Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

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Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby FP10 » Tue May 31, 2011 10:11 am

Yes the T is broke, set that aside for a moment.

The Saugus Branch seems to be perfect for light rail conversion. It is approximately the same length as the D line, while traveling through a much more dense and completely under-served area. The loads of grade crossings make it better suited for light than heavy rail, and it could tie into the Brickbottom yard on the GLX. It is also the only hope for a park and ride for Route 1 before Chelsea. And if someone drives into Chelsea, they are going to continue into Boston. Encroachment seems to be limited to parking lots, when I traced the line there didn't appear to be any buildings on it, and there are still rails in many places.

It also serves as an alternate route to Lynn, hitting West Lynn and Market Square, while the Blue line only goes through the Riverworks Plant (I still think the Blue Line needs to get extended out, the Saugus Branch is too out of the way to be a good way to get into Boston from Lynn, but it would be a great Blue Line feeder).

So, thoughts? This has always seemed like a "duh" kind of extension to me, but I haven't heard anything about it here, in old books, or in real life. I feel the same way about the Watertown Branch, but that has way more encroachment and path proposals than the seemingly forgotten Saugus Branch.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Tue May 31, 2011 10:55 am

It's grade crossing hell in Malden. Something like 10 of them in a little over a mile, crossing the busiest streets in town at frequently odd angles right at intersections. That's the killer right there. It also duplicates the Orange Line to Malden Ctr. for the first mile and the highest-density neighborhood it hits is a half-mile or less from Malden Ctr. Then it does that northward dive through choppy Saugus population density where the neighborhoods are separated by conservation land it goes through. And the Lynn section misses both Lynn station and Riverworks station, so there would have to plausibly be a street-running section through Lynn Common to reach Lynn. If the T ever gets off its butts and does the high-priority Lynn extension of the Blue Line that whole area will also be 1/2 mile walking distance to a rapid-transit station. Basically, the only portion of the line that wouldn't be a mile or less to Malden Ctr. or Lynn-Blue Line would be that lower-density north-south dive through Saugus conservation land.


Basically, it's an awkward routing that doesn't fill in as big a gap in the map as it looks because of the proximity on either end to other existing or max-priority (and certainly built way before this one) stops and large tracts of empty marshland around it in the midsection. If you had Blue-Lynn built boomeranging buses between Malden Ctr. and Lynn would cover the whole of the non- walking distance route very quickly and easily, which negates the need for the line. And, yeah...grade crossing hell that's unimprovable. The only reason the line existed for freight after passenger service ended 80-something years ago is because it was a bypass for bridge weight limits on the Eastern Route. And later it lingered in quasi-suspended state because Guilford thought it had a bigtime new customer, but they pulled out at the last minute. Were it not for those two things the line would've been totally abandoned years before the T even snapped it up. I really think this one can't be more than a trail unless we hit some era where car travel is so difficult that big buildout of electric railways starts again to some degree that outstrips even the whole universe of system expansion that the state MPO lists.

If they want to do the Urban Ring right, the Eastern Route would be coupled on empty track berths 3 & 4 from BET to the former East Boston split with light rail instead of the Phase II BRT baloney they're proposing. Really, with the new maintenance facility for the Green Line extension putting the yard tracks on a perfect alignment to become future mainline tracks, there's not much preventing them from building that part of the ring whenever they want. Certainly isn't contingent on things like the N-S Rail Link opening up the Grand Junction to conversion like the other critical parts of the Ring. But I think even with that being your opportunity to get the LRV's in the vicinity of the Saugus Branch split that the much higher density in Chelsea and Revere is going to be a vastly higher-demand service area than Malden Ctr. to Lynn corridor. The southern flank isn't anywhere within a mile or two of an existing or max-priority proposed rapid-transit station like the north Saugus Branch flank is. So the buses are never going to be adequate here for connecting to the subway like they can (and will if/when Lynn is built) be in eastern Malden and Saugus. Ridership patterns are just very very skewed against rail on that ROW even if you're thinking of it as complementary to the high-priority Urban Ring corridor.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby Aerie » Tue May 31, 2011 10:57 am

