Regional Rail (including North-South Rail Link)

ErnieAdams

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Equilibria

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^ Of course the Globe's top-line takeaway is "Express train to Providence is on the table." Staring a hole through a single tree and missing the forest. No link because they don't deserve the traffic.

(edited to add link post-page jump)
In their defense, they're down there reporting on the NGA conference, which was the context for Baker's remarks. The discussion between him and Raimondo would have seemed like the bigger deal.
 

cadetcarl

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Is there not already an express train to Providence? It's pretty fast, it just costs a bunch of money.
 

HenryAlan

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Is there not already an express train to Providence? It's pretty fast, it just costs a bunch of money.
I've wondered whether this is more of an opportunity to partner with Amtrak on subsidized fares between Boston and Providence rather than an express MBTA service.
 

Riverside

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Two problems with Amtrak-as-express-commuter-rail:

1. Doesn’t stop at Ruggles, which is a major commuter draw (but less of an intercity draw).

2. Not really viable on current schedule for morning commute. Basically only one train, leaves PVD at 7, and is actually the tail end of an overnight journey from DC, meaning — you guessed it — it’s not almost the most reliable, scheduling-wise. You have to build a significant amount of buffer into your schedule, at which point you might as well take the semi-express 7:13 AM train that expresses after Mansfield and is pretty reliable.

1 isn’t a dealbreaker, but 2 definitely is, especially since a monthly commuter rail pass includes subway and bus fares to help with the last mile, while an Amtrak monthly pass does not, and is itself more expensive.

If Amtrak (or a New England Inter-State rail authority) ran some early morning trains from New Haven, maybe it might make more sense. But not for now.
 

jass

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MBTA wants electric trains.

Amtrak is retiring the current Acelas in two years.

Providence-Boston is one of two spots where the Acelas work well.

The Acelas are old, yes, but their life could be extended by running on a short corridor rather than 500 miles every day. Could also do well limited to 135mph or some other random number.

Let's do it gang!
 

HelloBostonHi

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MBTA wants electric trains.

Amtrak is retiring the current Acelas in two years.

Providence-Boston is one of two spots where the Acelas work well.

The Acelas are old, yes, but their life could be extended by running on a short corridor rather than 500 miles every day. Could also do well limited to 135mph or some other random number.

Let's do it gang!
Acelas really work best with all high level platforms, something the MBTA doesn't yet have. Acelas also have pretty poor seating density for a commuter service. They're made for business class long distance travel. If the T were to completely overhaul the interiors and add steps for low level platforms then sure... But at that point why not just get some Siemens electric locos that already run on the NEC without issue.
 

Riverside

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I would assume that adoption of any electric rolling stock on the Providence Line would be coordinated with construction of full-highs.

But yeah, the seating density (to say nothing of the cafe car) is intended for intercity, not commuter, rail.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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MBTA wants electric trains.

Amtrak is retiring the current Acelas in two years.

Providence-Boston is one of two spots where the Acelas work well.

The Acelas are old, yes, but their life could be extended by running on a short corridor rather than 500 miles every day. Could also do well limited to 135mph or some other random number.

Let's do it gang!
No, the Acelas are junk. They're a Frankenstein mashup of Bombardier and Alstom tech that are notorious shop queens and very nearly the most expensive trainsets to operate in the world. And Bombardier's onerous Service & Support contract with co-ownership clauses is so contentious and has so strained relations with AMTK that BBD is effectively blackballed from bidding on any more AMTK equipment. If the Acela service weren't so hugely profitable in spite of the vehicle contract, it'd be a major scandal.

They're wholly inappropriate for commuter duty. Stop density doesn't allow for speeds higher than 90 for more than short, schedule-insignificant lengths...wasting the Acelas' primary advantage amidst too many unacceptable downsides. Acceleration to lower speed isn't lights-out better than a Sprinter loco segregated to only the 93 MPH-rated bi-level coaches in the T fleet, because the sets are so heavy for their limited capacity and the power cars an aging, problematic design. And for comparison, EMU's wouldn't be ordered rated higher than 90-100 MPH because the excess isn't worth the extra cost/weight/electric demand (though 125 MPH commuter makes are factory-orderable, they're rarely maintained over life at >100).

The only halfway-officially confirmed repurposement of the Acelas, mentioned by AMTK shop employees on RR.net, was retaining 1 set as a high-speed work train and a couple extra carriages and power cars as parts sources for the test set. And that proposal seems to have gone by the boards because the Bombardier contract would still have its teeth in them. Talk of sticking them on the Keystones or as NEC supplementals has never gone further than railfan foamer acid dreams. The Keystone Line tops out at 125 MPH...so another case of lacking the one upside that counteracts a pile of vehicular downsides.

