North-South Rail Link Discussion

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

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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby AznSumtinSumtin » Mon Dec 14, 2009 5:36 pm

How many people use both north side and south side lines on a regular basis? How many people need/want to travel from the NE Corrider to Maine? There may be a few, but is it worth spending millions, possibly billions of dollars on those few people? Most commuters travel in and out of Boston, not through Boston.
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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby BostonUrbEx » Mon Dec 14, 2009 5:52 pm

AznSumtinSumtin wrote:How many people use both north side and south side lines on a regular basis? How many people need/want to travel from the NE Corrider to Maine? There may be a few, but is it worth spending millions, possibly billions of dollars on those few people? Most commuters travel in and out of Boston, not through Boston.


You also have to consider the development this could spur in the future.


Also, has anyone else considered freight utilizing the link? I thought of it a while ago but tossed the idea and figured there's no need, nor would there be in the future. But then again, I know almost nothing of freight lines. How does freight currently move from say... northern Maine (timber maybe?) to Providence, RI?
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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby jaymac » Mon Dec 14, 2009 6:11 pm

At the risk of harshing some mellows, the real issues aren't potential locomotive technology advances and potential rider counts. Marshalling the political and financial commitment for such a huge undertaking is the obstacle. if such a heroically massive project is undertaken, its venue will be SimCity far quicker than it will be the City of Boston, especially given turmoil at the T and the Commonwealth's transportation reorganization, not to mention that Federal funding for yet another set of tunnels ithrough Boston is of a microscopic order of probability.
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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby jonnhrr » Mon Dec 14, 2009 6:28 pm

Also, has anyone else considered freight utilizing the link? I thought of it a while ago but tossed the idea and figured there's no need, nor would there be in the future. But then again, I know almost nothing of freight lines. How does freight currently move from say... northern Maine (timber maybe?) to Providence, RI?


I doubt there would be much reason to run freight through such a link. There are other routes for example interchange between Pan Am at Ayer (CSX) and Gardner (P&W) which bypass Boston and avoid much of the commuter train interference. For the example you gave that would most likely go Pan Am to Gardner then P&W Gardner - Worcester - Providence.

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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby octr202 » Tue Dec 15, 2009 9:36 am

The other use for the NSRL is not so much for people to ride through from say Haverhill to Canton, but moreso for folks from say Haverhill to get to South Station or Back Bay without having to use additional connecting modes downtown (mostly the subway). That results in faster trips for commuters (making the system more attractive and auto-competitive) and relieves the strain on the core of the subway system. This is becoming more and more important as the city workforce is no longer centered solely downtown, but in places like East Cambridge to almost Central Square, the Longwood area, and South Boston (just to name a few).

We as railfans see it as fun to get a trolley ride and a subway ride on the end of a commuter rail trip. To the average commuter though, when the time to get from commuter rail terminal to office is longer than the ride in from their home station to the terminal, they start driving.
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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby djlong » Tue Dec 15, 2009 1:43 pm

Just to put a finer point out there.

There are all kinds of benefits that have already been mentioned. For one, there's more efficient through-services. There's also the Downeaster and NEC connection aspects. But there's one that can't be made loudly enough.

Subway relief.

I spent years working in Boston and commuting in from the north. There is a HUGE percentage of that workforce (northside commuter rail riders) who do NOT work in the north end. The financial district and the Longwood medical area come to mind as HUGE employers (I worked at Fidelity, Putnam and Bth Israel Hospital in those years).

If you let people stay on the commuter rail train through to South Station, you have that many FEWER people crowding the platforms at North Station, Haymarket, Gov't Center, Park Street and Downtown Crossing. This reduces dwell times and lets the local commuters (coming in from Malden, Eastie, Sommerville and Cambridge) get through "the box" a LOT faster.

Of course, this means that many of the street-level platforms at North and South Station could become white elephants if through service becomes overly preferable to the trains terminating at the old stations.

As a side note, I wonder how much it would cost to electrify the remaining commuter rail lines so that they can run like they do in Philly...
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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby jonnhrr » Tue Dec 15, 2009 1:57 pm

I agree the main benefit is the better distribution within the downtown area. Thsi was the experience in Philly with the CCCC, people could now go from the north side to 30th Street which besides the station includes the U of PA and Drexel U, people on the PA side w\could ride to Temple U, etc.

For this to work in Boston, at least some trains from the north side should run south of south sta. to hit Back Bay, Ruggles, etc. maybe run to Readville and turn there. Ditto for the South side trains although I'm not sure what would be a good place to turn for them.

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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby jamesinclair » Tue Dec 15, 2009 2:11 pm

djlong wrote:Just to put a finer point out there.