Obviously the line you propose would run to Lynn, but where on the Boston end would it originate? I think when last used, the Saugus branch came off the Eastern route main line near the intersection of Rte 16 and Rte 99, and then ran parallel to Main Street, Canal Street, and Eastern Avenue. I think the line originally came off the Western Route near the Piantedosi bakery when the B&M was competing with the Eastern Railroad for Lynn traffic. Looking at the area on Google Earth, you can still see both rights of way. Probably the most logical place for the line to start would be the new Orange Line station at Assembly Square, running alongside the Eastern route for a few thousand feet.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Tue May 31, 2011 11:09 am

Aerie wrote:Obviously the line you propose would run to Lynn, but where on the Boston end would it originate? I think when last used, the Saugus branch came off the Eastern route main line near the intersection of Rte 16 and Rte 99, and then ran parallel to Main Street, Canal Street, and Eastern Avenue. I think the line originally came off the Western Route near the Piantedosi bakery when the B&M was competing with the Eastern Railroad for Lynn traffic. Looking at the area on Google Earth, you can still see both rights of way. Probably the most logical place for the line to start would be the new Orange Line station at Assembly Square, running alongside the Eastern route for a few thousand feet.


Well, if it's light rail it would have to branch off the completed Urban Ring line. Currently figured to go from BRT to rail whenever they get to Phase III (ha!), but probably cheaper to do at Phase II instead of building a whole busway they're just gonna rail over. That would get you right to the junction, and the likely (deep) future presence of rapid-transit to that junction is the only upside to doing what-if's about the Saugus Branch. There've been some not-real-serious proposals for spurring the Orange Line off Malden Ctr., but you'd have to do a subway or El or something with all those grade crossings. And for what...the density wouldn't support heavy-rail to begin with. All the heavy radial traffic would ride the straighter-shot Urban Ring along the Eastern Route, or go up Orange and Blue on the mainlines and either walk or bus to the highest-density surrounding neighborhoods.

Saugus Branch is probably the most difficult extant ROW in the T district to try to make something useful out of because of its routing constraints. Maybe moreso than even the Watertown Branch. If it weren't cheaper for B&M to use it as a bypass than to upgrade its bridge weights on the Eastern Route, it wouldn't have existed at all as an intact--let alone active--ROW well into the MBTA era.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby jbvb » Tue May 31, 2011 11:59 am

f the MBTA 1) didn't hate light rail and 2) wasn't broke, there's a lot that could be done with it. Most of the line is in areas that don't have very good transit access to downtown, due to traffic on Rt. 99 and the Tobin Bridge. Given that space is tight around Sullivan Sq. and there is very little population on-line between Main St. in Everett and Lechmere, one option would be to build new RoW west to Wellington and then turn north and west along the former B&M Medford Branch to Medford Sq. and possibly a connection with the Green Line extension between North Somerville and West Medford.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby redline79 » Tue May 31, 2011 2:26 pm

Thanks for this! I have to say that, I prefer heavy rail, underground subway lines than light rail. However, there are cases where light rail is great. In this situation I think it would feed very well into the blue line, and hopefully cut down on the number of cars and buses on the road. Personally, I think that lines such as the Mattapan High speed line is great, and there are some other places that might be very well suited to a high speed, light rail link, to feed into a subway, commuter or even a busy bus route.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby FP10 » Tue May 31, 2011 10:54 pm

F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:It also duplicates the Orange Line to Malden Ctr. for the first mile and the highest-density neighborhood it hits is a half-mile or less from Malden Ctr.

I believe your screen name proposes the exact same scenario that I am. Not to mention that the E is about a tenth of a mile away from the Orange Line in some places and doesn't have any ridership problems I'm aware of. Perhaps I'm comparing apples to oranges with downtown Boston vs Everett and Malden, but there is also a river to deal with. If you're taking the orange line anywhere south of Medford St or so, you're taking a bus to it. I cant imagine anyone wanting to walk along RT 16 to get to Wellington.

