Crazy Transit Pitches

F-Line to Dudley

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From what I understand, people in the community at the time were not in favor of removing the elevated. The El was badly in need of rebuilding, yes, but fixing an old El to work in the 21st century is possible - just look at Chicago or New York.
It was way more complicated than that. The 'community' at-large had legit concerns that when the T said there'd be "equal of better" replacement that they were getting an empty promise and that their transit levels would be shafted. That unfortunately was exactly what happened. However, 'community' input back in the late-70's/early-80's back when this was all being debated was a much more limited affair that left vastly less opportunity for individual voices to be heard. In Roxbury the process primarily went through state officials talking to civic leaders...community organizers, church leaders, lowest-level precinct appointees, hyper-local media figures, etc. It was considerably less representative of the public at large than the digital-age open input forums we are used to in this area where anyone sufficiently willing to sit through enough meetings can have their oral responses recorded for government record in the Response to Proposal comments section. And the state's outreach to Roxbury could hardly be all that honest to begin with: extremely limited meeting slates, lots of no-comment-allowed presentations where things were simply dictated to them, and of-its-era talking down & obfuscating to the public in general.

So what you had is that the 'civic leaders' who were the only officially-deigned mouthpieces for the whole *very* diverse community at large were targeted one-by-one for their buy-in, even when it ran askew to those they were supposedly speaking for. With the Orange Line, the major church pastors along the corridor in particular had their support for the El teardown effectively bought-and-paid-for by back-scratching from City Hall and the state, and the perks of being granted exclusive access to a normally shut-out input process. Some of the loudest mouthpieces pounding the drumbeat that the El had to go were representing congregations where opinion was much more split, fraught, and controversial. That selective amplification was rolled in with the "equal or better" con to quash dissent by imposing the sense of inevitability over it all. Citizens could talk amongst themselves after church about how concerned they were that was going to make their mobility a ton harder and act as a de facto transfer of wealth out of the neighborhood at a time when it needed reinvestment. But they had no way of self-verifying just how big a crowd they shared those concerns with, because to hear their civic leaders tell it "everyone" wanted the El gone. There weren't enough breadcumbs linking pockets of small discussion, because of the way the process put those breadcumbs under lock-and-key of designated "leaders" whose personal motivations went way more top-down than bottom-up.


It was a tragic sequence of community suppression. It predictably has left wounds and lasting suspicion for the community input process to this day, with a trust gap that remains more severe in Roxbury than nearly all other neighborhoods. The fact that it was/is a majority African-American neighborhood with still-lingering generational & institutional effects of segregation predictably makes everyone involved look pretty bad through the lens of history. And it was a very much of-its-time sequence of events, the planning being hatched during Boston's post- white-flight nadir of the 70's in that transitional phase post- urban renewal when we weren't up for physically razing giant tracts of neighborhood anymore but were still passively driving a lot of redev policy that sought makeover-by-displacement...with the 80's being barely any more friendly to the fate of majority-minority neighborhoods than the pre- highway moratorium earth-salting era.

What passed for community input--with its not-at-all-subtle strain of anti- on the actual "input"--is completely different to how it's done today. You can't get away with an input process as flawed as what Roxbury was subject to 40 years ago with the Internet and social media making the whole logistics of it so much less top-heavy than it used to be. The 'community leaders' that the City/State so effectively picked off from that era wouldn't be able to buck their constituencies' voices long enough to stay annointed as 'leaders' with how many more tools there are now at the community's disposal to enforce bottom-up representation. In turn, the top-down presentation can't plausibly get away with thumbing its nose at the audience as brazenly as it used to. It's been trending that way ever since the late-90's and the first wave of Internet social connectivity (e.g. emergence of the local blogosphere). Not that they don't still try...we see that in real-time today with Baker/Pollack's heel turn on some of their own tankapalooza studies. And there's still some groaners of T presentation that hit a sour note for running roughshod over the crowd at a community meeting. But by and large it's a whole different and more inclusive universe now, such that it's hard to fit the OL relocation saga into present-day transpo politics. It truly was an alien 'bad old days' era. If there are any full transcripts of those 40-year-old OL relocation meetings scanned somewhere in the Transportation Library, you'd probably feel wholly present-day anger welling up at the dripping condescension on display. Shitty outreach attitudes were very bad, and very widespread...in a way that you almost never see today. The recent successes of STEP on the Green Line Extension and TransitMatters et al. with the RUR push define the first complete homegrown Internet generation's worth of advocacy as direct antitode to those bad old days. As a lot of the current community organizers involved in STEP/TM/etc. had their interest piqued watching the whole rancid process for Arborway Restoration and Silver Line planning go completely awry in that '95-04 decade before wondering out loud the senselessness of "Can't we do this way better NOT habitually punching ourselves???" and writing that first manifesto of a blog post from there. Where we stand today the next major evolution in transpo advocacy is going to be majority-minority communities showing similar success at driving the transpo/complete-streets narrative that Somerville (which is no doubt plenty diverse...but also from a richer starting place than Roxbury) has executed so well. You never know.

Without crossing the streams too far into more controversial general politics, those high school kids who've been at the forefront of so many marches this month are getting an education-by-fire on community organizing before they even enter the workforce and find their specialty. Some of them are no doubt going to take a keen interest in transpo nuts-and-bolts and how that policy enhances or inhibits a community's ability to flex itself. It's entirely possible you've got the heads of Roxbury's future version of STEP cutting their teeth on general community organizing today while high school is out for COVID, and are merely awaiting specialization-with-age to scatter that energy to other realms. In generic sociological terms, the demographic of those now-involved youth is going to be a fascinating one to watch evolve into future community advocacy.
 

Highwayguy

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Definitely crazy, but how about a Mattapan HSL conversion for the inner Reading line that terminates at Malden or Wellington using the soon to be redundant type 9s? Major benefits over full Orange line conversion are obviously the ability to retain the existing level crossings and low platform stations. Full RER conversion would also necessitate most crossing removals and platform raising regardless. The shorter LRT lashups would also help negate the effect of tighter headways on level crossings since trains would no longer occupy intersections while dwelling at stations. Level crossings could also be tied into the abutting traffic signals which is definitely un-kosher with non LRT rolling stock. Additionally, increased headways at the junction with the eastern route becomes a non issue.