They'll be placed in dead storage until the Bombardier contract hits repossession-by-inactivity clauses. Then they're BBD's problem, but by that point parts scarcity will have gotten so acute that re-use anywhere in the world is out of the question. Blame it on that awful contract if you wanted to see them continue, but the vehicles bleed so much maint money per every hour of service duty that in dollars-and-sense you never practically would've wanted to do that in the first place.
 

jass

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Folks, I am referring to the news about MBTA looking at eelctric trains to run express service on the Providence line. I am thinking an Acela running Providence-128-Boston back and forth 2-3 times a day.
 

roy_mustang76

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Folks, I am referring to the news about MBTA looking at eelctric trains to run express service on the Providence line. I am thinking an Acela running Providence-128-Boston back and forth 2-3 times a day.
So you're saying only half of F-Line's objections apply to the idea, as opposed to all of them. The configuration would be nice as a traveler, but it doesn't make any sense to maintain a small, issue-riddled unicorn fleet just for 3x daily express service between Boston and Providence... especially when the whole benefit to the Acela sets (speed) is wasted on the short distance. Acela sets only beat Regionals over BOS-BBY-PVD by about 5 minutes, so clearly even with the express service there's little benefit to running those particular sets.

You could extend the life of the sets, much the way you could extend the life of a 20-year old car by only driving it a few miles each day, but why would you want to take the 20-year old car that only has a few years left instead of just taking the new car you know you will need to buy soon anyway and keeping that for 25 years?
 

jass

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So you're saying only half of F-Line's objections apply to the idea, as opposed to all of them. The configuration would be nice as a traveler, but it doesn't make any sense to maintain a small, issue-riddled unicorn fleet just for 3x daily express service between Boston and Providence... especially when the whole benefit to the Acela sets (speed) is wasted on the short distance. Acela sets only beat Regionals over BOS-BBY-PVD by about 5 minutes, so clearly even with the express service there's little benefit to running those particular sets.

You could extend the life of the sets, much the way you could extend the life of a 20-year old car by only driving it a few miles each day, but why would you want to take the 20-year old car that only has a few years left instead of just taking the new car you know you will need to buy soon anyway and keeping that for 25 years?
Because this allows you to start service next year rather than wait 5 years for the whole funding-procurement-testing process. It's not about offering commuters 150mph service, it's about offering commuters an electric powered rail set that is available NOW.

Amtrak California, in 2012, bought some NJ Transit Comet cars from 1968 that were parked in some yard since 2008. The idea was to run them until 2016 when the new fleet came online. Many folks said it was a mistake to buy something so old.


It's 2019 and the cars are running back and forth in reliable service because that 2016 delivery date for the new cars is now late 2020.

Sometimes it's worth thinking outside the box.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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It's moot. When their AMTK tenancy is over Bombardier owns the sets lock, stock (after a loooooong handoff period where they will mostly be collecting bird poop motionless in a yard). You couldn't lease them for ANY role that doesn't involve taking on Bombardier's intrusive S&S package. At terms that would have to guarantee BBD hits a duty cycles target they can make money on for maintenance of those unicorns...which in turn guarantees that ANY lessor on the planet would take a bath doing business with them.

There's no "a little bit Acela" here. Those sets are literal financial poison to anyone who touches them. This is not news to Amtrak itself. I'm not sure why it is to folks making apples-soyburger comparisons with ex-NJT coaches.
 

Rover

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So....I understand Raimondo has a job to do, but I'm not sure I understand what the end game is here. A quick look at the MBTA Providence line schedule shows me 3 trains leaving between 7AM and 8AM and one more around 8:30. It takes a little over an hour. Are they trying to run more frequently or make the ride quicker? If so, how much faster do they think they can make the trip after accounting for 1) rail traffic, 2) the need to stop at least at 128 and Back Bay, and 3) the slow crawl into South Station from Back Bay (really, you could walk faster!). I just took the Acela from NYC a couple of weeks ago and the trip from PVD to BOS seemed like a good 40-45 minutes which surprised me (I thought it would be quicker).
 

roy_mustang76

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Because this allows you to start service next year rather than wait 5 years for the whole funding-procurement-testing process. It's not about offering commuters 150mph service, it's about offering commuters an electric powered rail set that is available NOW.

Amtrak California, in 2012, bought some NJ Transit Comet cars from 1968 that were parked in some yard since 2008. The idea was to run them until 2016 when the new fleet came online. Many folks said it was a mistake to buy something so old.


It's 2019 and the cars are running back and forth in reliable service because that 2016 delivery date for the new cars is now late 2020.