The draw of light rail is in closely spaced stops, 3/4 to one mile apart. That would make three stops between route 16 and Malden center, vs the orange line's zero.

F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:It's grade crossing hell in Malden. Something like 10 of them in a little over a mile, crossing the busiest streets in town at frequently odd angles right at intersections.

Ten in a little over TWO miles, and I rounded up my measurements. Medford St*, Main St*, Ferry St*, Rt 60*, Franklin St, Bryant St, Faukner St, Cross St, Maplewood St* and Eastern Ave*. The ones with asterisks are the major streets, and every crossing is a near right angle except Rt 60. Bryant or Faukner (or probably both) could easily be closed to cars. The Ferry St and Main St crossing are very close to intersections, a car length in fact. Moving the stop line to to the other side of the tracks could negate the problem. If it didn't a 1/3 of a mile tunnel under the three main streets in downtown Malden would solve it for good. It would also allow for there to be an underground station, and the parking lots above ground to be retained.

F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:Then it does that northward dive through choppy Saugus population density where the neighborhoods are separated by conservation land it goes through.

The population between Lexington and Arlington is pretty choppy too, but that heavy rail was going to happen before the NIMBYS mucked it all up. As for conservation land, the D line slows considerably when it crosses a recreational trail in the middle of a mile of woods in Chestnut Hill, as it goes from one village to the next. There's also over a mile of golf course before Riverside. Once again stop density solves the problem just fine, one stop per neighborhood. As another point of reference, on the Mattapan Line, Butler and Lower Mills are barely over a quarter mile apart. Cappan Street is within a half mile of Valley Road and Mattapan.
In Saugus, Franklin Park (Salem St), Cliftondale (Eustis St), Pleasant Hills (Adams Ave) and Saugus center are all just under a half mile apart. Saugus and Milton have similar populations, while Saugus' density is a bit greater. The Mattapan Line, while it has the oldest cars, still has enough riders to justify its existance.

F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:The Lynn section misses both Lynn station and Riverworks station, so there would have to plausibly be a street-running section through Lynn Common to reach Lynn. If the T ever gets off its butts and does the high-priority Lynn extension of the Blue Line that whole area will also be 1/2 mile walking distance to a rapid-transit station.

The area south of the ROW is within a half mile of the proposed blue line extension, those north of it are out of the optimal walking distance from the stop. Same argument as above, except greater here as the blue line serves a ton of industry, and not many houses. Even if you placed the Riverworks stop near the junction with the saugus branch it would still serve only a fraction of the riders that the Saugus branch around Lynn Common would.

Routing around Lynn Common was exactly what I was thinking, I just wanted to get a few responses before I sounded completely nuts talking about street running. Granted it would only be on the street for less then a half mile between the end of the common and Lynn Station, since the tracks would presumably be made part of the common, making it in effect a massive reservation (Left hand doors, no stops between the station and the common).



The line would start at Assembly Square, not the original split near Malden Center. The benefits of light rail would be lost on the other side of the water, as there are less houses, more commercial/industrial, and it would completely duplicate the orange line. As for a routing via the Eastern Route to Chelsea, also a no brainier. But its also unrelated as aside from shared trackage for a bit it serves a distinct population. The Chelsea branch would probably come first, but for the purposes of this discussion I don't see it being very related. No ones going to be walking from Malden or Saugus to the Eastern Route, and the buses still have to deal with traffic on local winding streets to the nearest (not that near) stop.

No one has said anything about a park and ride at Route 1. I feel like this would justify an extension more then anything, perhaps with short turn service at rush hour. The Tobin is tolled, crowded, and starting to fall apart. The bypass via 16 or 99 is a parking lot every time I'm there, and driving through those tank farms isn't the most scenic way to go. I envision this having a northeast corridor type of rider. Not many people going end to end but a ton of people going to points inbetween.



