Commuter Rail Reconfiguration

The EGE

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If you can quad-track out to Framingham - and thus your Riverside EMUs and Framingham / Clinton locals can be totally segregated from Framingham-Worcester commuter trains and west-of-Worcester intercity trains - then all you really need from Framingham to Worcester is platform sidings at stations plus maybe a freight siding here or there. By the time we're even considering quad-tracking, the line is almost certainly electrified east of Worcester, so even trains making local stops west of Framingham can get up to track speed between stops.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Re: high level commuter rail platforms

Is there space to potentially end up with four tracks, and side platforms on the outer two tracks (similar to the Newark Penn Station to Zoo Interlocking section of the Northeast Corridor, excluding Newark Penn itself (and the extra platform tracks at Trenton)) or is this going to be limited to a single express track?
Physically possible...yes. Boston & Albany built the line to a contiguous 4 tracks between Back Bay and Framingham, contiguous 3 tracks Framingham-Southborough, and mostly 3-track on the 5 miles east and west of both Worcester and Springfield. Nearly every line out of town was originally constructed as 4 tracks until it shed a couple branchlines' worth of traffic. It was all they could do in the 19th century with unidirectional signaling; opposite-direction train meets were cumbersome to stage because of the extra local signal staff it took, and they were generally avoided until you got further out on the branches. Even the branches were nearly all double-track instead of single for similar reason.

It no longer became necessary to overbuild like that once bi-directional centrally controlled signaling got perfected. That's why so many formerly 4-track lines coast-to-coast got busted down to 2, and so many 2-track lines got busted down to single-tracking with passing sidings. It wasn't completely because of loss of traffic; when 2 bi-directional tracks cover the same traffic density 4 unidirectional tracks used to, it'd be stupifyingly expensive for a private RR to keep maintaining all 4 tracks bi-directional unless they're expecting traffic growth of the extremes that would've required 7 or 8 unidirectional tracks.

Ironically, the only place in the country where "traffic growth of the extremes that would've required 7 or 8 unidirectional tracks" happened is exactly those NEC locations you cited. Welp, Pennsylvania RR started installing bi-directional cab signals--the very same type still used there today--on the NEC concurrent with its electrification installation in the 1920's. That was their move to effectively double the track capacity before all manner of electric service saturated the works with traffic.



You will never ever in the next 100 years come up with the traffic levels to require quad-track anywhere on the B&A. They went to bi-directional signaling in 1963 in prep for the Mass Pike claiming 2 of their 4 tracks inbound of Auburndale. The only reason there's a capacity pinch today is because there's only 1 set of crossovers between the west (New Balance) end of Beacon Park and Framingham Jct., so it's not set up to allow for nearly enough meets or overtakes. Add crossovers at about 1 every 2 stations inbound of Riverside, and 1 every 2.5 stations Riverside-Framingham (same spacing as Framingham-Worcester), and you basically get all the pre-1963 track capacity back.

Exceed that pre-1963 track capacity? Well, all-time passenger RR traffic hit its historical highs in the Roaring Twenties when Worcester was the manufacturing anchor of central New England, there were 3 or 4 branchlines to feed out of Boston, and freight traffic was many many times higher than today. If that didn't exceed the B&A's capacity at the time then I don't know what you can possibly throw out there in the 21st century that would exceed it now. The freight's gone inside of Framingham. The only branchline left to exploit is the Fitchburg Secondary out to Northborough or Clinton. Aside from the Indigo infills in Allston and Newton Corner and possibly the Millbury/Route 20 infill that the town passed up 15 years ago, there are no additional mainline infill stations left to construct. The best comeback story City of Worcester can muster still probably isn't enough to reclassify it as its own distinct metro area.


Indigos to Riverside, NSRL, Amtrak, and electrification for all can all pretty much coexist on the 2 Pike-constrained tracks out to Auburndale without gridlock.

-- You'll have the permanent easement for 1 mile along Beacon Park that retains extra running tracks between West and New Balance stations, and plenty of crossovers to weave around the Indigos.

-- Maybe you drop another stretch of 3rd iron from Auburndale across 128 so an Amtrak train can break away from the pack and sort itself from the pack at higher speed.

-- Maybe you do 1 more such high-speed passer further out, like the cut at Natick.

-- You must do passers at Ashland, Southborough, Westborough, and Grafton for freight clearances around full-high platforms, but they need not connect together contiguously. Intercity trains won't even need to use all of these passing tracks to serve their tippy-top service levels; they would only exist as a mundane technicality for level boarding.