Since the rail vision study still (kinda, maybe, allegedly) includes a full Orange to Reading extension, presumably the transfer at Malden wouldn't completely swamp Orange capacity since transferring riders would still occupy those seats inbound of Malden anyway in a full conversion scenario. 10 minute or better headways could be achieved essentially just for the cost of electrification...... Except for the 800 LB gorilla of constructing the Yard/ maintenance depot. This would probably involve finding space in the Wellington yard proper (doubtful), or building a new one off the Medford branch in the industrial park between the Fellsway and Middlesex Ave ($$$). Perhaps the Reading 3rd express track could be used to tie into the new GLX yard at inner belt, but that would probably only make sense in a Post-SL3 to Green conversion world where the spaghetti flyovers south of Sullivan have already been built.

I know this will never happen, but it seems reasonable-ish enough that I'm surprised someone here or some Transpo-Blogger hasn't suggested it as far as I can tell. Plus, MassDOT and ill advised half measures go together like (insert favorite simile here).

F-Line do your worst.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Definitely crazy, but how about a Mattapan HSL conversion for the inner Reading line that terminates at Malden or Wellington using the soon to be redundant type 9s? Major benefits over full Orange line conversion are obviously the ability to retain the existing level crossings and low platform stations. Full RER conversion would also necessitate most crossing removals and platform raising regardless. The shorter LRT lashups would also help negate the effect of tighter headways on level crossings since trains would no longer occupy intersections while dwelling at stations. Level crossings could also be tied into the abutting traffic signals which is definitely un-kosher with non LRT rolling stock. Additionally, increased headways at the junction with the eastern route becomes a non issue.

Since the rail vision study still (kinda, maybe, allegedly) includes a full Orange to Reading extension, presumably the transfer at Malden wouldn't completely swamp Orange capacity since transferring riders would still occupy those seats inbound of Malden anyway in a full conversion scenario. 10 minute or better headways could be achieved essentially just for the cost of electrification...... Except for the 800 LB gorilla of constructing the Yard/ maintenance depot. This would probably involve finding space in the Wellington yard proper (doubtful), or building a new one off the Medford branch in the industrial park between the Fellsway and Middlesex Ave ($$$). Perhaps the Reading 3rd express track could be used to tie into the new GLX yard at inner belt, but that would probably only make sense in a Post-SL3 to Green conversion world where the spaghetti flyovers south of Sullivan have already been built.

I know this will never happen, but it seems reasonable-ish enough that I'm surprised someone here or some Transpo-Blogger hasn't suggested it as far as I can tell. Plus, MassDOT and ill advised half measures go together like (insert favorite simile here).

F-Line do your worst.
The grade crossings are 'the' concern, so gates-down every ~2-4 minutes for an LRT train going in one direction or the other is going to make a carpocalypse out of Melrose and Wakefield, which already retains one of the system's few staffed crossing guards at Greenwood Station. In retrospect the 70's plan to have the 01200's switch to pantograph overhead and retain *some* undisclosed number of crossings for Orange probably would've been underwhelming enough in-practice that they'd have spent the balance of the 80's, 90's, and 00's fighting with the state over expediting zapping of the remaining crossings. Headways also would've been kind of longish out there the way the express track (extended to Oak Grove eating CR) would've throttled back traffic, to levels not a whole lot better than the Reading Urban Rail :15 turns proposed in the Rail Vision. So that too is a planning relic that doesn't hold up well to increases in demand over passage of time. The crossings didn't look so bad back then with headways that were going to be throttled way way back at Oak Grove. Today the demand baseline--as outright extension or as shuttle--is simply too high to make the crossings manageable. So even the LRT option ends up looking a little shit-sandwichy on traffic compromises, and that in turn explains why it doesn't much capture the imagination of the blogosphere.

:15 bi-directional Urban Rail alone is going to escalate the backups at those gates to painful degree by itself, though Melrose/Wakefield are fully behind the Rail Vision because they see it beneficially diverting some car trips in their walkable downtowns. As in...thru drivers will be quite a bit more inconvenienced than today, but the increases in intra-Melrose/Wakefield transit shares in the process means the towns care proportionately a little less about the problems of thru-and-thru drivers in that new service universe. Long-term the corridor's still going to be sticking point because of the crossings, which is why the Rail Vision is footnoting the outright conversion as a thing that may ultimately have to happen. There seems to be acknowledgment up-front that Reading Line won't work well at all in a future NSRL pairing, and with crossings enormously less expensive to zap on rapid transit vs. RR there seems to be inevitable conclusion that someday- OL extension is the least P.I.T.A. means of making something work here. Including because of LRT just being a limited-duration punt before the crossing problem overshadows all.

And yes, those transfer swells at Malden are going to be very problematic if that were to ever be a forced transfer stop. Mercifully the single-track Purple Line platform doesn't see much boarding/alighting traffic today and doesn't expect to see any truly enormous increases with Urban Rail on account of Orange being right there at NS and the mythical Sullivan CR/OL superstation being a route diverging point of greater future consequence (albeit not fully-realized on demand until Urban Ring joins the party). Despite the large service increases coming and likelihood of a 128 parking sink being infilled on the line, the greater utilization really isn't going to hit Malden CR platform dwells at any truly game-changing increase. Which is good because Urban Rail wouldn't make its :15 bi-directional headway spec if there were any sort of escalating platform dwell tying up the Malden single-track.


FWIW...New Crossing Rd., Reading is outright-closeable with some enhanced driveway work to Ash St., and isolated Broadway St., Wakefield is a future road-over-rail overpass that's easy to stage because of lack of any abutting properties. Do those sooner than later on the installment plan, because they wouldn't impact any CR traffic in the interim. That whittles the rest down to just the 9 you'd have to do mid-conversion at OL grades. Because we'll assume for path-of-least-resistance's sake that the terminal Reading station isn't going to re-use historic Reading Depot and is rather going to place that station at an at-grade stub-out on the corner of MA 28, Ash St., and the shopping center driveway to spare 4 more crossing eliminations in a scant 900 ft. Reading Depot isn't totally on-center with Main St. to begin with, so Main-and-no-further is the highest-leverage place for OL to stop all things considered. The 70's plan had the would-be terminal stop even further back by New Crossing Rd. for closer proximity to 128 for a parking sink...but that function would be served by the Quannapowitt infill on the other side of the highway abutting Subaru of Wakefield. Main St. is the end of the line for the OL conversion, with the storage yard scrunched slightly behind the stub platform on what's now the tri-track (but graded for 4+ because it used to be a yard) ROW along the shopping center by New Crossing Rd.

So keep in mind also that the rote present-day crossing count to Woburn St./Reading Depot--15--is not the number you'll have to eliminate all in one fell swoop for Orange conversion. Orange will be a more reasonable 9-11 eliminations (lower bound if easy pickoffs New Crossing & Broadway St. get done independently earlier).
 
