Would bringing back trolleys be economically feasible?

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Would bringing back trolleys be economically feasible?

Postby vanshnookenraggen » Fri Dec 10, 2004 1:21 am

I have always heard the argument that trolleys were better than busses. I know that is the consensus here. What I want to know is if it is economically feasible to replace at least some bus lines (this includes the Silver Line as a few lines would feed into Washington St) with trolleys?
I got to thinking this from reading this link:
http://www2.townonline.com/burlington/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=142761

Basically the T is missing their budget because, along with other problems, gas prices are going up. As we know the reason, or one of them, that busses were a useful option was cheap gas. Now that cheap gas will be drying up would it be better to bring the trolleys back or even trackless trolleys?

And if we did replace lines with trolleys, would they make the same stops as busses do or would they be treated like Light Rail? The street running E Line portion does make more stops than regular Light Rail but if Arborway is brought back it would make fewer stops than the 39 does.

Then there is the question of whether the Green Line can accommodate the load. I can only assume it can after all there were many more trolley routes in 1897 than there are today. But it wasn't designed for rapid transit; rather it was designed to get the trolleys off the crowded downtown streets. I believe that a new tunnel or expansion of the tunnel between Park and Gov't Center might be necessary but even if it weren't it would be a good idea.
Granted not all lines would feed into the Green Line but some would. The T says there isn't enough room but if many of the lines terminated at Park St than I think there would be enough. There might be a switching problem as the trolleys that would use any portal leading south rather than west would have to switch tracks between Boylston and Park. This could be fixed by a new loop between the outer tracks at Park like when the station was first built. Those engineers knew what they were doing.

I know I got off on a tangent there but what I was trying to get at was there would need to be much more to a conversion than just laying tracks in the street and putting up wires. I know the mayor is against that (or so I have heard) but lets assume that isn't a factor. There would need to be expansions in the subway and probably new facilities built. I am sure that there is space in some of the bus yards but I know that new facilities would need to be built elsewhere. And then there is the purchasing of rolling stock. And stations? Would they be stations or just bus stops like WALL has put up?

So...is it economically feasible? After rereading all I wrote I have a feeling that gas prices would have to sky rocket to bring trolleys back. But wouldn't trolleys increase rider ship? Would the trolleys be more economical to keep up than busses? If so would that be enough to warrant a conversion? What do you all think?
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Postby jwhite07 » Fri Dec 10, 2004 9:21 am

In past studies, the MBTA has typically considered operating costs of light rail versus bus to be generally the same. Sure, maintenance costs and operator wages are comparable. But LRT beats bus hands-down in terms of operating cost *per passenger*. So I don't quite buy the assumption that operating costs are the same per mode, but I don't have a clue of how wide the gap actually is.

I would gather from the T's assumption that the cost of electricity and the cost of fossil fuel was at least at one point about the same. Has that changed substantially, and have we really gotten to the point that the cost of electricity is now so much less than the cost of fossil fuel that the massive capital investments needed to convert a bunch of bus lines to LRT (or even ETB) is justified?

Figuring for the sake of argument that the answer to the above is yes, the big question in my mind becomes: Where is the capital money going to come from? The MBTA has been crying poverty regarding capital projects that they are legally obligated to undertake (while somehow feeling confident that they can afford Phase III - but that's a different story that has been well beaten about before). There is certainly some truth to their assertion, considering capital funding is far harder to obtain even in the best of circumstances, the economy isn't exactly red-hot around here, and the current Federal policy is to fund no more than 50% of a capital transit project (as opposed to up to 80% in years past). The downside to LRT (and it's a big one) is that it has always been capital-intensive.

Let's go further and assume that there is capital funding for converting bus lines to LRT and look at the Central Subway capacity question. First of all, not all of the converted lines need to be routed into the Central Subway. I've always considered the 1 to be an excellent candidate for conversion to LRT because of its very heavy ridership, and that clearly would not need to be routed into the Central Subway (though it would be nice to have some facility for direct transfer at Hynes/ICA, as existed in the past). The two lines that certainly would need to be routed in would be a full Arborway Line and a converted Washington Street line. Full Arborway service would necessitate an increase in the total number of trains routed into the subway, but if service frequencies remain about the same as today, it is possible to do it. Now we throw Washington Street into the mix, which is what gives the T such fits. The solution is really laughably simple.