But that's it. This isn't going to outright overtake the Providence Line as the system's densest in any universe, commuter or intercity. And the Acela is not running here, so you also don't have to set it up with extra tracks for a 165 MPH HSR train to overtake a commuter rail local averaging half that when starts-and-stops are factored. In MBTA territory it is at best a 90 MPH line with a couple sub-80 curves and a couple straightaways where a nonstop Amtrak could plausibly hit 105-110. You can do that all on 2 tracks, ample crossovers, and a couple strategically placed passers for the intercity trains' benefit. The only thing you can't do is 100 MPH Amtraks inside of 128, because the frequent Indigos will probably be setting the speed limits for all users at not a whole lot higher than what it is today. But the NEC doesn't exactly set speed records up the SW Corridor once all the branchlines start mashing together, so I'm not sure how much there truly is to gain ripping up every Pike overpass and retaining wall to try to squeeze like hell for a 3rd track between New Balance and Auburndale. Not enough of a speed gain for enough trains to make a difference.


The satellite images on Google Maps leave me with the impression that having a total of three tracks at each affected station would probably at least not run into any buildings. Norwood Central / Norwood Depot seems to be the tightest area, and the bridges appear to have been designed to carry four tracks over Guild St. (I suspect consolidating the two stations into a new Norwood Central between Guild St and Nahatan St is likely the way to go there.) And the amount of bridge work required for full tripple tracking is likely excessive, so a freight passing siding at each station is probably the way to go.
Very, incredibly excessive. Franklin will never have 100% full-highs. The costs are too great since this was an ROW that was never historically >2 tracks, the freight traffic too limited to induce any delays from the act of flipping up and down the retractable edge of the mini-highs, and ridership characteristics still a bit too mid/low-density suburban to make stopping at a mini-high a delay inducer for passenger schedules. It is what it is.

There's only 1 guaranteed freight round-trip between Walpole Jct. and Readville Yard that happens every single day over the Franklin no matter what. Second trips can happen some or even most weekdays, but aren't guaranteed. All of them are midday off-peaks. If South Boston starts getting real port freight in a few years, you'll see a late night and/or overnight trip added Walpole-Readville. It's very meager freight traffic. Some of the carloads just happen to be wide-loads, and CSX is protected by interstate commerce law with irrevocable wide-load rights. CSX already voluntarily gave up the wide exemption on the inner Worcester Line in the Beacon Park swap, and it would be unwise to salt over the southside's last clearance route into Boston. So fair is fair as far as Franklin's status.

But there's not much reason to twist selves into a pretzel modding stations here. On the outer Worcester Line those mini-highs actually will in the future start inducing dwell delays and will start fouling passenger slots when the freight up ahead is flipping the platform levers...so there is scheduling motivation out there for raising the platforms after a certain service increase density. Even when the passing tracks aren't needed for passenger train meets, but simply raising the platforms. On the Franklin? OK...I could maybe see the point at Norwood Central if Foxboro service initiates and outright doubles their frequencies. Downtown Norwood's going to have such above-average walkability that full-high boarding would help even if it's just the conductors flipping the trap doors for the lone high sandwiched by adjacent lows (a la Lawrence). But how about Windsor Gardens? Endicott? Islington? Norwood Depot which is already skipped by most off-peaks in favor of Central? How much is spending too much to get around the exemption in those places? Is that a rabbit hole worth digging down on a system where Ballardvale, Andover, Bradford, Haverhill, Ayer, Shirley, and North Leominster are all much tougher nuts to crack on wide-load freight routes with crush-load 24/7 freight traffic and passenger schedules routinely stressed by that crush-load freight traffic?

Other than getting all those non-ADA's outfitted with mini-highs, Franklin really doesn't rate as a high concern here. At the very least, the most rigidly dogmatic of level-boarding perfectionists out there have to come up with answers for how to address the outer Haverhill and Fitchburg Lines before getting driven into a froth over the lack of platform height perfectionism here. Clearance exemptions and the freights that use them aren't limiting anyone's current or mid-future schedules or service here. You can likely triple both the freight and the passenger schedules without having those damned imperfect mini-highs become a noticeable constriction. They are a constriction...today, arguably...at a couple of those Fitchburg and Haverhill stops. And will be a constriction at a certain service threshold in the future on the outer Worcester Line.

Rank that punchlist by need, and at what level of service increase over today it starts becoming a problem. Fitchburg and Haverhill are always going to be near the top of that needs list. Franklin may carry more riders than the other exempteds...but it's the least affected by it and thus will always be a last priority.
 
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bigeman312

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A weird inefficient anomaly was touched upon in the Globe today:

Rail trip from Kingston shows MBTA’s ‘scheduling anomalies’

Gregoire had just driven several miles north from his home in West Plymouth to the Kingston stop to catch the 10:05 a.m. train. But now, instead of heading straight toward Boston, the train was heading south, back to Plymouth.