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Riverside

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I agree that the way to do a Mattapan-style service would be to wait until the Green Line reaches Sullivan, and then convert the commuter rail track(s) to hook into the greater LRT system.

That being said, the core concept -- converting the Malden-Reading stretch into a shuttle service -- is a separate question all together. Converting to LRT adds the overhead (literally) of a fair amount of infrastructure, but you can discuss the operational questions using a different framework. For example, using River Line-style DMUs, or just reserving a couple of diesel sets from the existing commuter rail fleet.

To me, the key question is whether this would lead to an improvement in service overall. And that question rides on two things:

1) Can the Orange Line take all of those riders?

Right now, almost certainly not. As you say, in some future case where an OL-to-Reading extension has been built out (complete with fleet size increase), it could work from that perspective, purely in terms of seating capacity.

2) Can overall trip times be reduced? If not, can frequencies be significantly increased so as to offset?

I don't see how trip times can be reduced. Maaaaaybe you can shave a little bit of time off of the Malden-Reading stretch thanks to shorter dwells, but I doubt it'll be much.

As for Malden-North Station -- right now (as in 3pm during a pandemic), Google is estimating 12 minutes on the Orange Line, which is actually roughly comparable to the Commuter Rail's scheduled 11 minute run. And, if you factor in walking time from the commuter rail platform, it's possible that the Orange Line is slightly faster.

But when you look at the estimated time during the morning peak, the Orange Line's estimated travel time increases to 15 minutes, at which point it seems hard to compete.

All the more so when you consider the transfer time at Malden Center (or Oak Grove) -- you'd have to rebuild Oak Grove to enable a cross-platform transfer, and it would be impossible at Malden Center to do the cross-platform inbound transfer.

Finally, you'd also need to guarantee a timed transfer in Malden -- get off the shuttle, an Orange Line train is ready there for you. So that's a non-trivial operational complication.

As for frequencies... maybe? A large stretch of Malden-Reading is double-tracked, which is then hamstrung by the single track that basically runs all the way from Malden to BET (with one passer near Assembly). So you probably could increase frequencies north of Malden if you are no longer worried about the terminal zone.

But F-Line is right -- with the grade crossings, you wouldn't want to have service running every 2 or 3 minutes. My wild guess is that the highest you'd want is 10 minute headways.

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So travel times will likely be slightly worse at best. Frequencies can probably be significantly improved, but hard to say if it's worth the trade-off of a transfer and longer travel times.

Would it be possible to improve frequencies elsewhere on the system by reducing the rolling stock needed for Reading? I don't know, but guessing based on the timetable, I don't get the sense that there are too many trains tied up serving Reading right now -- so not too many sets available to redistribute. And, if you are using existing rolling stock to run the shuttle service, then it's probably a wash.

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All of that being said, one interesting idea would be to run a supplementary shuttle service, especially off-peak. Off-peak's headways are, like, two hours. So, in that case, if a shuttle service allowed you to bring that to, say, 30-minute headways, that might be workable even with the transfer.

Supplementing peak service would be trickier. You'd have to reactivate the Oak Grove platform because you'd need to get the shuttle into the single track zone, offloading passengers, and then reverse back out as quickly as possible so as to not block the way (Malden Center is too far). My wild estimate says that you'd be blocking the way for a solid 20 minutes.

So, maybe it'd be worthwhile for a couple of one-offs during peak? There are admittedly some gaps in the peak frequencies where current headways exceed 30 minutes; if you could use supplementary shuttles to boost frequencies within 128 to 30-min or better all day, that could be a first step toward shifting those communities toward a rapid transit mindset.

But, -- to be honest -- it's probably just as likely to blow up in everyone's face and sour the milk for a generation.
 

Highwayguy

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Thanks F Line. I probably should have clarified in my previous post, but the proposed service would be more akin to 10ish min RER service levels than 5 min OL specifically because of the issues at the crossings at the existing headways.

As someone local, the main (vehicular congestion) issues with the Wakefield and Melrose crossings (the cluster at Forest St in Greenwood excluded) are that the train occupies the adjacent crossing (or at least the crossing sensor) during the dwell and overrides the adjacent traffic signal phasing. LRT would allow the railway movements to be grafted into the adjacent traffic signal phasing, turning the current 3 minute blockage into a 30 second one which would easily fit within the red time of the conflicting vehicular approaches. The phasing would render the Wakefield center crossings essentially a non issue like those on the outer green branches. At the other crossings it would probably be a wash with current frequencies. In a perfect non FRA world tram trains could accomplish just this, but even 20 min headways using the existing layout/ equipment would essentially split Melrose and Wakefield in two.

As far at travel times are concerned, the turn up and go frequency would probably offset the increase because the existing (pre covid) peak headways have hour+ gaps that force riders to allocate themselves an extra 5-10 mins in the morning and 10-15 minutes in the PM to transfer at N station to account for the weekly rapid transit meltdown, less they miss their CR home.

Of course, none of the above solves the OL transfer capacity issue which is likely the real deal breaker.

Admittedly, this whole idea is just something l concocted during the uber ride(s) home from my favorite watering hole 4 stations down the line from me. But perhaps in the far distant future OL transformation/ NSRL will free up some excess capacity.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I agree that the way to do a Mattapan-style service would be to wait until the Green Line reaches Sullivan, and then convert the commuter rail track(s) to hook into the greater LRT system.
This is going to be awfully hard, because you're short a track into Malden where it's 2 OL + 1 CR all points past the Medford St. bridge. It's a half-mile of invasive embankment reshaping with enormous new retaining wall pours to re-frame a roadbed for 4 tracks...and then a blow-up/rebuild of Malden Ctr. Station to put 2 modes on 4 tracks side-by-side. The cut into Oak Grove is even more constrained. Double-up is wildly impractical, and this is in large part why the Rail Vision is tipping its hand now that the future is OL extension, because making a gigantic mess of Malden goes along with making a mess (at longer, more space-invasive grading) of Melrose/Wakefield as a sanity check against trying to tart up the Purple Line into something high-enough capacity to pair-match with a southside line through NSRL. In terms of absolute feasibility it's not really in-question (though I'm sure the towns are going to complain lots)...it's just that doing so is an absolute meat grinder of cost chew per track mile. If Haverhill thru service has already vacated for the NH Main, there isn't a whole lot of 'vision thing' compelling engaging the meat grinder on RR mode because Reading short-turns are 90%+ share of the travel patterns here. So Orange becomes the perma-solve path of least resistance because it leaves Medford-Malden the hell alone and can attempt the most geometrically compact crossing eliminations of the 9 Melrose/Wakefield problem crossings.

