Crazy Transit Pitches

BosMaineiac

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Hey everyone,

I found out about this website quite a while ago and have been browsing regularly, but decided it was time to register and start adding my two cents. I’m a Structural Engineer at a large firm in Boston and want to make clear that everything I post is mine and in no way related to the company (or clients) I work for.

When I moved to Boston and found out about the NSRL I immediately fell in love with the dream piece of infrastructure. The more I’ve learned about it and it’s history the more I felt it was a no brainer for regional mobility. Being from Maine and a regular on the Downeaster, the benefits were even more apparent to me. Since it’s looking like it will likely be decades before the first shovel breaks ground (or TBM arrives), I took a good look at how this project could benefit even more people. So I present to you the NSEW Rail Link.

I chose the DOT preferred South/Congress alignment for the NSRL portion of the Link, with the addition of North Station Under. The EW tunnel will bring airport access and also minimize the need for BLX. The EW alignment follows the East Boston Greenway and Route 1A. The eastern portal could be where the oil tanks are and the abandoned ROW becomes more defined. The Old Colony line portal was not included in the most recent DOT study but I included it for increased capacity. As you can see I incorporated or noted some other fantasy projects like the APM to emphasize the mobility opportunities.

Let me know what you think!
764A0ACD-3837-47E6-AA9F-81E7E72CF5CB.jpeg
 

F-Line to Dudley

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The main...arguably fatal...flaw with the Congress Alignment is that it's 2 tracks only while the CA/T alignment can be twin-bore/4-track. 2 tracks is not going to be enough to pair-match every mainline at all...let alone incorporate much in the way of branches...and will result in a severely constrained run-thru system. Probably limited to only utmost essentials like NEC<==>NH Main, B&A<==>Eastern...definitely no Old Colony, definitely must Orange Line-convert Reading Line, crapshoot on whether Fairmount/Franklin or Fitchburg can be included and if so to what degree.

The state's own presentation on this declared that to net 4 tracks with 2-track only Congress being the "Preferred Alternative", one must build the CA/T alignment in complete duplication. Which is...well...patently insane reasoning to be putting out there in an 'official' policy statement of preference. So for that reason alone, Congress is a much poorer 2nd choice to a CA/T alignment that can twin-bore in one build while serving the same SS + NS Under terminals and (optional) a small Central Station.

Keep in mind as well that the station placement underground doesn't direct-correspond to the station placements above-ground, as the way North Station Under was to straddle on the CA/T alignment would've put a north headhouse connection more or less where the rear entrances of the Green/Orange station is...while having a south headhouse at roughly Valenti Sq. a mere 1 block from Haymarket Station. It was wholly expected that the concourse would be connected the last block to Haymarket in the end. So the Congress Alignment as-state-presented also overrates the very presence of that "GC/Haymarket" superstation as a means of diminishing their non-preferred CA/T alignment. In actuality you'd have NSRL access from Haymarket with either alignment. Maybe on CA/T it doesn't spawl allllllll the way over to the GC headhouse side of City Hall Plaza (then again, the Congress preference they presented didn't assume that either as it seemed to be centered more on Haymarket to begin with), but if you're surface-exiting you're right there at the heart of it all the same.

Granted, on either alignment the surface access and subway transfer access is going to be somewhat constipated by how incredibly deep the tunnel is, how slow the elevator/escalator vertical egresses are going to be, and how labyrinthine some of the connecting concourses will be (South Station Under, for example, crossing a whole horizontal block to meet up with the big Dewey Sq. Red/Silver/upstairs-to-CR lobby). That's just the engineering constraints we have to deal with. There doesn't seem to be a great bit of difference in either NSRL alignment in bipedal time saved; it's a bit of a slog from way down under to up top on any choice. Therefore if things like centralness of headhouse placement end up the only splitting-hairs differences between Congress or CA/T...but Congress definitely is capped at no better than 1/2 the service of CA/T (unless you take the state's "Build it twice for twice the price!" mandate at face value)...there is no rational reason to choose the Congress alignment over the CA/T alignment in the absence of documented cost blowouts on the CA/T. And the state documented no such above-and-beyond blowout potential; it just arbitrarily decided it liked Congress better and talked a lot of distraction about relocating NS Under outright Haymarket (bad: cuts off any surface-transfer access) when--as above--the station egress sitings in three dimensions were essentially neutral between alignments making that distinction a practical non-factor.