Sometimes it's worth thinking outside the box.
I'm no stranger to thinking outside the box (my post history is short here, it's pretty much all outside the box thus far), but in this case I've got to say, instead of wondering if we can, we need to wonder first if we should. First, why do we want to put in express service PVD-BBY-BOS specifically? Rover scooped me as I was responding, but a normal Providence Line train takes about 1h 10m. I don't doubt that there is demand for a faster trip, but given that by definition this proposal can't cut travel times by 20-30 minutes for everyone, is buying that 20-30 minutes on one rush trip in each direction worth bringing on the unicorn fleet? Is there that much demand in that specific city pair, or is the demand a bit more evenly split along the intermediate stops? Does it make sense to switch one of the existing schedules to provide one morning rush express and one evening rush express instead, given that you probably aren't getting more than that anyway?

Remember that Acelas are also a dedicated set that can't be broken apart and substituted, so it's fundamentally different from Amtrak California buying unpowered coaches that don't much care what power is pulling them.
 

jass

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I just took the Acela from NYC a couple of weeks ago and the trip from PVD to BOS seemed like a good 40-45 minutes which surprised me (I thought it would be quicker).
Looking at the Amtrak schedules, it is showing me Providence to Boston taking between 48 minutes (Acela) and 62 minutes (Regional) which is....astonishingly slow for a 42 mile trip.

Am I imaging it, or is this not a good 10 minutes slower than a decade ago?

In my mind, I was thinking the Acela doing the trip in 35 minutes compared to 70 for the MBTA trip, which is substantial.

Edit: I was right. Exactly 35 minutes!


Edit 2: Wait, the current timetable also shows 35 minutes, why does the ticket purchase screen show much longer trip times?


Edit 3: Apparently northbound takes significantly longer than southbound, which is why I was seeing different numbers.


But regardless, the fastest Acela on the schedule is 33 minutes, while the fastest MBTA is about 68 minutes. Thats a significant time savings. A round trip commuter would save 1 hour a day, and I would estimate they would pay a premium - but not an Acela premium (Amtrak charges $40 for a value seat on an Acela between Boston and Providence...one way)
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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So....I understand Raimondo has a job to do, but I'm not sure I understand what the end game is here. A quick look at the MBTA Providence line schedule shows me 3 trains leaving between 7AM and 8AM and one more around 8:30. It takes a little over an hour. Are they trying to run more frequently or make the ride quicker? If so, how much faster do they think they can make the trip after accounting for 1) rail traffic, 2) the need to stop at least at 128 and Back Bay, and 3) the slow crawl into South Station from Back Bay (really, you could walk faster!). I just took the Acela from NYC a couple of weeks ago and the trip from PVD to BOS seemed like a good 40-45 minutes which surprised me (I thought it would be quicker).
There's almost nothing you can do to speed it up. PVD station to the Blackstone River bridge @ MA state line is a 70 MPH speed limit with 30 MPH restriction immediately exiting PVD station, 60 MPH restriction at the curve where I-95/RI 146 split, and 60 MPH through Old Pawtucket/Central Falls station. It's 125 MPH on the entirety of the Attleboro Cutoff to East Junction, then 150 (rated 165 MPH) from East Junction for 13+ miles to the mild curve just south of Sharon station. The 70 MPH segment isn't as bad as it seems since every single passenger train regardless of stripes starts from dead stop at Providence and spends most of that slow zone in acceleration. And it's impossible to modify on-footprint with I-95 and/or Downtown Pawtucket walled up tight around it. Alon Levy calculated that the NEC FUTURE-proposed East Providence/East Junction Branch bypass--which would add another 5+ miles of 165 MPH territory--would have relatively minor effect on HSR schedules because enough of that tangent track coming off the reanimated tunnel + new river crossing would be spent in acceleration, and the rest just isn't a consequential enough difference from the 125 MPH Attleboro Cutoff. (There are other pretty good reasons taken together for building the east bypass, but raw clock time on an Acela schedule isn't the primary one.) Likewise, I doubt you could do very much to zip up Sharon to 128. Canton Viaduct can't be bypassed without silly-stupid amounts of property-taking, and the other minor curves are already gentle enough to sustain >100.