Now, because paralleling 2 rapid transit modes runs into the same cost-chew meat grinder throughout Malden...the fact that it could be feasibly done isn't enough unto itself to consider. Much like the existential decision over whether side-by-side Purple Line is even worth keeping there has to be a 'vision thing' consideration elevating it head-and-shoulders above the pain of all that construction disruption. RUR clearly doesn't have it--at least not into the NSRL era--because all past-Reading traffic possibilities are already too compromised here and too easily servable via the Lowell Line to provide any value-added. Same goes for LRT.
  • If it's just running LRT to Reading for the sake of retaining crossings, you'll spend almost as much on the Malden embankment as you would've spent in Melrose/Wakefield crossing elimination on Orange while spending $0 on the Malden ROW (just the in-place conversion of the CR track into express Track 3 to Oak Grove, as originally provisioned). So that's fighting to a draw at best on cost while still leaving a festering shit sandwich to be taken care of later in the form of the crossings, which will end up eventually costing you more to close out (or close out enough of them to defray the carpocalypse). On dollars and sense there's no juice for that one...Orange all the way is hands-down best use of resources.
  • If it's co-running LRT to Malden so you can diverge it later...like, say, on the Saugus Branch...then you've got all the shit sandwiches with the Saugus Branch nightmare crossings working against feasibility (as well as the 100 years of opposition to El structures here making that alternative moot). Yes, you'd hit the bus terminal via the embankment...but vs. simply branching LRT off the Urban Ring at Sweetser Circle I doubt Malden Ctr. alone is chucking in enough above-and-beyond to justify the scruples of the embankment work vs. just re-using the dedicated ROW across the river. Now, mind you I don't think the Sweetser split is all that great either for diluting UR Chelsea/Logan frequencies, but it definitely can be done at lower cost than widening the Malden embankment. So...same...the 'vision thing' bona fides don't really rise above the level of the meat grinder's worth of cost chew. Feasible or no, what can one point to as the explanation point that says "This! This is the missing piece of the puzzle!"
That being said, the core concept -- converting the Malden-Reading stretch into a shuttle service -- is a separate question all together. Converting to LRT adds the overhead (literally) of a fair amount of infrastructure, but you can discuss the operational questions using a different framework. For example, using River Line-style DMUs, or just reserving a couple of diesel sets from the existing commuter rail fleet.
Well, keep in mind that's almost EXACTLY what the Rail Vision is doing re-divorcing Reading service from Haverhill service for the first time since 1976 to clear enough headroom for :15 Reading turns. Traditionally this wasn't a long-haul corridor at all, and there has never been all that much 495-to-128 interzone travel here because the "Haverhill/Reading" stitch job was such a historically recent phenomenon. Nor would any of the constituent communities want it any other way: rush overcrowding is nuts Reading-in because of the mashed schedule, and the dwell times on all those low Melrose/Wakefield platforms clobber it further. And Haverhill is an uncomfortably long schedule to be fighting all that inner-half crowding when it can flat-out run faster via the Lowell Line.

Now, if you're talking an Oak Grove/Malden short-turn on top of the line being lopped in half? Yuck. How do you ever stage that without fileting OG & MC confusingly from each other every other run for sake of carving out the minimum FRA-mandated reversing duties on a single-track platform? Those platforms HAVE to stay fluid or else :15 bi-directional Urban Rail completely collapses on itself. Keep in mind the push-pull sets can hold these Urban Rail schedules if it's a loco+ a minimal set of 4 single-level cars. The ops cost is less-ideal than an EMU set, so you don't want to keep doing that forever and ever. Reading (nor Waltham) isn't on the first-wave electrification targets so it's going to have a diesel interregnum no matter what. Shearing off the kinda inappropriate Haverhill leg back to the NH Main buys the extra OTP margin that the diesel short sets should do just fine if that's the only solution for the first decade years. Eventually they'll have to figure it out: Orange 600V DC electrification to Reading, or co-install (for however long it lasts) of 25 kV AC, but the F40PH-3C's are good for 20 more years of service and if their duty cycles are well-managed the Pullman flats have a lot of life left in them.

To me, the key question is whether this would lead to an improvement in service overall. And that question rides on two things:

1) Can the Orange Line take all of those riders?

Right now, almost certainly not. As you say, in some future case where an OL-to-Reading extension has been built out (complete with fleet size increase), it could work from that perspective, purely in terms of seating capacity.
BUT...that gets way better when the full new car fleet and new signaling with shorter headways are in-effect. What we see today for downtown OL crowding and max achievable headways is far cry from native capacity. Help is on the way. Also...NSRL will help Orange most of all lines at taking load off the Back Bay-North Station midsection, so that's also a variable that dovetails with the favorable scruples for extending to Reading instead of trying taking on the meat grinder in Medford-Wakefield cost chew trying to make something out of the CR corridor for pair-matching. It's a more dynamic future like that. Whereas NSRL may make our Red Line overcrowding problems actually worse necessitating other builds, Orange sees the most clear-cut load restructuring of any of the 4 lines.

2) Can overall trip times be reduced? If not, can frequencies be significantly increased so as to offset?

I don't see how trip times can be reduced. Maaaaaybe you can shave a little bit of time off of the Malden-Reading stretch thanks to shorter dwells, but I doubt it'll be much.

As for Malden-North Station -- right now (as in 3pm during a pandemic), Google is estimating 12 minutes on the Orange Line, which is actually roughly comparable to the Commuter Rail's scheduled 11 minute run. And, if you factor in walking time from the commuter rail platform, it's possible that the Orange Line is slightly faster.

But when you look at the estimated time during the morning peak, the Orange Line's estimated travel time increases to 15 minutes, at which point it seems hard to compete.

All the more so when you consider the transfer time at Malden Center (or Oak Grove) -- you'd have to rebuild Oak Grove to enable a cross-platform transfer, and it would be impossible at Malden Center to do the cross-platform inbound transfer.
But also keep in mind, dwell times are going to fall with the increased frequencies coming...so this is a moving target. And problematic CR-side dwells are going to get some help simply by raising all the Melrose-Wakefield platforms and getting rid of the smooshed Haverhill schedule for less per-train overcrowding. 4-car set of flats turning at Reading only with auto doors enabled at every full-high stop inbound of Reading will also improve CR trip times through the same number of inner stops when the Rail Vision is enacted
 

The EGE

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My latest find from the Crazy Railroad Pitches era: the Boston and Northwestern Junction Railroad. Terrain in Weston and near Forest Hills would not have been particularly fun to build through. The aim at the time of this map (1879) seems to have been to connect the Fitchburg Railroad with the NY&NE and the Old Colony. However, two years prior (second map), it was planned as part of the Massachusetts Central (later Central Mass), along with never-built lines to the Hoosac Tunnel and the Hudson.