Therefore, Congress does not have a compelling argument over CA/T. It's much-diminished on capacity, as #1 demerit with a bullet. And even if you tried to save costs by building only one 2-track CA/T bore initially, you can just come back and build the second 2-track bore later on the other side of the wall and be done with it...not need to build whole duplicate alignments with whole duplicate/separate stations to net more schedule capacity. Egresses will hit the "centrality" of all the locations all the same, regardless of whether one alignment saves 2 mins. of foot-time through horizontal concourses over the other. So not only are stations not much of a real-world differentiator between alignments, but also the "foot time" getting up from the caverns to surface or subway transfer isn't meaningfully different by alignment. CA/T's going to be longer to Haymarket, but Congress' Blue Line transfer @ GC requires hoofing it through a lot more concourse than if CA/T builds Central Station deep under Aquarium. Plus that whole whopper with the state's plan of omitting North Station entirely via Congress, which is way too steep a demerit when both alignments can hit Haymarket.

So the remaining difference comes down to cost. Is Congress a big saver vs. CA/T being a big blowout? We don't know, because the state's own study summary last year said precious little substantive here and buried a BIG whopper of a lede with that whole "must build duplicate alignments if want 4 tracks" thing. We definitely do not have an exhaustively researched final answer here (or if we do the state's sitting on it not wanting it to mess up their arbitrary narrative). So I'd say that's a very ripe area for inquiry if you want to explore further. Beyond that there really isn't much to recommend for building Congress over CA/T. If frequencies matter as much as we're led to believe, we'll want 4 tracks and CA/T is more cost-effective than "building the whole damn thing twice" if we want 4 tracks. The state's Congress preference is clearly booby-trapped for tankapalooza because they don't want to build anything; the whole object in running with that choice was *because* it was self-defeating on its own logic. Whether there's any other real-world juice behind Congress NSRL other than too-precious kvetching about concourse-to-underground length viz-a-viz Haymarket we simply don't know. I guess if there is a real one this is the thread for hashing it out, but that whole capacity thing...ouch, it's a whopper. I just don't see how anything ancillary about that alignment that possibly rises to the level of 2 tracks > 4 tracks. What's transformative enough locally about one seeming splitting-hairs choice makes halving the potential systemwide service levels regionally sound like the better decision?

I can't think of anything so big that would tip those scales. CA/T @ quad-track seems so self-evident on its face when all else to the headhouse level is rounding-error to sameness.
 

Charlie_mta

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Hey everyone,

I found out about this website quite a while ago and have been browsing regularly, but decided it was time to register and start adding my two cents. I’m a Structural Engineer at a large firm in Boston and want to make clear that everything I post is mine and in no way related to the company (or clients) I work for.

When I moved to Boston and found out about the NSRL I immediately fell in love with the dream piece of infrastructure. The more I’ve learned about it and it’s history the more I felt it was a no brainer for regional mobility. Being from Maine and a regular on the Downeaster, the benefits were even more apparent to me. Since it’s looking like it will likely be decades before the first shovel breaks ground (or TBM arrives), I took a good look at how this project could benefit even more people. So I present to you the NSEW Rail Link.

I chose the DOT preferred South/Congress alignment for the NSRL portion of the Link, with the addition of North Station Under. The EW tunnel will bring airport access and also minimize the need for BLX. The EW alignment follows the East Boston Greenway and Route 1A. The eastern portal could be where the oil tanks are and the abandoned ROW becomes more defined. The Old Colony line portal was not included in the most recent DOT study but I included it for increased capacity. As you can see I incorporated or noted some other fantasy projects like the APM to emphasize the mobility opportunities.