Also, F-line. I picked apart your post because they tend to be the most thoughtful and concise on the site. I frequently agree with what you say and especially your arguments. Quoting can seem hostile sometimes, don't want it to come off that way.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby MBTA3247 » Tue May 31, 2011 11:14 pm

FP10 wrote:The population between Lexington and Arlington is pretty choppy too, but that heavy rail was going to happen before the NIMBYS mucked it all up. As for conservation land, the D line slows considerably when it crosses a recreational trail in the middle of a mile of woods in Chestnut Hill, as it goes from one village to the next. There's also over a mile of golf course before Riverside. Once again stop density solves the problem just fine, one stop per neighborhood. As another point of reference, on the Mattapan Line, Butler and Lower Mills are barely over a quarter mile apart. Cappan Street is within a half mile of Valley Road and Mattapan.
In Saugus, Franklin Park (Salem St), Cliftondale (Eustis St), Pleasant Hills (Adams Ave) and Saugus center are all just under a half mile apart. Saugus and Milton have similar populations, while Saugus' density is a bit greater. The Mattapan Line, while it has the oldest cars, still has enough riders to justify its existance.

Correction: it has enough riders to justify its continued existence. It probably wouldn't be built today because of its relatively low ridership.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby madcrow » Tue May 31, 2011 11:28 pm

I would classify this as a "nice to have but non-essential and unlikely" idea. In a world where the T was well-funded, the state wasn't in a budget crisis and the government was willing to adopt European-style taxes and fees to make car ownership less attractive, a proposal like this would make perfect sense. Sadly, the real world offers none of these advantages...

The idea does make an interesting point in that light rail could be quite a good fit for service in many of the denser "inside 128" suburbs that are currently served only by busses or commuter rail. The high ridership levels on the D line (which is basically the prototype for most modern suburban light rail systems in North America) proves that people WILL ride it if it exists, after all.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Wed Jun 01, 2011 6:54 am

madcrow wrote:I would classify this as a "nice to have but non-essential and unlikely" idea. In a world where the T was well-funded, the state wasn't in a budget crisis and the government was willing to adopt European-style taxes and fees to make car ownership less attractive, a proposal like this would make perfect sense. Sadly, the real world offers none of these advantages...


I mentioned in the thread last week about "good" and "bad" rail trail plans and NIMBY shennanigans therein that the Saugus Branch one was pretty good on balance. City of Malden has shown blatant disregard for respecting the property lines of the T's land, letting abutters expand their back driveways to the point where the new-paved asphalt literally touches the right rail. That is a salt-the-earth tactic, and no amount of warning from the T to back off has slowed the war of attrition that they're engaging in. This path saves the ROW from getting destroyed, re-establishes its property lines, and requires the really aggressive abutters to give back their illegal parking spaces. Without it, we were otherwise going to be looking at a Woburn Branch situation where the thing was totally chopped up with significant stretches of total obliteration in 5-7 years flat. So this is very good use of a trail to wield the hammer against unrepentant (and, worse, municipally-aided) encroachers.

Nobody has any way of knowing what the in-district transit needs are going to be in 30 years because peak oil is the great unknown that car culture is stepping into. If the only way the local economy will be able to survive is if more rapid transit exists for a many times more carless populace, then yes...this absolutely goes on the table. We just can't think now any further beyond the known unknowns that the state's 2030 MPO transit plan scopes out. And that's why the Saugus Branch isn't a rated project on there while just about every other dream line in the rail candy store is. It's just dozens upon dozens of projects too far down the list to even be worth fantasy talking about. But past 2030 we're totally into unknown unknowns. Everything is in-play by that point. We may even be tearing down highways by then. We can thank the path for preserving the ROW and leaving that extremely convenient (likely) LRT junction off the Eastern Route's co-habitant Urban Ring line. ROW preservation is all about the unknown unknowns on the half-century or more timeframe. I definitely think it's all good that they're protecting it from destruction. We may well need it. It's a way, way better use of a trail than some of the "bad" salt-the-earth efforts that are little more than NIMBY trojan horses.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby BostonUrbEx » Wed Jun 01, 2011 8:00 am

I don't understand how people can even encroach like this. Can they not be fined? Why can't a cop just go right up to an encroacher's home and just issue a fine? They should be able to, IMO. Can they?
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby madcrow » Wed Jun 01, 2011 9:35 am

BostonUrbEx wrote:I don't understand how people can even encroach like this. Can they not be fined? Why can't a cop just go right up to an encroacher's home and just issue a fine? They should be able to, IMO. Can they?