 

F-Line to Dudley

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Overheated post-Reconstruction era RR speculation bubble is some of the Craziest Transit Pitching in world history. It's absolutely bugfuck some of the nonsensical routes investors were willing to wager money at the craps table to build. Some of the shorter-lived stuff that actually was built from nowhere-to-nowhere is bugfuck enough...because so much of it was borne out of hail-mary plays gambling 6 steps ahead of oneself that other (never-built) connecting legs that would be promptly built giving nowhere-to-nowhere a competitive connection to...somewhere? And yes, this repeating speculation bubble was literally fingered as a suspect in a half-dozen economy-tanking financial Panics between the end of the Civil War and the 1910's...so no human sacrifice stood in the way of some crackpot's dreams of minting themselves the nation's newest robber barron.
 

vanshnookenraggen

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Every time some young urbanist waxes poetic about how we used to have such an amazing train network I SMH. I mean, we did. But we also had a needlessly redundant network so over built that it literally took down the economy a few times.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Every time some young urbanist waxes poetic about how we used to have such an amazing train network I SMH. I mean, we did. But we also had a needlessly redundant network so over built that it literally took down the economy a few times.
The most crippling losses were all post-1950 when the federal gov't ended Wartime subsidies for the private RR's without any transition plan...just dropped 'em cold. That's when roads like NYNH&H went into out-of-control crash landing because they were saddled with too many money-losing branches but couldn't even begin to formulate a rationalization plan for hierarchy of strategic prunings vs. strategic keeps. The feds not helping because the clunky old Interstate Commerce Commission was so reticent to grant strategic money-saving abandonments until it was too late and whole networks were going under. And all this was during the diesel transition era and rise of centralized traffic control signaling where enormous efficiency gains could've been made in a controlled restructuring. You only needed a fraction of the field staff and yard facilities vs. the steam era and remote tower-control signaling, so the era was ripe-as-fuck for wholesale ops-streamlining that could've saved the RR's bacon. But because the subsidy was jerked out so suddenly and the immediate free-fall was totally uncontrolled, there was no bandwidth for applying any structure to network reform. The RR's simply had to dump whatever they could dump in-that-moment whether it was going to screw them 5 years or not, because the only priority was making payroll that week. That's how the 1955 hurricanes utterly destroyed the NYNH&H network; every washout just got abandoned instead of repaired even when the routing loss was worse than the cost of repair. Same deal with the Penn Central merger disaster. The lofty goals of the original deal marrying Pennsylvania RR with NY Central was that there was sooooooooo much bolt-tightening potential on the ops modernization side that applying one uniform structure to their most mission-critical asset portfolio would've had them a lean, mean fighting machine in a matter of years. As it turned out there was so much brainrot in both organizations they couldn't stay out of their own way enacting such reforms, and it became a race-to-the-bottom for cutting any corner (good and bad) to meet next week's payroll. Which turned into a terminal nosedive when they were forced by the feds to absorb the imploding New Haven and another messed-up corporate culture.

In Alternate-universe planning world, all the transpo modernization momentum that begat the Eisenhower Interstate System would've dually been applied to "pulling a Conrail" with network rationalization and heavy modernization of said rationalized network...in 1954 instead of 1974 when it was too little too late. And it needn't have been a big production, either...compared to the Interstates the state-of-repair dump into Conrail and (somewhat brutal) scalpeling of the network essentials wasn't a massive production in federal outlays, and the gov't made all that initial investment back about 10x over when Conrail was spun-off in 1987 in what was--then--the largest IPO in history. It could've still been a blended public-private affair, but caught on the leading edge of the terminal death plunge instead of mopping up the aftermath. For whatever reason--probably Executive v. Legislative politics when 2nd-term Truman was at his weakest after the post-'50 middterms--they just cut the Wartime subsidy off hard, and the results ended up being eminently predictable and brutally punitive such that we lost countless routes (to go along with thousands of miles of near-useless flotsam) that are dearly strategically missed in 2020.


In contrast, the Depression-era RR crash was arguably a necessary bloodletting...as "Peak RR" in the 1910's & 20's was also "Peak Stooopid" in terms of what risky investments the RR's were wagering on the Wall Street casino all in the name of "I crap bigger'n you, so Y.O.L.O." Thinks like the New Haven buying up trolley interurban systems throughout New England at heinous markup in some quixotic bid for monopoly power when every economist would've told you that that whole mode of private transit was about 10 years away from going splat thanks to car affordability and the states making first-time investments in highway departments. Truly insane stuff like that and many other side hustles that did absolutely nothing for the core business except expose it to unnecessary risk. And this was also when the route duplication was arguably at its worst. There was a semi-pruning of the network weeds around 1885-95 when super-lightweight 1st-gen iron rails, wood trestles, and wood cars were wholesale-replaced by the magic of heavier-loading steel. But anything that got the upgrades to steel infrastructure was pretty much maintained in-total through the beginning-1930's whether it made any business sense or not. And that includes all the podunk branchlines nowhere-to-nowhere whose only financial sustinence was on-line local yokel agriculture the likes of which was really really extinct in newly-industrialized New England by the last quarter of the 19th century. See in particular the insane level of route duplication on the Old Colony network. Most of that was due to extinct agribusiness, but the lines remained as bottom-margin duplication long after the fields abutting them has stopped loading any harvests. But when NYNH&H leased the OC network for 99 years in 1893, did they think for one second about doing some network rationalization and pruning the excess? Nope...they waited till they lost their shirts in the '29 Crash...then waited a few more years after that in "Oh, you mean it's not going to bounce right back this time like the last several Panics???" disbelief before they actually got off their asses and started making long-overdue cuts.