Let me know what you think!
View attachment 8547
I've always been intrigued by a rail tunnel from South Station to East Boston, as you show, with an Airport Station and then the route continuing up to Portsmouth NH and Portland Maine. That would provide a fantastic regional rail/air travel interface, plus provide a direct NE Corridor link straight up the coast. I would like to see it be truly high speed, a bullet train. I thought I had a copy of the detailed plans from about 100 years ago for this exact route. It was a serious proposal at the turn of the 19th century. I'll try to find those plans. It had tunnel profiles under Boston Harbor, the full design pretty much.
 

Tallguy

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I've always been intrigued by a rail tunnel from South Station to East Boston, as you show, with an Airport Station and then the route continuing up to Portsmouth NH and Portland Maine. That would provide a fantastic regional rail/air travel interface, plus provide a direct NE Corridor link straight up the coast. I would like to see it be truly high speed, a bullet train. I thought I had a copy of the detailed plans from about 100 years ago for this exact route. It was a serious proposal at the turn of the 19th century. I'll try to find those plans. It had tunnel profiles under Boston Harbor, the full design pretty much.
Yes, please!
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I've always been intrigued by a rail tunnel from South Station to East Boston, as you show, with an Airport Station and then the route continuing up to Portsmouth NH and Portland Maine. That would provide a fantastic regional rail/air travel interface, plus provide a direct NE Corridor link straight up the coast. I would like to see it be truly high speed, a bullet train. I thought I had a copy of the detailed plans from about 100 years ago for this exact route. It was a serious proposal at the turn of the 19th century. I'll try to find those plans. It had tunnel profiles under Boston Harbor, the full design pretty much.
It was somebody's 19th c. proposal before there was such a thing as a Blue Line crossing, because that was when the Eastern RR terminated at the docks and required a ferry crossing to get into Boston. They didn't gain trackage rights through Chelsea over the Boston & Albany Grand Junction (east extension) tracks until late in the century. With the subway going there now and the northside/BET portals of the main NSRL bore being clock-comparable while having access to all northside mains there's very little juice at all for a dedicated-bore airport add. Mainly because (per Transpo Blogosphere's Golden Rules of Value Capture) mainline rail airport circulators tend to be extremely--almost universally--overrated on actual demand vs. 'hype' demand. For Logan you're still going to be making a mode transfer for the shuttle trip to the terminals, taking an edge off the primary value proposition of the Eastern Route direct. But also the share of daily RUR commuters needing the Logan stop is a very small piece of the overall pie...because the overall pie itself is so extremely broad that task-specific airport travel never on any given day accumulates a large enough share of patronage vs. the vast whole spread to possibly underwrite all this alt-routed MOAR TUNNEL cost.

Maybe this would be a different value proposition if we did that "Boston Bypass" I-93 re-route on top of an Inner Harbor seawall like that crazy guy was flogging in every media outlet pre- and during- Big Dig, because then you'd gain some efficiencies lumping the outer highway loop with the rail line. But that's pretty much the only broad cost-abater that would have such a direct SS-to-Eastern Route link make a lick of sense. The hugest airports in the world just aren't huge enough to drag the entire shape of a general-purpose Regional Rail system around them as de facto centerpieces; the return on cost is just too heinously bad save for a few *specific* outliers where the stop that happens to be the Airport stop has way broader demand base than just the Airport (not something you could say for that immediate stretch of Eastie). And we already have one single-seat transfer to SL1 straight to the Terminals that does the job adequately. Doing SL1's job better only entails non-Airport Transitway traffic getting connected to the Green Line so purpose-fit SL1/SL3 aren't overloaded with intra-Seaport traffic...then Massport eventually building dedicated multimode-compatible busways (NOT an Automated People Mover) so SL1 speeds its Terminal stops outside of mixed traffic. That's plenty large improvement to the incumbent mode for Airport access not requiring reverse-branched mainline rail to be built to augment. Then consider that LRT Urban Ring through Chelsea can potentially make use of the same multimodal busway to loop trolleys around the Terminal. I think anybody on RUR will be plenty set either transfering to SL1 @ SS or transferring to Urban Ring Northeast @ Sullivan or Chelsea that the need for a full-dedicated mainline bore--so sketchy on the utilization fundamentals to begin with--becomes complete/full surplus-to-requirement. You'll be able to grab the one-seat on a luggage rack equipped bus or trolley on both northside and southside gateways of the main NSRL bore for an exponential frequency/capacity expansion to the Terminals over the not-bad we have today.