The big issue here is the two-track segment beyond Park Street. Right now, all service, including Heath Street service, operates through that segment. Jamming the Washington Street service through there may well create the "rail lock" conditions the T proclaims. So, something's got to give, and that something is as simple as terminating the Arborway service at Park Street as in the past, and plugging the Washington Street frequencies into that gap onward to Government Center and beyond. If you look at the way the track layout is arranged even today, the Arborway and Washington Street services would not even share trackage at all! Coming from the Boylston Street Subway into Boylston Station, Arborway trains would continue straight to the inside track at Park Street and loop there. Washington Street trains would come to and from the old Tremont Street tunnel on the outside tracks, and stay on the outside tracks to Park Street and beyond. No conflict whatsoever, and no additional frequencies between Park and Government Center.

There. Now where's my millions of dollars in consulting fees? :-D
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Postby Pete » Fri Dec 10, 2004 9:57 am

There's some discussion of this on page 10 of "Operational Aspects of Restoring Light Rail Service in the Arborway Corridor" at www.arborway.net/lrv/document.html
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Postby Cotuit » Fri Dec 10, 2004 12:48 pm

jwhite07 wrote:Figuring for the sake of argument that the answer to the above is yes, the big question in my mind becomes: Where is the capital money going to come from?


Not that I'm against it, but someone found money for the Sagamore Flyover. Someone also found money to add lanes to Route 3 and Route 128. Money was also found in the past to extend the red line north of Harvard and to relocate the orange line.

If there's a will for the money to be found, the money exists.

Romney made a lot of talk about bettering service in the core, but he has yet to show us the money.
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Postby jwhite07 » Fri Dec 10, 2004 1:47 pm

Not that I'm against it, but someone found money for the Sagamore Flyover. Someone also found money to add lanes to Route 3 and Route 128.


Yeah, but those are roads. Totally different playing field! (Do you really think someone could have gotten $14 billion for a single *rail* project? No way!)

Money was also found in the past to extend the red line north of Harvard and to relocate the orange line.


The 1980s were the fat days of Federal funding for transit. Sadly, this is no longer the case.

If there's a will for the money to be found, the money exists.


Bingo! Which was my point when I mentioned Phase III, which the T seems to be deadset on accomplishing. Meanwhile, there are other things the T are supposed to be doing, but there is no will to do them, and thus "no money".

However, even the will to get something done only goes so far... the T applied for Federal funding for their pet project, Phase III. The feds flat out refused to pay for *any* of it. Now, the Commonwealth is on the hook for the whole thing (whatzit? A couple billion?), and they are not going to be able to cough up all of that money without a great deal of difficulty and sacrifice. Sure, the money exists, but will it be worth spiking a whole list of capital projects that will be far more useful, for years to come?

Romney made a lot of talk about bettering service in the core, but he has yet to show us the money.


Talk's cheap, isn't it?
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Postby Pete » Fri Dec 10, 2004 3:06 pm

jwhite07 wrote:
Money was also found in the past to extend the red line north of Harvard and to relocate the orange line.


The 1980s were the fat days of Federal funding for transit. Sadly, this is no longer the case.


Not for transit in general, but transit here, yes. Much of this money was "traded in" Interstate highway funds originally allocated for those roads inside 128 unfinished as of 1971 (except I-93 in Somerville). That was a one-time infusion.

It does raise the question, though, of what could have been done by trading in the $10.8 billion in Federal funding buried in the past 15 years.
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Postby Cotuit » Fri Dec 10, 2004 8:50 pm

jwhite07 wrote:
Not that I'm against it, but someone found money for the Sagamore Flyover. Someone also found money to add lanes to Route 3 and Route 128.


Yeah, but those are roads. Totally different playing field! (Do you really think someone could have gotten $14 billion for a single *rail* project? No way!)


Well that's my point. As long as we, the taxpayers continue to be fine with the fact that the nation's roadways are a corporate welfare program and not make noise about the need for transit, the government will continue to blindly pump funds into it over rail.

We wouldn't need $14billion for a single rail project, which is what needs to be gotten through the head of the sheepish electorate. You can continue to pay taxes hand over fist to build and widen highways until we are completely paved over, or we can make more sensical (and in the long term, less expensive) transit choices.

We got it (at least in Massachusetts) in the 70s when we cancelled everything inside 128 and made major transit improvements. It seems that we have forgotten since.
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Postby Cotuit » Fri Dec 10, 2004 8:57 pm

jwhite07 wrote:
Romney made a lot of talk about bettering service in the core, but he has yet to show us the money.


Talk's cheap, isn't it?


Yes, talk is cheap, and since it's so cheap Romney should be using his position to do a lot of it. He could be using his position at the head of the Republican Governors to start a national discussion on the need for transit. Especially as he is the governor of one of the most urban states in the country.

However, since pro-transit is seen as being anti-oil, he seems to fear speaking out. It could ruffle the feathers of some of the friends (he seems to think) he has in Washington.
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