While there, the train would idle on the tracks before it eventually departed for the Hub at 10:48 a.m. — a full 43 minutes after the couple first left Kingston.

“If there’s a way to make anything slower, the MBTA will figure it out,” he said.

...
They should end this practice.
 

George_Apley

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I didn't even know that Kingston trains could turn to Plymouth. They're on different splits.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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A weird inefficient anomaly was touched upon in the Globe today:

Rail trip from Kingston shows MBTA’s ‘scheduling anomalies’



They should end this practice.
Unfortunately that would mean making Cordage Park even less useful than it is now, but...yes. Bloody hell, who was the idiot who thought that setup was a good idea or workable way to split the proverbial baby after the downtown Plymouth stop got axed.


It should have been. . .

1. Old-location downtown Kingston at the Route 3A grade crossing just a hair west of the junction where the beautiful old station building still exists as a private business: https://goo.gl/maps/NGeQMS4LZLE2.

1a. Layover yard at the present site of the junction shivved between Route 3 and the adjacent trucking company on nowhere's-grass.

2. ...then Cordage Park and letting the magic TOD fairy sink or sink. And not building that labyrinthine tunnel complex.

3. Downtown Plymouth. Or, whatever...just end it at Cordage if it's that controversial and use the power of a single linear line's momentum to finish the job later when they're ready for it.


Now you've got a semi-successful parking sink at Kingston that's got the town waste treatment plant, a sand mining pit, and a private country club as neighbors...and a parking sprawl big box hellscape down the street a hair too far out of walking range that has absolutely no sidewalks. No sidewalks to the retail and no sidewalks across the nearest Route 3 overpass that connects to the nearest neighborhood where breathing people live in contiguous density to one another. And an absurdly large 6.5 mile gap between stations that skips over all of the population density of Town of Kingston and all of the Duxbury ridership catchment...the very places where Route 3 goes to die every morning.

But it's *juuuust* successful enough as a P&R that abandoning it would seem like a terrible waste. And there are a handful of giant-ass McMansions that have gone up next to the country club where literally dozens of residents of the right-and-proper income brackets would be very sad if you did pull out.


Meanwhile, Cordage Park 18 years later is still a two-thirds flattened moonscape with a hex on it, an achingly slow progression of low-value infill to the south surrounded by way too much parking and some (looks like vacant) big box stores that don't fit in at all with the pretty brick buildings on the portion that actually was developed to-spec. It's a Quincy College satellite campus (good...though looks like their space is small), some medical offices (good...that's a steady traffic generator)...and, two (that's it...two?) small eateries. Oh...and a tiny Baptist Church in one of the lofts that doesn't appear to be all that bigger than the very small congregation that took out a lease when the gettin' was cheap in the space next to Summer Shack at Alewife. That's all the TOD they've been able to muster in 2 decades: middling tenants who took the deal when they were practically giving space away.

And still no downtown stop, which they have pangs of (non)-buyer's remorse about because there's no way to hook in the ferry terminal and get in on the car-free Cape bonanza by linking P'town ferry, commuter rail, and GATRA buses to the sights/sounds of Greater Plymouth at one transit center. Something the parties may have been amenable to talking about in today's environment where the Cape Chamber of Commerce provides the role model for how rolling up sleeves and building stakeholder relationships gets stuff done quickly and cheaply. But how can they justify ever having that conversation now when Cordage has been such an all-world failure? They owe the T functioning TOD before they ever get another phone call from the local Chamber returned by the state. But the state can't easily say "Fuck it, we're abandoning Cordage and just serving Kingston...deal with it, slackers" when you know that sticking it out for the right developers to show up might actually get that TOD belatedly moving. Because it's good siting in competent hands, and that intermodal center on a +1 downtown stop is a juicy low-hanging target if Cordage can deliver what it's supposed to.


So...status quo with this mangled-to-hell terminal setup? No choices for consolidation that don't salt over too much future or bring too much protest? Two towns that don't have functioning car-free transit because at one site they forgot to build any sidewalks and binge-drank on asphalt...and the other site they forgot to build anything at all. Just...wow. High-achievement FAIL by everyone who touched that build south of Halifax. And this is a line that's meeting ridership expectations at its intermediate stops. Including the ones that drew less-than-ideal parking sink station sitings; those aren't hurting from it nearly as bad as the two outer Worcester Line infills that blew it with bad siting. Plymouth could've grown into Middleboro's neighborhood for eventually outpacing growth expectations if they hadn't bollixed it so hideously at the terminal end.
 