Can anyone truly quantify explosive Logan demand that's going to need way more than that? Dedicated mainline rail bore is orders-of-magnitude outsized even for the intrinsic overrating cities do of their airports. Without the quantified above-and-beyond need accounted for, a surplus-to-requirement extra of that humongousness almost has to get placed on the "God-mode Transit Pitches" shelf because we'll simply never get that far down the build priority list in any real world we inhabit to take a gander at whole-cloth extras like this.
 
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DBM

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like that crazy guy was flogging in every media outlet pre- and during- Big Dig,
That would be Vincent Zarrilli. And yes, I have it on good authority, from those who knew him well in the North End, that he actually did suffer from mental illness. How much his beyond-Quixotic "Boston Bypass" crusade was a manifestation of his genuine derangement, who knows. All I can say his, all of the crude plywood signs saying "BACK THE BB" that he tacked-up on Route 1A in the 1980s and 90s (and presumably other badly-congested highways and byways near Logan Airport) are seared into my memory. As a guerrilla marketing type, he really was ahead of his time--a proto-Banksy! Too bad he couldn't channel his energies into something that wasn't so obviously crackpot. (But again, the mental illness...)
 

Charlie_mta

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It was somebody's 19th c. proposal before there was such a thing as a Blue Line crossing, because that was when the Eastern RR terminated at the docks and required a ferry crossing to get into Boston. They didn't gain trackage rights through Chelsea over the Boston & Albany Grand Junction (east extension) tracks until late in the century. With the subway going there now and the northside/BET portals of the main NSRL bore being clock-comparable while having access to all northside mains there's very little juice at all for a dedicated-bore airport add. Mainly because (per Transpo Blogosphere's Golden Rules of Value Capture) mainline rail airport circulators tend to be extremely--almost universally--overrated on actual demand vs. 'hype' demand. For Logan you're still going to be making a mode transfer for the shuttle trip to the terminals, taking an edge off the primary value proposition of the Eastern Route direct. But also the share of daily RUR commuters needing the Logan stop is a very small piece of the overall pie...because the overall pie itself is so extremely broad that task-specific airport travel never on any given day accumulates a large enough share of patronage vs. the vast whole spread to possibly underwrite all this alt-routed MOAR TUNNEL cost.