There are all kinds of benefits that have already been mentioned. For one, there's more efficient through-services. There's also the Downeaster and NEC connection aspects. But there's one that can't be made loudly enough.

Subway relief.

I spent years working in Boston and commuting in from the north. There is a HUGE percentage of that workforce (northside commuter rail riders) who do NOT work in the north end. The financial district and the Longwood medical area come to mind as HUGE employers (I worked at Fidelity, Putnam and Bth Israel Hospital in those years).

If you let people stay on the commuter rail train through to South Station, you have that many FEWER people crowding the platforms at North Station, Haymarket, Gov't Center, Park Street and Downtown Crossing. This reduces dwell times and lets the local commuters (coming in from Malden, Eastie, Sommerville and Cambridge) get through "the box" a LOT faster.

Of course, this means that many of the street-level platforms at North and South Station could become white elephants if through service becomes overly preferable to the trains terminating at the old stations.

As a side note, I wonder how much it would cost to electrify the remaining commuter rail lines so that they can run like they do in Philly...



You might not believe me now, but the bike share system that is going to be put in place starting next July will alleviate a lot of this. Instead of arriving at NS, and then taking the subway to park or DTX, it will be faster and easier to use one of the bikes to go down the greenway. You probably think that "nobody wearing a suit will want to do this in July", well, I think youll be surprised. Remember, for every 90 degree day in July in Boston, theres a 60 degree day.



I might as well ask this here:

Does anybody know how long it takes for a train to get from North Station to Newtonville via the grand junction compared to South Station to Newtonville via back bay and yawkey? I ask because NS has excess capacity while south station is limited, and will be even more limited when the indigo line gets more service. While it is too much work to take a train from NS to SS, I dont think it would be a big deal to have some worcester trains terminate at NS.
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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby TrainManTy » Tue Dec 15, 2009 4:12 pm

jamesinclair wrote:
Does anybody know how long it takes for a train to get from North Station to Newtonville via the grand junction compared to South Station to Newtonville via back bay and yawkey? I ask because NS has excess capacity while south station is limited, and will be even more limited when the indigo line gets more service. While it is too much work to take a train from NS to SS, I dont think it would be a big deal to have some worcester trains terminate at NS.


That's an interesting idea. Of course, it would be pretty confusing to the passengers when some trains terminate different places than others...perhaps Framingham trains could terminate at a different station than Worcester trains. I know I'd take a train to North Station rather than South Station - I work at the Museum of Science so I could just walk!
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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby #5 - Dyre Ave » Tue Dec 15, 2009 9:33 pm

I like the idea of running a light rail line along the Greenway between North and South Station, especially because it can be built much faster and for far less money than a deep-tunnel connection between the two stations. Plus, it would better link North Station-bound commuters with the Post Office Square and Financial District areas.
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Re:

Postby #5 - Dyre Ave » Tue Dec 15, 2009 9:46 pm

CRail wrote:That's what I'd like to see. I'm not talking about through service. I don't really think there would be too much demand for it, unless Amtrak ran some Acela Regionals to Portland, which would require all that electrification stuff. The biggest complaint is that you can't get on one train to make the connection. You have to make 2 connections to get to South Station unless you use back bay, which just makes Boston look ever so desirable. That corridor would be perfect for a modern looking Light Rail line (I'm picturing some European Light Rail lines) going through the greenway, which it could share with a park through most of it. This method is clean and efficient, pleasing to the eye and solves your connection problem, why this was not done is beyond me... oh wait I remember, this is Boston.
I once saw a brochure calling for such a service, but using vintage cars. I think it was published in 2004. But I'd go with your suggestion of modern articulated low-floor LRV's.
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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby 3rdrail » Tue Dec 15, 2009 10:02 pm

I've always fantasized about a trackless shuttle with historic trackless run occasionally on weekends, but really, anything would be nice. I agree that few are travelling north out of Boston that come in on the NEC, but there is an argument for it possibly spurring RR growth up there. If RR travel was restored to Montreal, etc., there might be more of a demand, and I agree that it would offer some subway relief although I have to admit that I don't see too many Downeasters riding on the T now. How about a Disneyland type monorail ?
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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby #5 - Dyre Ave » Tue Dec 15, 2009 10:42 pm

octr202 wrote:The other use for the NSRL is not so much for people to ride through from say Haverhill to Canton, but moreso for folks from say Haverhill to get to South Station or Back Bay without having to use additional connecting modes downtown (mostly the subway). That results in faster trips for commuters (making the system more attractive and auto-competitive) and relieves the strain on the core of the subway system. This is becoming more and more important as the city workforce is no longer centered solely downtown, but in places like East Cambridge to almost Central Square, the Longwood area, and South Boston (just to name a few).