It's City of Boston where everything gets real slow because of congestion. While NE Regionals most definitely do have a longstanding constituency at 128 Station, it's dubious whether the Acelas truly do. But that stop has to get used by Amtrak dispatch @ SS as a timing mechanism to pace the enormous traffic volumes inbound, so every Acela stops there and always has. There's a lot that can be done to help this, and it's all things we've been talking about in this RER/NSRL thread. Get the perennial toilet-clog Needham Line off of the SW Corridor so track-switching and track-sharing in the 3-track tunnel isn't so constipated. Implement the RER plan to interline Forge Park + Foxboro via the Fairmount Line (at least on most regular slots...targeted NEC-Franklin supplementals are OK at select conflict-free times)...vacating the second-most invasive branchline from fouling faster-moving traffic with its track-switching games. Close all stations with squished-to-one-side island layouts requiring track-switching to reach: Forest Hills, and Hyde Park if the only 4-track rebuild config for it is "squished". Make it so that all traffic is sorting itself after Ruggles and that when future 4-track territory starts at Green St. the Amtraks can split off onto 2 center tracks to get off to the races while the Providence and Stoughton/South Coast locals hug the outer tracks for denser-stop commuter rail. Then I think you can make a judgment call about whether it's okay to drop 128 from the Acela schedule and blast on through, because the timing mechanism won't need to be deployed and you took out the trash on all those crossover-against-traffic moves Ruggles-Readville that make accelerating to higher speed a futile game inside the city. None of it would be 165 MPH territory by any means, but a crapton of unnecessary lowest-common-denominator padding--all of it inside Route 128--would go away and you'd see a bigger schedule lead start to open up for Amtrak vs. the CR locals on those last few miles.

This is very doable. But we have to implement RER without pussyfooting, and find permanent homes for the SW Corridor branchlines in the process to set up that no-cross-traffic track layout that segregates the intercity vs. local speeds.
 

roy_mustang76

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Looking at the Amtrak schedules, it is showing me Providence to Boston taking between 48 minutes (Acela) and 62 minutes (Regional) which is....astonishingly slow for a 42 mile trip.

Am I imaging it, or is this not a good 10 minutes slower than a decade ago?

In my mind, I was thinking the Acela doing the trip in 35 minutes compared to 70 for the MBTA trip, which is substantial.

Edit: I was right. Exactly 35 minutes!


Edit 2: Wait, the current timetable also shows 35 minutes, why does the ticket purchase screen show much longer trip times?


Edit 3: Apparently northbound takes significantly longer than southbound, which is why I was seeing different numbers.


But regardless, the fastest Acela on the schedule is 33 minutes, while the fastest MBTA is about 68 minutes. Thats a significant time savings. A round trip commuter would save 1 hour a day, and I would estimate they would pay a premium - but not an Acela premium (Amtrak charges $40 for a value seat on an Acela between Boston and Providence...one way)
@whittle has got it right though, it doesn’t matter the time difference between an MBTA local and an Acela express unless your contention is that the only way to pull off an express service is by using the Acela trainsets. Using the Acelas would only save you 5 or so minutes in savings over operating that same express using a diesel-hauled consist. The equipment is not the service, not over the distances we’re talking about within the T’s remit. We don’t need electric equipment of any form just to run express service between Boston and Providence, just like in a reasonable world you don’t need to electrify to implement South Coast Rail. So the option isn’t “there is this electric equipment that if we pass on it there is no hope”, it’s “hey we can get these Acelas, but we might be able to snag someone’s old diesels as well to run express for 2/3/10 years until the next procurement round”. I’ll allow that I have no idea if there is any other stock out there that could be procured other than the Acelas, but if there is literally any, it can be acquired and operated just 5 minutes slower than the Acelas.

And that assumes there is even schedule space for these additional expresses, which isn’t a given with Amtrak’s desired expansion of service themselves.
 

jass

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@whittle has got it right though, it doesn’t matter the time difference between an MBTA local and an Acela express unless your contention is that the only way to pull off an express service is by using the Acela trainsets. Using the Acelas would only save you 5 or so minutes in savings over operating that same express using a diesel-hauled consist. The equipment is not the service, not over the distances we’re talking about within the T’s remit. We don’t need electric equipment of any form just to run express service between Boston and Providence, just like in a reasonable world you don’t need to electrify to implement South Coast Rail. So the option isn’t “there is this electric equipment that if we pass on it there is no hope”, it’s “hey we can get these Acelas, but we might be able to snag someone’s old diesels as well to run express for 2/3/10 years until the next procurement round”. I’ll allow that I have no idea if there is any other stock out there that could be procured other than the Acelas, but if there is literally any, it can be acquired and operated just 5 minutes slower than the Acelas.

And that assumes there is even schedule space for these additional expresses, which isn’t a given with Amtrak’s desired expansion of service themselves.
It's not about the Acela specifically, its about this:

Baker later expounded on the cross-border rail project, which he said would require discussions with Amtrak about obtaining electrified locomotives and coach capacity, as well as considerations about schedules for the train line that the T’s commuter rail shares with Amtrak. The governor also contemplated the possibility of an express train along the line that connects the two state capitals – the last leg of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor – but he said scheduling would be an impediment to that.
The only excess Amtrak capacity in the next decade is the retiring Acela fleet.

So you either pick them up used and cheap, or you get in line in the procurement process and now it's 2030.
 

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