Maybe this would be a different value proposition if we did that "Boston Bypass" I-93 re-route on top of an Inner Harbor seawall like that crazy guy was flogging in every media outlet pre- and during- Big Dig, because then you'd gain some efficiencies lumping the outer highway loop with the rail line. But that's pretty much the only broad cost-abater that would have such a direct SS-to-Eastern Route link make a lick of sense. The hugest airports in the world just aren't huge enough to drag the entire shape of a general-purpose Regional Rail system around them as de facto centerpieces; the return on cost is just too heinously bad save for a few *specific* outliers where the stop that happens to be the Airport stop has way broader demand base than just the Airport (not something you could say for that immediate stretch of Eastie). And we already have one single-seat transfer to SL1 straight to the Terminals that does the job adequately. Doing SL1's job better only entails non-Airport Transitway traffic getting connected to the Green Line so purpose-fit SL1/SL3 aren't overloaded with intra-Seaport traffic...then Massport eventually building dedicated multimode-compatible busways (NOT an Automated People Mover) so SL1 speeds its Terminal stops outside of mixed traffic. That's plenty large improvement to the incumbent mode for Airport access not requiring reverse-branched mainline rail to be built to augment. Then consider that LRT Urban Ring through Chelsea can potentially make use of the same multimodal busway to loop trolleys around the Terminal. I think anybody on RUR will be plenty set either transfering to SL1 @ SS or transferring to Urban Ring Northeast @ Sullivan or Chelsea that the need for a full-dedicated mainline bore--so sketchy on the utilization fundamentals to begin with--becomes complete/full surplus-to-requirement. You'll be able to grab the one-seat on a luggage rack equipped bus or trolley on both northside and southside gateways of the main NSRL bore for an exponential frequency/capacity expansion to the Terminals over the not-bad we have today.

Can anyone truly quantify explosive Logan demand that's going to need way more than that? Dedicated mainline rail bore is orders-of-magnitude outsized even for the intrinsic overrating cities do of their airports. Without the quantified above-and-beyond need accounted for, a surplus-to-requirement extra of that humongousness almost has to get placed on the "God-mode Transit Pitches" shelf because we'll simply never get that far down the build priority list in any real world we inhabit to take a gander at whole-cloth extras like this.
I was thinking regional rail connectivity to Logan rather than metro commuter rail. With a direct connection from Logan to/from AMTRAK and regional rail, there could be high speed rail connections directly from Logan to TF Green and potentially others. This interconnectivity has the potential to take the load off of Logan, As for the additional segment inside Logan from the terminals to the rail station, an elevated rail system within Logan to the rail station would expedite that connection. The Dallas/Fort Worth Airport has a great system.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I was thinking regional rail connectivity to Logan rather than metro commuter rail. With a direct connection from Logan to/from AMTRAK and regional rail, there could be high speed rail connections directly from Logan to TF Green and potentially others. This interconnectivity has the potential to take the load off of Logan, As for the additional segment inside Logan from the terminals to the rail station, an elevated rail system within Logan to the rail station would expedite that connection. The Dallas/Fort Worth Airport has a great system.
But what's the market for that? This is exactly what I refer to about the need to quantify the demand for this stuff. What air traveling audience of any size projects to be traipsing regularly between the whole map of regional airports on a regular basis searching for the best deal? It's an incredibly tiny outlier even at best-case future projections. This is the reason for the "Thou shalt not spend self stupid on mainline rail airport connectors" Transpo Intelligencia golden rule. It nearly always looks better in concept than it does in countable real-world utilization, hence all the warnings about needing to show the math first before presenting the gee-whiz concept. With the baseline NSRL you can indeed have full Regional Rail or Amtrak links to every single New England regional airport of consequence: Bradley, Green, Manchester, Portland, Burlington.

So when you have:
  • baseline NSRL-routable trains between any New England airport pair (the obvious and less-obvious)
  • potential grade-separated, multi-mode compatible dedicated Transitway greatly enhancing Logan terminal circulator transit vs. today's mixed-traffic ops
  • South Station transfer from Regional Rail to the SL1 luggage-rack equipped buses, schlepping up all the schedule efficiency gains of the Green Line-Transitway attachment absorbing intra-Seaport transit and the Logan Transitway dramatically speeding the terminal loop via grade separation
  • potential North Station and/or Sullivan superstation + Chelsea transfers to/from Regional Rail and luggage-rack equipped Urban Rail trolleys that co-use the Logan Terminal Transitway after the Blue Line Logan stop.
  • Blue Line @ Lynn transfer from Regional Rail to Logan Station + the existing terminal shuttle (possibly subsumed by the run-thru UR trolleys)
. . .who DOESN'T end up being served extremely well enough in that extremely small regional airport-hopper audience??? The baseline transit investments--NSRL baseline, UR, terminal Transitway, etc.--serves up a whole smorgasboard more options than even the not-at-all-bad ones that exist today.