I don't know, but this isn't the only case where people have encroached on unused T-owned right of way and nothing's happened. The Blue Line extension, for example, has been basically derailed because of illegal encroachment that the T has taken as "facts on the ground" rather than "grounds to send in the bulldozers and destroy the illegally-built structures on the RoW". Given that the Blue Line encroachment happened within the last ten years (After the T had started making noise about plans to extend to Blue Line to Lynn along the route that was encroached upon, no less), it would seem that people have decided that the best way to kill off rail service in their back yards is to literally steal railroad-owned land...
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Wed Jun 01, 2011 10:25 am

madcrow wrote:
BostonUrbEx wrote:I don't understand how people can even encroach like this. Can they not be fined? Why can't a cop just go right up to an encroacher's home and just issue a fine? They should be able to, IMO. Can they?

I don't know, but this isn't the only case where people have encroached on unused T-owned right of way and nothing's happened. The Blue Line extension, for example, has been basically derailed because of illegal encroachment that the T has taken as "facts on the ground" rather than "grounds to send in the bulldozers and destroy the illegally-built structures on the RoW". Given that the Blue Line encroachment happened within the last ten years (After the T had started making noise about plans to extend to Blue Line to Lynn along the route that was encroached upon, no less), it would seem that people have decided that the best way to kill off rail service in their back yards is to literally steal railroad-owned land...


It's because it's enabled by the towns. Malden is notorious for property line turf wars, and town officials aren't above choosing sides. Basically, if the property isn't being used for something they generally don't give a crap if your parking spaces start inching closer, closer, closer. And if they don't like you you're not going to get help from them defending your easement or unused property. Wonderfully corrupt little fiefdom that town's gov't is.

Revere is almost as bad. The high-rise condos have not actually crossed onto the BRB&L ROW with building foundations, but they're literal inches away and have taken away all buffer space around the ROW. City of Revere gleefully issued the permit anyway. The ROW's still usable, and the T now has its head on a swivel about further encroachment, but to go past those buildings without getting into a NIMBY cripple fight they'd probably have to do a Brookline Village style above-ground tunnel as a concession for noise shielding, with parking air rights on top. Whether they have to go there would be wholly dependent on how much of a pain the EIS for the Eastern Route embankment through the swamp is (not a simple matter).

This crap is really hard to police. The state doesn't have the resources to constantly inspect landbanked ROW's, and jurisdictional issues mean that the town has to be a partner in enforcing the property lines. If they don't want to do that, or actively make a mockery out of it with quid pro quo on permitting or looking the other way...unfortunate stuff's gonna go down. The T really, really dropped the ball on the Blue Line ROW because those high-rises were so conspicuous. But I don't know if they can be faulted for missing these little small-scale encroachments in Malden where a property owner starts parking on the tracks...then spreads some gravel up to the tracks to make a less-muddy parking lot...then paves up to it on the sly...then slaps down a makeshift chain-link fence so close to the ROW a freight might not even clear. With the town looking the other way, and then taking the encroacher's side when there's a problem. That dirty pool is a much bigger threat to ROW preservation than an elephant-in-the-room construction project like Revere's. It's death by a thousand pinpricks.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby FP10 » Wed Jun 01, 2011 7:12 pm

I would love to see a conga line of bulldozers go down every T owned ROW once every five years or so. I wonder how much it would cost to have two or three guys continually patrol the lines. Call it brush clearing, or the like.
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Re: Light Rail for the Saugus Branch Railroad

Postby The EGE » Wed Jun 01, 2011 9:01 pm

On the Lynn end of the branch, how much ROW is the on the Eastern Route? Is there enough to get a trolley from the Saugus Branch to the CR station, or would you have to do some digging to allow that?
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