Grand Junction Branch (The North/South Side Connection)

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

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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby jamesinclair » Sun Feb 21, 2010 11:19 pm

3rdrail wrote:
jamesinclair wrote:Perhaps if one day we ever get light rail down the greenway it can be worked out so MBTA/Amtrak non-revenue moves could use it at night.


It would have to be special rail - wide, flat headed and deep flanged, a cross between AERA and MCB, but I'm not holding my breath.


I'm not either, but at this point it's more likely than an underground rail link.

The closest thing I think we'll ever see to a north/south active use connection would be by directing some worcester trains to terminate at north station, which has excess capacity while south station is almost full. For that to happen, all the street crossings would need 4 quadrant gates, which would open up Amtrak to run new york-maine trains via worcester.

I'd rank that as more likely than a greenway trolley but less likely than the MBTA returning to NH.
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby StefanW » Mon Feb 22, 2010 2:03 am

tober wrote:Alas, no, there is no more direct connection between the north and south sides than the Grand Junction - which itself is modestly circuitous and, beyond that, as I understand it, is "FRA Exempt" trackage. This means, as I understand it, that trains on the Grand Junction must always proceed at restricted speed (able to stop within half the distance of vision and under no circumstance exceeding 20mph). There are numerous grade crossings in Cambridge, some of which have only lights and bells for protection, no gates.


Now it's got me wondering about the track alignments at each end of the Grand Junction, and its potential...

Say the MBTA won at PowerBall :-D for some millions of dollars it could spend on a north/south connection, to be able to run passenger service... and let's assume there was passenger demand for a through trip from - for instance - Rockport to Providence... The Grand Junction grade crossing gates & improvements, track upgrades, etc. would be far cheaper and easier than a tunnel below or near the Big Dig.

However, looking at the Grand Junction connections in Google Earth there's no wye at either end.

It looks like (right now) a south-side train coming north can only go out Newburyport/Rockport and Haverhill without reversing. However, with a bit of work, it looks like the storage track along Cobble Hill Road and the loop track northwest of BET could be re-habbed to get a south-side train out the Lowell line without reversing. (To directly go out Fitchburg line would be impossible without a wye, and that's prevented by the buildings between the tracks and Medford Street.)

The south end of the Grand Junction looks more interesting... There's a huge undeveloped block right on the south side of the river which makes me think there used to be a wye before the Mass Pike extension was build in the 1950s. (This space is right across Comm. Ave. from the old Cadillac dealer building. Does anyone know if a wye leg from Grand Junction to B&A used to exist there?)
So since the Pike goes parallel to the Worcester main line under Comm. Ave. at the same grade at that spot now (preventing a new wye track) - and since BU (I think) has plans for that property - that means that the wye is out. With no wye, a north-side train could only go out the Worcester line without a reverse move... unless...

What if the CSX Beacon Park loop that's right next to the Doubletree hotel and Houghton Chemical could be used to turn revenue trains on & off of the Grand Junction?! The loop is only about 1/2 mile from the end of the bridge, and would be (according to the ruler tool in Google Earth) about 1.5 miles total extra trip to turn a train. In terms of railroad passenger operations, isn't it better to travel an extra 1.5 miles around a loop instead of making a reverse move?

All this means we could actually have north/south through trips via the Grand Junction with no reverse moves (except for the Fitchburg line) if we could:

1) get the Grand Junction track back up to spec
2) outfit the line with proper grade crossing protection (gates, center barriers, etc.)
3) use the CSX Beacon Park yard loop as a revenue service loop
4) bring the Cobble Hill Road track back as a loop connection (for north/south through service on the Lowell line only)

All that would most definitely be cheaper than a Big Dig tunnel route.

Oh, and what about the issue of bypassing both North and South Stations if such a plan like this were in place? No sweat... Through trains from the north side would stop at a new (again) Sullivan Square station (Haverhill and Newburyport/Rockport) or future Green Line Medford Branch station (Lowell line) before entering the Grand Junction. South side through trains heading north, before they headed for the Grand Junction, would service Boston customers at Back Bay, JFK/UMass and some new combined BU West & Commuter Rail station (that BU would pay for if they are taking that plot where a wye used to be :P )

In general, wouldn't any North/South passenger service connection - like these ideas - be better than no North/South connection?
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby MBTA3247 » Mon Feb 22, 2010 12:39 pm

I don't believe the Grand Junction Branch ever had a wye at its western end. Remember, it's purpose was to route freight trains from East Boston to Beacon Park, where the cars would be classified and sent off to wherever they had to go.
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby jbvb » Mon Feb 22, 2010 2:41 pm

5 min. South Station - Back Bay, 5 min. Back Bay - Beacon Park, 5 min. on the loop (it's tight), 5 min to Broadway St., 5 min to BET. So while a Worcester train could terminate at North Station without changing the schedule much, operating between North and South that way takes 30 min., about time-competitive with using the T or walking. If some weird societal tidal wave revived the State of Maine and Bar Harbor Express (overnight NYC - Maine), maybe. Otherwise, you either stop in both North and South (change ends, brake test, 15 min. the way we do it), or omit half your possible connections to commuter rail.

Personally, I think an elevated line over the Greenway would work better than at-grade. Probably less complex to locate the piers than it would be to make the distressway's deck support one or two tracks.
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby FFolz » Mon Feb 22, 2010 6:14 pm

Didn't there used to be, er, freight tracks on Atlantic Ave until the 1950's? At grade would be kewl, but I'll bow to others' expertise on the engineering issues.