Furthermore, a megabucks Regional Rail bore is not going to pare the terminal shuttle transfer at all. It'll duplicate the current Blue Line shuttle transfer at a superstation with the Blue Line, because that's where the landbanked East Boston Branch ROW happens to be, and because there isn't a plausible RR-grade loop through each of the terminals like there is with BRT/LRT. So there's no above-and-beyond to be had on transit to the terminal. You're either making the shuttle transfer the same exact place you are today, or somehow projecting such intense above-and-beyond demand that the brand new direct-to-terminal transfers yet to come @ North Station, Sullivan, or Chelsea via Urban Ring luggage rack trolleys isn't enough. Where does the juice come on top of those improvements for a FOURTH transfer-to-shuttle when the baseline price tag is something far north of $4B for doing that duplicate cross-Harbor bore?

Any such above-and-beyond demand is not there in numbers you can feasibly add up. Not when some *very* consequential extra Logan circulation gears will be coming sooner in the form of UR and Blue-Lynn serving up multiple additional Regional Rail transfer possibilities with easy Logan access, and when the Terminal Transitway will do so much good on the clock for SL1 and the Blue Line shuttle bus even before the UR trolleys ever get on that side of the Mystic. With the need for 'a' shuttle transfer set in stone, rather...the value proposition for a Logan superstation of Blue + Regional Rail has to sell itself on the whole-package coattails of its surroundings. Like...if the Airport stop happened to be a mega bus terminal (it's not...Maverick, Lynn, and Chelsea are) or had breakaway walkup TOD potential (it doesn't...that's Suffolk Downs), or was a neighborhood center or secondary CBD unto itself (it's not...Maverick and Orient Heights are the population centers of Eastie while Logan bored itself a hole of decreased abutting density as airport expansion over the last century demolished several residential neighborhoods). The only real exceptions to the "beware the mainline Airport rail" golden rule are the ones that check off one of those mixed-density boxes at way, way more substantial level than Logan (or Logan's most-similar national peers) does. If the airport superstation doesn't placemark a broad-based mega node of its own right, then there isn't a there there when the shuttle transfers are going to be equally available from other density nodes of known heft.


In short: chasing air traveler niches doesn't even begin to amass the resources to do something of this enormous expense. Especially when an airport terminal shuttle is non-optional feature of every possible trajectory, including this one, and the shuttle options figure to proliferate across the map in ways that'll already be extremely beneficial to Regional Rail with or without the NSRL when SL1 gets sped up and the Urban Ring NE quadrant implants new northside-to-terminal directs. Those proliferations will only cost several $10's to $100's of M's in stageable individual installments for each improvement...not a $4-6B monolith in one shot for a bore that at end of the day will still requires transfer to the same old terminal shuttle. There isn't enough juice on the map in Logan Station's immediate environs to make up the shortfall when the tactical nuclear strike still isn't doing anything above-and-beyond special that the pu-pu platter of 'general' transit improvements via SL1, UR, UR-to-RUR, and Terminal Transitway won't already serve in improved travel times and greatly expanded flex across the regional map. It's the proverbial solution in search of problem already well-covered. Maybe if we're living in the lap of transit luxury with all our five-alarm urgent projects already pre-built, we could entertain wholly gravy pitches like that. But we'll be huffing-and-puffing through 2050 on just the basics, so this is so surplus-to-requirement vs. that bucket list it probably won't ever be practical to entertain.
 