Likewise, they should've anticipated the end of steam coming as 1st-gen diesels were already making the rounds on 'premier' streamliner passenger services by the 30's. The only reason it took until the late-40's/early-50's for steam to be pushed out was Wartime rationing, where the diesel-electric power plants that were in R&D throughout the 20's/30's were all diverted to military maritime & tank use instead of widely anticipated RR fleet renewal. It wasn't until the builders of diesel prime movers could switch their production lines off of Military contracts that the 2nd-gen diesel locos--the GP7's and GP9's, Alcos, E- and F-series passenger cabs, etc. that are still being used in sizeable numbers some places 70 years later--were able to come off the assembly line, signal dept.'s had enough engineers back from deployment to re-engineer their dispatching around centralized offices, and innovations like push-pull ops could replace the unidirectional-only hauling of steam. None of that was 'chaotic' disruptive innovation. Everyone and their mother knew by the end-20's these technologies were coming and that the 'next'-wave mass modernization of the RR's (first-wave being heavyweight steel wholesale-replacing iron/wood structures) was going to follow...and alter the balance of power for who was on-the-ball about making the upgrades vs. who got left in the dust. It just got delayed a dozen years by War and Famine. But the RR's who weren't viewing their money as an infinite resource to be wagered at the craps table and who didn't think they crapped bigger'n the economists of their day who warned that the '29 Crash was going to be for keeps unlike prior Panics...could've (and some indeed did) seized the opportunity to usefully pre-plan for the mass modernization. The stupid ones, unfortunately, had to have the stupid beaten out of them by force through the remainder of the 1930's to get with it that network efficiency was the only way forward. Most of them did finally 'get it' with sustainable modernization plans ready to enact by the 40's (certainly dieselization went off without a hitch once the units were available). Unfortunately WW2 put more delay on that, and then the feds yanking Wartime subsidy did its terminal-destabilizing thing instead of everyone being more or less on the same page that time was ripe for "pulling a Conrail" for 1950.


So it goes. At least we've got no shortage of lessons learned to lean back on.
 
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Tallguy

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Well, Bombardier did float the JetTrain prototype around turn of the century for non-electrified territory.


Jet turbine engine much like the Turboliners, coupled to standard Acela carriages. Jet turbines have incredible efficiency at cruising speeds, with the earlier 1960's TurboTrain still holding the U.S. rail speed record. However, turbines' acceleration out of a dead stop is hideously slow. Bombardier tried to correct that limitation by designing its diesel HEP generator for coach power to double as an acceleration helper engine to the first 30 MPH, and then the jet turbine engine took over from 31 MPH to 149 MPH. Also did some neat tricks to reduce the generally hideous fuel consumption profile of jet turbines. At cruising speed it would've pumped out 30% of the emissions of an equivalent high-speed diesel.

They marketed the shit out of it to New York for the Empire Corridor...NYSDOT instead embarking on the disastrous Turboliner rebuilds that were such a money pit they never ran. Then turned their attention to the proto- predecessors of Brightline early on in that project's incubation. Nothing came of it.

Ultimately post-9/11 fuel prices pretty much drove the final stake in turbine trains anywhere in the world. Too fucking expensive per gallon...and maintained at too expensive for too many years...while diesel prices came out of the Iraq War on a long-term stability track that left everything else fossil-fueled in the dust for all trains. Today there's not much to recommend with the JetTrain over a standard Siemens Charger. The Charger beats the snot out of the turbine + helper engine on acceleration, enough that the JetTrain wouldn't be any tangible improvement improvement on Brightline or the Empire Corridor given their stop spacing and fact that best attempts at opening up longer stretches of 110+ MPH territory isn't going to meaningfully lift cruising time above the start/stop penalty. Diesels have made quantum leaps in fuel efficiency via regenerative braking, worsening the contrast in fuel prices. And a Charger is rated for 125 MPH. Though it still does take the diesel a little longer to get between 60-125 MPH than the turbine...factored against starts/stops and limited triple-digit territory the modern diesel is still going to fare better.

The other thing that killed it was simply the reliance on Acela technology. Once it became obvious what a maint loss leader the Acela (which only preceded the JT prototype by ~3 years) had become there was no way forward for the JetTrain. The active-tilt in the carriages is some of the most finicky, expensive, overcomplicated hardware on the planet. Immediately the JT wouldn't have been viable combining the pros/cons of a jet turbine with such unicorn carriages. BBD would have had to substitute something more conventional than another Acela carriage production run (which AMTK laughed out of the room a few years later when it was proposed to lengthen all Acela sets to 8 cars and re-purpose the HHP-8 locos as 6-car max Acela power cars for a new carriage run). And it had nothing else available to substitute for FRA compliance. The power cars, despite the innovative turbine engine, electronically still borrowed too heavily from the hot-mess Acela and HHP-8 electronics & systems designs that were proving so hugely unreliable.

Last-gasp sales pitch for the concept was a Mexican tourist train proposal for a straight shot from Meridia to Cancun about 8 or 9 years ago. The prototype power cars are still sitting in a shed at the USDOT training facility in Pueblo, probably no longer operable because of lack of parts but not disposed of yet. BBD hasn't paid it any mind in years. Jet trains were a very of-their-time hedge, the earliest 2000's with JT and the ill-fated Turboliner rebuild being the last time it was attempted. Nowadays you simply get equal-or-better Corridor performance running a stock Charger at the head of a bunch of Siemens Viaggio Comfort coaches so likely to replace the Amfleets. It's similar with any local corridor route. No one would choose the Acela for a sub-HSR intercity run on the Shoreline when the minimum requirements to intermediate-stop at a Mansfield, Attleboro, T.F. Green, or Kingston means you ain't ever exceeding 125 between New London and Boston on a schedule to begin with. Maintain the piece-o'-shit power cars and problematic unicorn-design active-tilt mechanisms and not be able to tap the only thing they do above-and-beyond conventional electric equipment because you aren't running a compatible schedule? Nope. That's going to get thumbs-downed for the same reason the Empire and Brightline couldn't draw any schedule-serving value out of the equivalent jet turbine product. There's no there there. Really no there there when simply buying the commuter EMU's they already plan to serves the local commuter schedule environment much better with superior starts/stops performance vs. anyone's HSR power car set. It's a total mis-application.
Of course, we could buy up every remaining Buddliner and do this!;)
 

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BostonBoy

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I'm not sure how much of maintenance costs go towards the tilting mechanism but if it were disabled and that could save a significant amount of money, the sets may be more cost effective.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I'm not sure how much of maintenance costs go towards the tilting mechanism but if it were disabled and that could save a significant amount of money, the sets may be more cost effective.
Problem with that is there's already unfavorable history with disabling the Acela 1's money-pit tilt mechanism. Bombardier derived the A1 tilt tech from the LRC integrated trainsets it built for VIA Rail's Canadian Corridor services in the late-70's. A 2000's midlife rebuild retired the funky/problematic Alco streamliner locos in favor of new batch of generic GE Genesis and attempted to de-tilt the carriages to extend their life under less daily wear.