The Big Pig was approved with piles of transit mitigation, but it actually went in reverse, with none of the promised upgrades being built (IIRC), while Kerasiotes plundered the T budget to cover for himself and his boss in the waning days of the cost overrun scandal. There's a special place in hell for Mass. governors Weld, Cellucci, and that guy who started it all, what's his name, Sargent? (The one in the 70's. I wasn't born yet. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.)

(IMO, when the Feds cut back funding, Mass should have paid for the Zakim bridge w/out Fed funds, foregone the I-93(?) designation and given it ped access.)
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby MBTA3247 » Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:41 pm

FFolz wrote:Didn't there used to be, er, freight tracks on Atlantic Ave until the 1950's? At grade would be kewl, but I'll bow to others' expertise on the engineering issues.

Yes, the Union Freight RR. I don't believe it would have been suited to acting as a true NSRL: I think it had a few sharp curves where it turned from one street onto another, and it bypassed the platforms at both stations. It also ran only or mostly at night, which was (and is) the only time it could get through without dealing with the daytime traffic jams (or causing them, for that matter). While an at-grade line down the greenway would be cool for us to see, the numerous grade crossings would make it a slow line and frustrating for everyone involved.
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby djlong » Tue Feb 23, 2010 8:08 am

A trestle over the Greenway? After paying $15B to get RID of a deck over that land?

...and after paying some extra money to put the slurry walls down far enough to support the *eventual* construction of the N/S Rail Connector?

The project was abandoned, for now, this is true - but the slurry walls under the Big Dig ARE there.
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby BigUglyCat » Tue Feb 23, 2010 10:01 am

djlong wrote:A trestle over the Greenway? After paying $15B to get RID of a deck over that land?

...and after paying some extra money to put the slurry walls down far enough to support the *eventual* construction of the N/S Rail Connector?

The project was abandoned, for now, this is true - but the slurry walls under the Big Dig ARE there.

OK, I lost track of that part of the Dig. Is the entire N/S route pretty much prepped? They would still have to bore the tunnel, correct?
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby djlong » Tue Feb 23, 2010 12:33 pm

BigUglyCat wrote:OK, I lost track of that part of the Dig. Is the entire N/S route pretty much prepped? They would still have to bore the tunnel, correct?


It's a little more complicated than that.

They would have to build 4 portals, 2 on the south side (around Back Bay and around South Bay north of Dorchester), and 2 on the north side (one a mile or so out on the Fitchburg line, another linking with Lowell/Haverhill/Newburyport tracks). This is because of the inclines required to get down far enough by the time they get to South Station.

Then there are the 'options'...

1) A "Central Station" that would be connected to all 4 subway lines.

2) Electrification and it's ramifications throughout the commuter rail system. I'd love to see Boston emulate through-running like they have in Philadelphia.
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby Finch » Wed Feb 24, 2010 6:38 pm

Within the next couple weeks I will be moving into an apartment within a couple blocks of the Grand Junction line, so I'm glad I found this thread. Any particular times of week/day/night that moves by MBTA, CSX, or Amtrak are most likely to be made? What radio channel governs moves on this line?

As for a "real" North-South connection via tunnels, I'm afraid that it is such an ambitious and costly project as to be well beyond the foreseeable future for the MBTA and its finances.
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby BostonUrbEx » Wed Feb 24, 2010 6:49 pm

I believe most Grand Junction activity is nearly unpredictable. But CSX brings produce to a market Chelsea every day. I believe you'd catch it 6-7 AM, not sure. But it is definitely daily.
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby MBTA3247 » Wed Feb 24, 2010 10:37 pm

BostonUrbEx wrote:I believe most Grand Junction activity is nearly unpredictable. But CSX brings produce to a market Chelsea every day. I believe you'd catch it 6-7 AM, not sure. But it is definitely daily.

The return trip of that train is (or was a few years ago) around 4-5PM.
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby jamesinclair » Wed Feb 24, 2010 11:10 pm

MBTA3247 wrote:
BostonUrbEx wrote:I believe most Grand Junction activity is nearly unpredictable. But CSX brings produce to a market Chelsea every day. I believe you'd catch it 6-7 AM, not sure. But it is definitely daily.

The return trip of that train is (or was a few years ago) around 4-5PM.


It still is.

Amtrak and MBTA moves are usually at night, and I don't think there's a schedule.
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby diburning » Thu Feb 25, 2010 5:45 am

Grand Junction is used by CSX at least twice per day. Once to send the produce up, and the second time for B721 to drop off other cars. I have seen a third freight train go up around 6-7PM.

I have also seen Amtrak moves around 4-5 PM going south, but unlike the CSX trains, Amtrak moves are very unpredictable.

The readville switcher also uses it as needed to pick up and/or drop off stuff at BET
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Re: North/South Side Connection

Postby octr202 » Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:48 am

Currently the EB CSXT B721 is often thru Cambridge early to mid afternoon (can range from 12 noon to as late as 3 or 3:30 pm), with the return sometimes happening within a couple hours, sometimes later. Amtrak sometimes shows up around 6 pm heading towards Beacon Park and the southside - that's if there's equipment going south that comes down on 686 out of Portland. That equipment off of 686 has to make a fast move out of North Station as the in-service train has to depart as 687 at 5:40 pm.
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