Fairmount Line Discussion (Future Indigo Line)

Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.

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Postby TomNelligan » Wed Dec 27, 2006 11:49 am

DMUs have been discussed quite a bit on the Amtrak forum (in connection with an Amtrak proposal to use them on the Vermonter route) and the subject comes up on other transit forums here as well.

An issue that exists on the Fairmont line is the need for equipment that meets all FRA structural requirements for mainline railroad operation. New Jersey's River Line is extempt from this because passenger and freight operation are time-separated (CSX uses the line only in the middle of the night). I believe that Colorado Railcar is the only company currently offering DMU equipment that meets FRA codes, and customers haven't exactly been beating down their doors.

The MBTA, like almost all other US and Canadian transit agencies, has opted for locomotive-hauled push-pull equipment on non-electrified lines. (Two exceptions are the relatively small-scale systems in Dallas/Ft. Worth and Syracuse that use rebuilt RDCs.) It has been frequently reported that between the FRA structural requirement and the need for increased inspection and maintenance on self-propelled cars versus unpowered coaches, most systems have to date considered DMUs to be cost-inefficient. Certainly the disasterous mechanical failure rate of Budd's SPVs in the 1980s didn't help either. Again, the River Line is an exception because it has been able to use transit-type cars thanks to the time separation. Ottawa also has a small commuter operation that uses Bombardier DMUs, but obviously FRA rules don't apply in Canada and I believe the Ottawa system is time-separated from freight operations anyway.
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Postby Ron Newman » Wed Dec 27, 2006 2:20 pm

So the right thing to do is apply for an exemption from FRA rules? Perhaps with a special bill in Congress? I don't think any freight runs on the Fairmount Line, anyway.
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Postby Epsilon » Wed Dec 27, 2006 3:03 pm

As the Fairmount line isn't the only route out of Boston for freight, wouldn't it be possible to put time separation in place there as well?

In any case, the Colorado Railcar DMU is still an option, though I don't believe it's been used to serve areas as largely populated as Fairmount would serve. According to their website, the DMU can also pull two coach cars without engines. Could this help cut back on the higher maintenance costs of a DMU-style train as opposed to a push/pull locomotive?
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Postby TomNelligan » Wed Dec 27, 2006 3:13 pm

Ron Newman wrote:So the right thing to do is apply for an exemption from FRA rules? Perhaps with a special bill in Congress?


Good luck. Thus far the only permitted exception that I know of has been on the San Diego trolley route that runs down to the Mexican border and shares the line with a freight railroad, the San Diego & Arizona Eastern. The first trolley of the morning is allowed to depart south from SD before the overnight freight has tied up in San Ysidro as long as a specific minimum distance is maintained between them. In Baltimore (where Norfolk Southern formerly operated at night over a portion of the light rail system north of downtown) and on the NJT River Line, the FRA required a flat hours-of-operation separation.

Many transit advocates find the current regulatory situation a little over the top. Mixing transit-type equipment and railroad equipment on the same rails hasn't been a safety problem in Europe where there are far, far more trains... for example, in the UK, lightwight Leyland railbuses (basically bus bodies on flanged wheels) shared trackage with high speed intercity expresses and were kept out of each other's way by signal systems. The FRA would say that if a full-size train hits an LRV, the results will be unpleasant for passengers on the latter. But with proper signaling, that would be an exceedingly rare event, as it has been in Europe.

I don't think any freight runs on the Fairmount Line, anyway.


I'm not sure of the current status of CSX freight service on the line -- does a nighttime local still come up from Readville? -- but there are a whole bunch of MBTA commuter moves, which are the same thing from a regulatory perspective. The FRA currently requires complete physical separation of transit equipment from "regular" trains unless the transit equipment meets the structural strength requirements mentioned earlier.
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Postby trainhq » Wed Dec 27, 2006 5:09 pm

Reply to Epsilon:

A few years ago, I was watching/hoping as the Colorado Railcar DMU made its debut. However, recent results in revenue service (see Tri-Rail forum) have not been encouraging; the single-level DMU caught fire and
burned up, and the bi-level DMU has not had enough power nor performed reliably. Overall, it appears the CRC DMU has been a failure. And it's too bad too; it
is a product that is sorely needed. Maybe someone else
(Bombardier? Alstom?) could buy their body design and maybe outfit it with an engine that would work.
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Postby redline43 » Thu Dec 28, 2006 9:18 am

How is fare collection proposed to be used on the Indigo Line? I sure hope it isn't the tedious current Commuter Rail system. Maybe pay as you board with Door Side Readers for CharlieCards? Or POP with the validators from the Green Line?
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Postby CSX Conductor » Thu Dec 28, 2006 3:13 pm

As for freight moves, yes, B733 does still work Sunday - Thursday nights at Readville and still uses the Dorchester Branch to get into Boston to service the Boston Globe and the Freezer @ Southampton Street. Occasionally B733 will run the Corridor, but not very often.