We as railfans see it as fun to get a trolley ride and a subway ride on the end of a commuter rail trip. To the average commuter though, when the time to get from commuter rail terminal to office is longer than the ride in from their home station to the terminal, they start driving.
In New York, people take subway trains once they get to Grand Central, Penn Station or Flatbush Avenue (LIRR terminal in Brooklyn). I'm a railfan and a regular commuter on the #5 Lexington Avenue Express train every day. At Grand Central, throngs of Metro-North commuters from Connecticut and Westchester pour onto the #4 and 5 trains on top of the many East Side and Bronx commuters who already pack those trains. (Where's the 2nd Avenue Subway when you need it?) So I don't think transferring from a Commuter Rail train to a trolley at North Station should be a reason for north-of-Boston commuters to stick with or go back to their cars and pack onto Route 93. If it is, then they're asking for too much.
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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby octr202 » Wed Dec 16, 2009 8:03 am

#5 - Dyre Ave wrote:
octr202 wrote:The other use for the NSRL is not so much for people to ride through from say Haverhill to Canton, but moreso for folks from say Haverhill to get to South Station or Back Bay without having to use additional connecting modes downtown (mostly the subway). That results in faster trips for commuters (making the system more attractive and auto-competitive) and relieves the strain on the core of the subway system. This is becoming more and more important as the city workforce is no longer centered solely downtown, but in places like East Cambridge to almost Central Square, the Longwood area, and South Boston (just to name a few).

We as railfans see it as fun to get a trolley ride and a subway ride on the end of a commuter rail trip. To the average commuter though, when the time to get from commuter rail terminal to office is longer than the ride in from their home station to the terminal, they start driving.
In New York, people take subway trains once they get to Grand Central, Penn Station or Flatbush Avenue (LIRR terminal in Brooklyn). I'm a railfan and a regular commuter on the #5 Lexington Avenue Express train every day. At Grand Central, throngs of Metro-North commuters from Connecticut and Westchester pour onto the #4 and 5 trains on top of the many East Side and Bronx commuters who already pack those trains. (Where's the 2nd Avenue Subway when you need it?) So I don't think transferring from a Commuter Rail train to a trolley at North Station should be a reason for north-of-Boston commuters to stick with or go back to their cars and pack onto Route 93. If it is, then they're asking for too much.


Except...commuting to Manhattan and commuting to downtown Boston isn't an apples to oranges comparison. For folks who can commute on the early side, and who have free or low-cost parking at their workplace, the drive on I-93 just isn't bad enough to switch to a commuter rail trip that (combined, door to door) may take up to twice as long. While it's rarely an easy ride, I-93 does often provide pretty quick access into the city, especially for folks who work in one of those areas on the periphery of downtown (who face the longer trip from their terminals, and are more likely to have lower cost parking options...at least for now).

Clearly the major factors that drive the higher southside ridership are the greater level of service (more lines, more trains, more parking, etc.), but it'd be interesting to know to what extent the greater highway congestion and/or the more central location of South Station and Back Bay play in producing the great disparity in ridership between the southside and northside.
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Re: Big Dig Project???...(North-South Rail Link)

Postby djlong » Wed Dec 16, 2009 10:17 am

So many responses.. I'll try to take them one at a time.

Bikes - Bikes. Are you *serious*? You won't get them in the financial district and you'll get very few in the medical district. In the 10 years I worked in the financial industry, I could count the number of bikes used for commuting on one hand. It's not so much the 90F days but the SNOW, RAIN, SLEET, ICE and - worst of all - TRAFFIC and the legendary Boston drivers.

Don't get me wrong, that's not to say I'm against the bike-riding/sharing plans. It's just not going to have that big of an impact. I agree, though, it should be added to the list of options.

Light Rail on the Greenway - A couple of problems with that. We just spent $15B to make that into green space. No way will anyon let stations be built on it. And make no mistake, when you have 40,000 people coming in at North Station in the morning, you need stations - a simple platform doesn't do it. Ask anyone who remembers the old North Station Green and Orange line stops before the "superplatform" was built. Secondly, it's still a multi-seat ride. We already HAVE that so it's no improvement in that manner either.

North-side intercity rail. That's more a future thing than anything else. I'd love to see it but it's not a "now" selling point except for the Downeaster.

NY comparisons - there is FAR more subway capacity at Grand Central than at North or South stations (1 light, 1 heavy line at North and 1 heavy, 1 BRT line at South). Comparisons between NY and Boston are dicey anyway.

When coming in from the southside, you go through 3 major employment areas - Longwood, Back Bay and South Station. Coming in from the Northside, there's only the North end - the Tip O'Neill building, Mass General and Spaulding rehab hospitals. However there are the 80 Bruins and Celtics events at the Garden. Personally I view the through-service idea of the NSRL benefitting the northside employee and the southside sports fan most of all.
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