Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

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

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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby CRail » Sat Nov 06, 2010 1:27 am

All this talk about infrequent service... Compared are weekday inbound departures from Greenbush (first column) and Framingham (second column, including trains originating in Worcester). Naturally, there are more on the Framingham side, but not by all that much. I'd call Greenbush service acceptable, especially considering the at capacity single track north of Green Interlocking.

TRAINS FROM
GRNB - FGHM

05:40 - 05:35
06:37 - 06:25
07:03 - 06:50
. . . . - 07:15
07:50 - 07:40
. . . . - 08:00
. . . . - 08:19
08:50 - 08:40
10:35 - 09:11
11:50 - 11:11
. . . . - 12:20
02:11 - 02:09
03:47 - 02:46
05:20 - 05:11
. . . . - 05:40
. . . . - 06:16
07:05 - 06:43
. . . . - 07:45
08:28 - 08:27
. . . . - 12:31
. . . . - 12:48F

As far as improving service, increasing capacity north of Green Interlocking is a must. I also liked the DMU feeder service idea. This would allow more frequent service with a decreased per trip capacity, allowing that capacity to be utilized elsewhere. It also allows doing so without impacting (or being impacted by) the bottleneck with the other two lines. Someone commented on "not spending another dime" on the service... so you'd rather run 6 or 7 car trains of unfilled bi-level cars over the line all day? It's too late to question whether the line's construction was worth while, it's there. Now efforts should be made to make it efficient, as in cheaper to operate and/or better utilized.
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby butts260 » Sat Nov 06, 2010 8:57 am

CRail wrote:All this talk about infrequent service...

TRAINS FROM
GRNB - FGHM

05:40 - 05:35
06:37 - 06:25
07:03 - 06:50
. . . . - 07:15
07:50 - 07:40
. . . . - 08:00
. . . . - 08:19
08:50 - 08:40
10:35 - 09:11
11:50 - 11:11
. . . . - 12:20
02:11 - 02:09
03:47 - 02:46
05:20 - 05:11
. . . . - 05:40
. . . . - 06:16
07:05 - 06:43
. . . . - 07:45
08:28 - 08:27
. . . . - 12:31
. . . . - 12:48F

I count above twelve (12) weekday inbounds from Greenbush and the Gloucester Branch timetable shows thirteen (13) weekday inbounds from Rockport. What's the problem here :-D ?
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby CRail » Sat Nov 06, 2010 9:23 am

I discussed them above.
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby livesteamer » Sat Nov 06, 2010 9:51 am

This discussion of Greenbush ridership has to focus on the fact that the line opened just prior to the beginning of the current econmic woes. Ridership predictions were based on a fairly robust economy and never once addressed the possiblity of high unemployment. It is my opinion that until the economy begins to pick up and we begin to see unemployment rates of 6% or less in the Boston market and strong, measureable and significant growth in the ecomony that the Greebush line will continue to limp along with these low ridership numbers. And, I do not think we will be able to assess the value of the Greenbush line until we see at least two years of sustained growth. The five year projections have to be reset until the economy sees real growth.
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby butts260 » Sat Nov 06, 2010 10:50 am

CRail wrote:I discussed them above.

You did indeed; I was simply supporting your Greenbush service observation.
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby johnm4 » Sat Nov 06, 2010 11:24 am

Ridership numbers may have been overestimated, but now is a terrible time to measure the success or failure of the line due to the economy:

-People look at transit options when deciding where to move.
-People look at transit options when deciding on employment options.

Home sales are WAY DOWN. New jobs are WAY DOWN. People relocating for new jobs are WAY WAY DOWN. In a good economy it would take many years to build up new riders who move into an area or take a job because of a new transit option. In this economy, those new potential riders essentially don't exist.
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby Arlington » Sat Nov 06, 2010 1:57 pm

johnm4 wrote:Ridership numbers may have been overestimated, but now is a terrible time to measure the success or failure of the line due to the economy:

-People look at transit options when deciding where to move.
-People look at transit options when deciding on employment options.