As Tom Nelligan points out, there are also many non-revenue moves done by MBCR, such as the Readville Switcher, which usually departs Readville between 6 & 7pm for Boston & BET, returning after the last revenue train (#782). Also, MBCR Train #6701 uses the Dorchester M-F around 300am en-route to Forge Park as a double-draft.
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Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Tue Jan 02, 2007 10:50 pm

Probably will have to stay CR as the tracks are used too heavily for other services to isolate as rapid-tranist only. However...if the T were to do any electrification of its own CR fleet in the future under the Amtrak wires, this would be the one MBCR-only line where stringing up catanery would probably pay for itself. Rapid-transit station distances are much easier to do and cause much less wear-and-tear on an electric loco vs. a diesel. Hopefully someday in the far future we'll see a few high-ridership Southside routes go electric. Once they can swing that there are a lot more interesting scenarios in play for rapid-transit level service on the CR tracks. It'll be a long time before that happens, but the Indigo Line does give them proper motivation to start thinking about it.
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Postby octr202 » Wed Jan 03, 2007 8:48 am

If there was catenary on the Fairmont Line, it'd be a good use for electric MUs. The Fairmont line, and also the Needham and soon to be Greenbush lines look like the type that would be a lot more cost effective today if Boston had been lucky to see the type of electrification that the NYC and Philly areas did many years ago. Two to four cars sets of MUs seem a lot more appropriate for these lines...
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Postby redline43 » Wed Jan 03, 2007 7:45 pm

Would it be possible to convert the Fairmount Line to Third Rail and have Diesel CR trains run on it as well?
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Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Wed Jan 03, 2007 9:57 pm

redline43 wrote:Would it be possible to convert the Fairmount Line to Third Rail and have Diesel CR trains run on it as well?


Maybe...I don't know if there are any technical risks. But that doesn't affect the main problem re: FRA regulations...namely, rolling railroad equipment mixed with rapid-transit equipment. It's all about heft and surviveability in an accident. And the FRA doesn't allow it because a subway trainset of any kind would get absolutely demolished in a rear-end collision with a locomotive going at a decent clip, and that could mean large loss of life if the subway car is full enough. They're only built strong enough to withstand crashes with each other, not much-larger vehicles. A CR train could crumple even a large heavy-rail car like a tin can or even slice it (and anyone sitting on that end) wide open because of the weight differential.
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Postby TomNelligan » Wed Jan 03, 2007 10:15 pm

F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:Maybe...I don't know if there are any technical risks.


No, not inherently. Both the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North operate lines electrified with third rail that also carry considerable numbers of diesel-powered trains. But their electric MUs are FRA-compliant. The only problem I'm aware of is that over the years some types of diesel locomotives have been restricted from third rail territory because of tight clearances with the third rail (this has mainly applied to certain freight locomotives). The real issue, as mentioned numerous times in this thread, is regulatory requirements that prevent mingling transit-type and railroad-type equipment.
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Postby ags » Wed Jan 03, 2007 10:30 pm

I don't know specifically, but is the ROW large enough to add a third track for dedicated RR use (single-track exclusively) and convert the other two tracks to DMU?
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Postby Choo Choo Coleman » Wed Jan 03, 2007 10:44 pm

Never been on the Fairmount Line. Is there room enough to run a 3rd rail subway line next to the train tracks from South Station to the Route 128 station?
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Postby vanshnookenraggen » Thu Jan 04, 2007 12:58 am

Choo Choo Coleman wrote:Never been on the Fairmount Line. Is there room enough to run a 3rd rail subway line next to the train tracks from South Station to the Route 128 station?


No, its pretty tight and it goes through a very dense residential area.
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