The program ran into so many problems, ran years late, and cost something like 2x as much as ordering new. Removal of the LRC tilt hardware created structural voids in the lightweight aluminum bodies rendering them un-crashworthy in a sideswipe. 8 figures had to be lit on fire pressing new structural steel in the voids to re-qualify them for the same crash specs they complied with when tilt was installed. Since they didn't find this out until after it was decided to wholesale remove the tilt, there was no way to go back and disable/entomb-in-place on rest of the fleet. Too many worn parts not available would've had to be replaced on the tilt mechanisms just so they had the privilege of 20 more years of not moving...because it was so crucial to the cars' DNA.

The de-tilted rebuilds with steel-plugged voids have performed well in service...but it very nearly killed VIA dead when this rebuild boondoggle erupted during a maximally rail-hostile Harper Administration. The LRC's are at long last being replaced by VIA's Brightline/Amtrak clone order of Siemens Viaggio Comfort coaches.

Fact that such very similar tilt tech resides in the A1 carriages pours lots of cold water on re-use options over high probability of similar boondoggle. Even with tilt disabled the mechanisms are unfortunately not "inert" for the cars' functioning, so they would have to be further maintained via parts supply chain that no longer exists for the 'privilege' of standing still and lasting longer while standing still. That, quite obviously, is a no-go on any sense & scruples.
 

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Does anyone know how long the abandoned OL tunnel is in Chinatown?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Does anyone know how long the abandoned OL tunnel is in Chinatown?
Couple hundred feet at most before it hits the sealed wall. You can see it here in-service on this 1986 OL cab ride video on YouTube.

Go to 13:15 mark in the video; current South Cove alignment diverges off to the right as train heads up the old Chinatown portal.
 

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I'm returning to the topic of Reading-Oak Grove shuttles, despite it being a proverbial very dead horse that we've already proverbially beaten quite a lot already, because I was fiddling with some spreadsheets and was very surprised by the results.

I had been curious how many units it would take to offer a Reading-Oak Grove shuttle at semi-rapid transit frequencies, with the thinking that maybe the line would be short enough that you could get away with two sets ping-ponging back and forth, and thus free up equipment for use elsewhere, especially as a medium-term temporary measure. (The thinking being that by cutting out the 5 miles between Oak Grove and North Station, you'd be significantly shortening the line.)

This turned out to be a bit more of a tricky exercise than I expected because -- for some reason I do not understand -- the inbound trip is currently timetabled to take ~17 minutes (this assuming Wyoming Hill-Oak Grove travel time to be about half the scheduled Wyoming Hill-Malden Center travel time, given that Oak Grove is a little more than halfway between them), but the outbound trip is scheduled to take ~21 minutes (even off-peak -- meaning that it's probably not a matter of padding the schedule for slower disembarking during peak).

(If anyone can explain the discrepancy, I am all ears!)

But eventually I just decided to go with a 20 minute Reading-Oak Grove travel time, under the theory that in such a world as this, it'd be possible to smooth out whatever operational kinks lead to the current imbalance.

Some of you no doubt know where I'm going with this already, so bear with me.

Then you add a 10 minute turn time at each terminus (again, in this ideal world, could be possible), and voila, you have a nice even 60 minute round-trip travel time. Meaning that "Set A" could leave Reading at 8am, and then would be available again for Reading departure 60 minutes later at 9am.

All of which is to say -- if you wanted 15-minute headways, you'd need at least four separate sets devoted solely to this service. And if you wanted 10-minute headways for something approaching proper rapid transit frequencies, you'd need at least 6 sets (plus some way of providing double tracks at each terminal -- easy enough at Reading, but much more of a problem at Oak Grove).

Apologies to those for whom this has been obvious all along. But I was really quite surprised to realize how long the round trip would take, and then consequently how much equipment you would need. Until and unless extra rolling stock comes along (e.g. electrification happens and there are extra locomotives to go around), this definitely does not seem like the maybe-vaguely-possibly-slightly-feasible idea I'd once thought it might be.

EDIT: I'm realizing now that I never replied to F-Line's reply upthread. Suffice it to say that I agree all around. The only use I could possibly see for a Reading-Oak Grove short-turn shuttle is to boost frequencies during the off-peak from every ~120 minutes in some cases up to something respectable like ~30 minutes. But even at that point, I'm reasonably sure that the terminal zone is hardly crowded, so there's really no reason not to run those trains all the way into Boston.

This brings up a larger question though -- why are all those Haverhill trains routed via Reading? Is it because there's not enough rolling stock to support separate Haverhill long-hauls (via Woburn) and Reading short-turns? i.e. do you need to use the same sets to do both?
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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EDIT: I'm realizing now that I never replied to F-Line's reply upthread. Suffice it to say that I agree all around. The only use I could possibly see for a Reading-Oak Grove short-turn shuttle is to boost frequencies during the off-peak from every ~120 minutes in some cases up to something respectable like ~30 minutes. But even at that point, I'm reasonably sure that the terminal zone is hardly crowded, so there's really no reason not to run those trains all the way into Boston.

This brings up a larger question though -- why are all those Haverhill trains routed via Reading? Is it because there's not enough rolling stock to support separate Haverhill long-hauls (via Woburn) and Reading short-turns? i.e. do you need to use the same sets to do both?
There's also the matter that forced transfers as a streamlining choice rather than necessity would cause riots across the entire corridor. The Rail Vision did float that very briefly as a trial balloon for fishing Needham Line frequencies out of the gutter by forcing a transfer at Forest Hills...and let's just say that lasted about a nanosecond before never being spoken of again. Oak Grove ≠ Forest Hills on existing overloading on the Orange platforms, but you would still have some very hairy crowding issues for OL boarding at certain peak periods. Remember, they tried this once here during the 2004 Democratic Convention by forcing Haverhill/Reading to short-turn at a temp-reanimated OG platform for a full week to curb the security theatre at the Garden. The results were...checkered at best, with workers either holding their noses or scheduling their vacations for that infamous clusterfuck of a 'lost' commuting week.

------------

As for why Haverhill is chained? Decision of-its-time, mostly.

Haverhill service via Lowell Line slowly atrophied in the first 10 years of MBTA subsidy from full service to Dover, NH and all intermediate stops in 1964 to cutback to Haverhill + punitive schedule cutback to single rush-hour trip per day by 1967...then loss of the Ballardvale, Andover, Shawsheen, and North Andover intermediate stops in 1974-75. All caused by the old, much smaller MBTA district's very limited subsidy reach beyond Route 128 as the outer towns had to self-fund the full burden of stations and service levels themselves. Failing equipment and further budget shocks led to end of service (then jumping only between Wilmington, Lawrence, Bradford, and Haverhill) in June 1976, 3 months after Newburyport service was formally truncated to Ipswich.