Which people? Some people? Sure. Scituate people? No evidence....or not enough to spend a HALF BILLION dollars on a hunch that's proved wrong.
johnm4 wrote:Home sales are WAY DOWN. New jobs are WAY DOWN. People relocating for new jobs are WAY WAY DOWN. In a good economy it would take many years to build up new riders who move into an area or take a job because of a new transit option. In this economy, those new potential riders essentially don't exist.

Sorry, but your theory does not fit the planning timeline.

While Greenbush was built during the bubble, it was planned in the 1999 to 2003 time period. The most likely housing turnover numbers used in the Greenbush projections would have been something like the "Single Family Detached" numbers for the South Shore, which were absolutely no more than 6,300 per year (see below). The last 3 years have run at something like 6,100 per year. (using figures from http://www.marealtor.com/content/housing_data.htm )

The Greenbush Ridership study had to have been done in something like 1999 to 2003 (for example see this Greenbush Exhuberance from the Sierra Club http://www.sierraclubmass.org/press/pdf/092903greenbush.pdf ) it would have used numbers from 1996 to 2002.

In that period, the numbers available would have suggested turnover in the 4,000 to 6,300 per year range. (It's unlikely that they'd have both predicted the housing bubble and built it in to their numbers!...that alone should get political torching if true) So the last 3 year's turnover on the south shore of about 6,100 houses per year is running anywhere from 50% above to just 6% below the turnover that planners could have reasonably assumed.

Its crazy to attribute a 70%+ shortfall in car-to-train shift to what is at most a 6% shortfall in housing turnover.

Here's year by year single-family home sales on the South Shore (from http://www.marealtor.com for Single Family Detached South Shore)
1996 2,727
1997 3,070
1998 4,297
1999 4,296
2000 6,369 (big jump...was it in the planning window? probably better to assume 4000 than 6000)
2001 6,304
2002 6,308 (last data to become available, early in Romney Admin)
2003 6,843 (planning done in 2003, go-ahead comes here, so they'd never have seen full 2003 data)
2004 7,422
2005 8,376 The Peak...and Greenbush is being built
2006 7,146
(line is on its way...people should be flocking to it early)
2007 6,596
2008 5,944
2009 6,188
2010 (1st 3/4 of year is running at 2,979 for 2009 vs 3,620 for 2010 )

If you can't, from time to time, admit that a line which has drawn riders from cars at 1/4th of its forecasts is a loser, and you can't learn from your mistakes like spending a half BILLION dollars to mostly cannibalize a perfectly good ferry that continues to operate, you're going to lose credibility with the people who have to pay for new lines.
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby Ron Newman » Sat Nov 06, 2010 10:22 pm

jamesinclair wrote:The problem with Greenbush is that its a coastal line, meaning a large portion of the service area is the ocean. That means half the service area is wasted.


Why isn't this a problem for the Newburyport/Rockport Line then?
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby Arlington » Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:21 am

Ron Newman wrote:
jamesinclair wrote:The problem with Greenbush is that its a coastal line, meaning a large portion of the service area is the ocean. That means half the service area is wasted.


Why isn't this a problem for the Newburyport/Rockport Line then?


Newburyport Rockport didn't cost a half billion dollars.
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby livesteamer » Sun Nov 07, 2010 10:21 am

I think another couple of key questions to consider in this debate--the money has been spent (both federal and state dollars) to build the Greenbush line. The line is going to continue to operate in some form or fashion. So with that in mind, what are going to be the long term lessons learned?

