors back to work, building infrastructure. And that’s what we need in America today,” said Secretary LaHood.
The biggest praise of the day went to Cioe, who first had the vision of a commuter rail station in Wickford when he was a college student commuting to Boston in the 1950s. More than half a century later, Cioe said it’s a dream come true to be riding the train from Warwick into his station in Wickford.
“Only in a country like we live in could someone like me or anybody accomplish a dream like this,” he said.
During the ceremony, Cioe recognized the people who helped build the station and parking garage, awarding them plaques and thanks. Ending his remarks, Cioe had a message of positivity and urging the crowd to say something nice to your neighbor and their town.
“The majority of you, like me, we’re a hell of a lot better off today than when we first started in life,” Cioe said. “The reason we are is because we live in the greatest country on Earth — the United States of America.”
Per request of Cioe, the North Kingstown High School symphonic band played “God Bless America” to conclude the event.
Though officials, delegates and others agreed it was a great day for Rhode Island, many agreed that Wickford won’t be the last project in furthering the development of the state’s transportation system. MassDOT Secretary Davey closed out his remarks with, “On to Westerly.”