Semass

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There have been some well reasoned arguments in favor of closing the Plymouth Station. The proximity of Kingston at 2.5 miles (complete with GATRA service) and the tying up of equipment on this long run are the two basic arguments. This station never lived up to its potential because it comes nowhere near the center of town that would be a draw for tourists. The right of way is now a bike path and I don't know if it is recoverable. For a tourist, more reliable service to a single station would allow for more flexibility otherwise you get stranded. Freeing up equipment is the benefit for commuters.


edit - F-Line is a very fast typist and beat me to it.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I didn't even know that Kingston trains could turn to Plymouth. They're on different splits.
Been the practice since Day 1. Do Kingston...reverse directions at the junction...Cordage...reverse direction...go back home. It's every bit as slow as it sounds, but Cordage wouldn't merit any service at all without it so they've kept it up as means of keeping toes in the water there in hopes that the TOD will eventually get its shit together.

Clearly the patience is starting to run out with the local biz leaders & pols on that getting-shit-together part. Can't say I blame the current MassDOT/T regime. They didn't build it this way, their predecessors did. And it wouldn't still be this awful in 2015 if something/anything were cooking at Cordage to justify putting higher share of self-contained Boston-Plymouth runs on the schedule.
 

The EGE

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I wonder if they could shiv in a wye where that Budweiser warehouse is (possibly by enticing the warehouse to move down by the Kingston station, where they'd still have good 3 and 3A access). The abutters might be willing to deal with trains moving a few feet closer in exchange for getting the trucks off their neighborhood streets. Even with the odd angle, you can fit in a wye no worse than the Greenbush wye that trains do two dozen times a day.

You're still doing a time-consuming backup move between the stations, but you can get it down to about 15 minutes between stations if the brake test is done neatly. That puts the worse-case station about 72 minutes travel time from downtown, which isn't too awful.
 

Scalziand

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Looks like you can keep the warehouse and put in a wye with 350' radius by taking part of the lot on the northwestern side. It'd be slow ~30mph, but still faster than a reverse move. Not sure how much it might impair warehouse operations though.
 

winstonoboogie

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Been the practice since Day 1. Do Kingston...reverse directions at the junction...Cordage...reverse direction...go back home. .
They didn't start running trains that served both Plymouth and Kingston until 2007 around when Greenbush opened and gradually through 2009/2010 converted all Plymouth branch service to the combined set up. Whether a train serves Kingston or Plymouth first is dependent on what direction has the greatest demand.

Here is a schedule from 2004 that shows the Plymouth and Kingston trains as all stand-alone, some with departures very close to each other:
https://web.archive.org/web/20050331074505/http://www.mbta.com/traveling_t/pdf/commuterrail/Plymouthweekday.pdf
 

winstonoboogie

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I wonder if they could shiv in a wye where that Budweiser warehouse is (possibly by enticing the warehouse to move down by the Kingston station, where they'd still have good 3 and 3A access). The abutters might be willing to deal with trains moving a few feet closer in exchange for getting the trucks off their neighborhood streets. Even with the odd angle, you can fit in a wye no worse than the Greenbush wye that trains do two dozen times a day.

You're still doing a time-consuming backup move between the stations, but you can get it down to about 15 minutes between stations if the brake test is done neatly. That puts the worse-case station about 72 minutes travel time from downtown, which isn't too awful.
The warehouse was the original planned location for the Kingston station and parking lot. But the beer warehouse didn't want to sell and the politically connected sand pit did, thus the split line. The Plymouth station branch was a compromise to maintain some service to Plymouth. Its been mid-day and weekend service only ever since it opened and has had terrible ridership since it opened. FTA money was used to build it though, so if they want to abandon it, they will have to pay back whatever FTA value is in it.
 

cden4

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The Plymouth station actually makes more sense to me since it's in a more populated area. But I can see why they would want a park and ride station somewhere too.

Was there no place north of Plymouth where a large park-and-ride station could have been built?
 

winstonoboogie

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The Plymouth station actually makes more sense to me since it's in a more populated area. But I can see why they would want a park and ride station somewhere too.

Was there no place north of Plymouth where a large park-and-ride station could have been built?
The beer warehouse was pretty much the only location on the original line were a Kingston station with a large parking lot and highway access could have been built. It required building a new spur on a new right of way to get access to the location where Kingston station was eventually located.
 

cden4

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This is one case where I think eminent domain would have been appropriate, and it's rare that I say such a thing.
 

bigeman312

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This is one case where I think eminent domain would have been appropriate, and it's rare that I say such a thing.
I disagree. This is yet another case in which the state had the ability to incentivize the company's move. The state could have purchased a better parcel and paid for the entirety of their move, maybe along with a tax break, and incentivized their move without stepping on the rights of private citizens.
 

cden4

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I disagree. This is yet another case in which the state had the ability to incentivize the company's move. The state could have purchased a better parcel and paid for the entirety of their move, maybe along with a tax break, and incentivized their move without stepping on the rights of private citizens.
OK so eminent domain with relocation assistance :)
 

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