And, will aggressive marketing of the Greenbush line work to increase ridership. I am not sure that the folks at CR or the state will spend money on DMUs-they are only now beginning to see gains in San Deigo. Can train lengths be shorten to utilize equipment in other places. I am only an occassional rider when back to visit but it seems to me running 5-6 car trains at mid day with only one coach actually opened is a considerable waste of equipment. Couldn't the Greenbush trains be cut to 2-3 car trains with out any impact to ridership? It is certainly a fact that commuter trains (going back to railroad owned lines) do not in any way properly utlize equipment. Most equipment gets used fully on one round trip each day. The rest of the time it is being hauled around as dead weight.
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby jamesinclair » Sun Nov 07, 2010 3:43 pm

Ron Newman wrote:
jamesinclair wrote:The problem with Greenbush is that its a coastal line, meaning a large portion of the service area is the ocean. That means half the service area is wasted.


Why isn't this a problem for the Newburyport/Rockport Line then?


Where did I say it wasn't?

It's also a problem with the blue line.
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby CRail » Mon Nov 08, 2010 9:02 pm

butts260 wrote:
CRail wrote:I discussed them above.

You did indeed; I was simply supporting your Greenbush service observation.


I thought you were insinuating that there was a problem with the schedule and not actually asking what the problem was, thanks for clearing that up. My mistake!

Livesteamer: You're right about empty cars being hauled around empty. Most cars a more utilized than only carrying one round trip a day, but that doesn't devalue your argument. The problem is that there are a limited number of control cars which have to remain on one end of the train, and naturally the locomotive needs to be on the other end. To change consists multiple times a day is so labor intensive and time consuming it isn't worth it. To run DMUs on lines that aren't carrying their potential certainly increases efficiency. Then you have the capabilities that SEPTA has with its EMUs. They can pull into a yard, cut two or three cars, and head back into the city. I can't tell you what the cost savings would be, but over time I'm sure the purchase of new (or rebuilt) equipment would be worthwhile. (I don't mean to start a DMU discussion, I just think it's a viable solution if there's seriously that big of an issue).

The other thing is that the line is still fairly new. I don't know how much I'd blame the economy, but I'd certainly at least give it a full 5 years to catch on before I started passing judgment.
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby livesteamer » Mon Nov 08, 2010 9:44 pm

My point on train length--move the non-cab cars on to lines that need more capacity. In the early days of push-pull service on the old E-L lines in New Jersey, some of the Boonton trains were only 3 cars--2 coaches and a cab-car being pushed-pulled by a U34CH. Certainly the San Diego DMUs seem to be working to feed the San Diego commuter rail operation on the Surf Line. And, I would guess that any proposal that requires a train change either at Braintree or Quincy would meet a huge amount of resistence.
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby CRail » Tue Nov 09, 2010 9:52 am

You also have the problem where MBCR issued 30mph speed restriction on trains shorter than 5 cars, but that's for another chapter :eyeroll:
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Re: Political Heat on the Greenbush Line

Postby Arlington » Tue Nov 09, 2010 10:58 am

CRail wrote:The other thing is that the line is still fairly new. I don't know how much I'd blame the economy, but I'd certainly at least give it a full 5 years to catch on before I started passing judgment.

In what way does a line "catch on" in years 4 and 5 in a way that's different from the way it has not "caught on" in years 1, 2, and 3?

This is a line that has been supported by housing turnover in line (or above) historical averages, so if people wanted to move to it to ride on it they could have, that has nonetheless drawn 49% fewer riders than forecast (2133 vs 4200). To get to projected ridership in the next two years, ridership has do *double*...unlikely given that ridership is currently falling year over year.

Worse, even with gas prices 20% to 100% above those in the planning period, it has drawn 70% fewer people from cars than forecast. To catch up here, share taken from cars has to nearly *quadruple*...there is no need to reserve judgement. Greenbush is a loser, and the message is that that the Conservation Law Foundation *stinks* at transit planning.

If you really wanted to add just 950 new transit riders there are many many many better ways to spend a lot less than half billion dollars, a good example would be structured parking and an additional boat for the Hingham ferry.
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