The reversal of fortunes began when the T bought out the windfall of Boston & Maine's passenger ops/stock/property and hundreds of miles of lines in December of that year for a song via the company's bankruptcy settlement. The Legislature quickly voted to expand the self-subsidy reach of the T charter to the I-495 towns and the more-or-less modern geographical reach of the district, while the state bonded out millions of dollars for new rolling stock purchases (first-gen F40PH + Pullman coaches, then the remanufacturing program for FP10 + de-motored RDC coaches). The B&M Freight Main was the first-priority physical plant investment with public funds...and Haverhill, South Acton-Gardner (truncated Fitchburg to Ayer '65, Ayer to South Acton '75), Lowell-Concord, NH, and Methuen-via-Lawrence passenger service were all targeted for immediate expansion by virtue of sharing significant mileage of the Freight Main. Haverhill (12/17/1979), Gardner (1/13/1980), and Concord (1/28/1980) all debuted for service within 3 years. The mainline extensions were for most part built as planned, with only a few station openings (North Andover & Rosemont on Haverhill; West Acton on Fitchburg) not happening and others (Shawsheen; Shirley; Merrimack, NH) trailing late. Methuen on the Manchester & Lawrence Branch and reinstatement of Ipswich-Newburyport were postponed because of not enough budget to tackle poor branchline track conditions. Poor track conditions also claimed the Woburn Branch by '81 as a tactical cut to re-trench to the mainlines. Loss of federal subsidy for interstate running miles claimed Concord and Providence in '81; the crafting of the state-to-state Pilgrim Agreement brought Providence back within 7 years, but NHDOT was subsequently uninterested.

As part of the Freight Main upgrades the Western Route from Reading Station to Wilmington Jct., which hadn't seen any passenger service in >30 years and had been downgraded to unsignalized freight running track, was re-upgraded to mainline-grade. North Wilmington was stuck in at the last second as an excuse-me add (why the platform is so short and spartan to this day). Indicative of how little-used that stretch of track previously was, Woburn St. abutting outbound of Reading Station didn't even have crossing protection and had to be flagged by a crewmember (NERail photo here shows a conductor flagging the crossing during Week 1 of Haverhill service in '79 because the new gates hadn't yet been installed!).

This was an overt choice for rationing equipment, as the self-propelled RDC roster was 95% kaput and they'd already greenlit the program for rebuilding them into unpowered push-pull coaches. With 3 major-mileage extensions coming online in a one-month span (aided somewhat by start of the 8-year SW Corridor + Needham Line shutdown temporarily atrophying southside equipment assignments to their lowest-ever), they could only juggle these expansions vs. available equipment as linear extensions of existing schedules. That way loco + cab car assignments could stay static despite the massive system expansion, and all they needed to do was lengthen consists with whatever they could beg/borrow/steal for trailer coaches. Reading always retained a full schedule slate, so that was the logical choice to extend. +1 schedule adds like reinstating the Wilmington split just wouldn't work with their equipment reserves...especially with the '79 revival being a substantial full day's schedule slate way greater than the token one-a-day that was whacked in '76. (+1 schedule adds also conspiring against completing the Methuen split.)


Made perfect sense for its era, as the resulting schedules were order-of-magnitude better than Middlesex County had seen in >20 years and overloaded dwells were hardly a problem with quaint 1980's CR ridership. 30 years of growth slowly started to crowd the trains, and by the 'aughts dwells in Melrose and Wakefield started getting bad enough at rush that (in conjunction with all the Bradford Layover relocation talk) there started to be calls for greater re-divergence and lateral schedule trades of more Lowell Line/Wildcat runs for more Reading short-turns to keep the inner stops tolerable. Especially after the Wildcat was thoroughly upgraded in 2001 for the Downeaster's service debut. Then you had the Andover double-tracking project hit the CIP and the Haverhill-Plaistow extension go into study at the same time the inner-half corridor was talking up the need for "proto-RUR" dense service levels to Reading and the outer-half corridor was talking up the need to knock the end-to-end schedule down more tolerably to an hour. Re-separation of schedules was the common thread to achieving all aims, so it became the more or less default assumption by both halves of the corridor. And once the Rail Vision was convened, that was simply baked in as the uncontroversial Captain Obvious default scheme.

It's time. The mash-up made enormous means-to-end sense 4 decades ago for (1) quickly reinstating service after 3 year absence while the agency was aggressively processing equipment renewal; (2) balancing a three-line slate of aggressive line expansion simultaneously and within equipment margins; (3) delivering better-than-token schedules for those targeted expansions so the growth would stick over time. Despite the unfortunate loss of Concord (which probably wouldn't have happened so soon if Reagan hadn't wanted to make an ideological example of fed transit funding in his '81 Recession budget), history records that they hit a resounding home run with the '79-80 northside revival and got enormous lasting bang for their investment buck. The reason the Haverhill/Reading mash-up is creaking on its own overload is a direct product of that success, and where that success has led the Purple Line North in terms of next big service pivots.
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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Did you consider elevation change? It slows you down in one direction and speeds you up in the other...
I'm guessing the outbound padding is there to waste on the grade crossings further out, which explains why the reciprocal inbound trip from Reading lacks the padding. Since it's unpredictable which particular crossings are going to be the problem at a given moment, they lump the padding non-specific to location (i.e. south of all the crossings).

By logic there should be accrued inbound crossing padding banked up in the schedule somewhere by North Wilmington from Haverhill for the opposite trip, but that's not an absolute guarantee. You'd have to look at time-of-day traffic splits in Melrose/Wakefield to see whether AM vs. PM directional traffic is backing up the crossings a certain way. i.e. Is it the east/west cross streets with the crossings on the AM making turns onto the north/south thoroughfares...or is it the turn lanes on north/south Main et al. on the PM--or vice versa--where the per-peak traffic spikes around the crossings? One peak would most likely be worse than the other in terms of car queues vs. tracks due to directional bias because nearly all of the streets in question are at major turns...but which peak exactly, and for how much IB vs. OB padding?

There are probably some tells in the north-of-Wilmington IB schedule informing relative 'intensity' of the crossing padding required, but it may be way more subtle and hard to parse that direction vs. OB from south-of-Malden.
 
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Wash

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Dumb idea: Propose to electrify at least some of the commuter rail system using a 3rd rail.

Naturally, the NIMBYS would be opposed, at which point a counter-proposal using an overhead catenary system that wouldn't fry their little Fifi with 700 or so volts could be laid out.
 

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