Tallguy

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So, I suspect that unless there are some unknown technical issues, a tunnel to Eastie and up the ER would be comparable in cost to a second tunnel NS. Lets also assume that post covid(this time next year), Massport will be back on the people mover kick. The ER will probably support (assuming a Danvers revival) 12 tph. However, in addition, I suspect higher Logan demand from the west and south would also support short-turns as well. I know many more Worcesterites who would switch to rail in that case. The transfer at SS is less that ideal and the SL busses are slow and crowded. Assuming also that Reading is OLXed, then that opens Chelsea/Everett/Sullivan/Kendall/West for GL Urban Ring.
While Worc/Fram loses GC one seat, GJ transfers at West would probably save time to Kendall over NSRL access.
I think that the benefits of a shorter NRL ride and more direct Logan access outweigh the downside. In addition, Congress St routing makes for an easier single station placement between State St and Haymarket.
And yes, F-Line, I know we disagree on the need for a NS connection to NSRL.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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So, I suspect that unless there are some unknown technical issues, a tunnel to Eastie and up the ER would be comparable in cost to a second tunnel NS. Lets also assume that post covid(this time next year), Massport will be back on the people mover kick. The ER will probably support (assuming a Danvers revival) 12 tph. However, in addition, I suspect higher Logan demand from the west and south would also support short-turns as well. I know many more Worcesterites who would switch to rail in that case. The transfer at SS is less that ideal and the SL busses are slow and crowded. Assuming also that Reading is OLXed, then that opens Chelsea/Everett/Sullivan/Kendall/West for GL Urban Ring.
While Worc/Fram loses GC one seat, GJ transfers at West would probably save time to Kendall over NSRL access.
I think that the benefits of a shorter NRL ride and more direct Logan access outweigh the downside. In addition, Congress St routing makes for an easier single station placement between State St and Haymarket.
And yes, F-Line, I know we disagree on the need for a NS connection to NSRL.
How much shorter is it, really? Quantify. You're still transferring to the stet Blue Line station's shuttle bus any which way because no such Regional Rail link would have dropoffs at each terminal. How much more does it matter if that RUR-to-shuttle transfer happens at ground-zero Logan Station rather than your pick-'em choice of NS, Sullivan, or Chelsea? Will SL1 truly be so overcrowded and slow as today when co-mingled trolleys from downtown in the Transitway divert the intra-Seaport demand and the Logan Terminals Transitway grade separates it on the opposite side of the Ted? If this trip is fully 100% accomplishable with the baseline single-build NSRL and common-sense enhancement of the terminal shuttle modes, we have to quantify what exactly is being stimulated as above-and-beyonds by building essentially the whole damn thing twice for what's still going to be a two-seat trip with mandatory transfer to an Airport Terminal shuttle...just at an (optionally) different station than before for making the transfer. I can't fathom where the value proposition for $5B's extra cost appears out of thin air amid that set of service circumstances. It's too narrow an above-and-beyond target for that extremely much extra cost.

And if this cross-Harbor bore is the justification for an aesthetic preference for the 2-track only Congress alignment rather than a 4-track CA/T alignment, it still flunks all basic value proposition in the same exact way as the state's tankapalooza Preferred Alt. did by requiring the whole project to be built on duplicating alignments at twice the price in order to achieve throughput parity with the ONE quad-track alignment. While still not proving what's icky-poo about the CA/T in the first place when quad-track there costs less than building duplicating 2-track alignments anywhere else. North Station on CA/T will have a headhouse at Haymarket Station all the same, and the difference in underground foot travel to transfers is a lump-sum wash between alignments (e.g. Blue Line from the Congress St. Haymarket cavern will require more underground footsteps to the other side of City Hall than the straight-under-Aquarium CA/T transfer if built...straight-upstairs to Haymarket street level minus any North Station access <<< block-offset access to Haymarket WITH full NS surface access...both alignments' South Station Unders being similarly askew of Dewey Sq. lobby and a similar concourse hike to Red). End-to-end the studied alignments pretty much trade back and forth between better/worse concourse walking distances sans clear-cut winners, on account of both of them being the same inconveniently deep depth below ground.


There needs to be a time + access saver that overpowers the stunningly deep demerit of "build it twice different at twice the price to net equivalent service levels, or else leave major parts of the Regional Rail network shut out from it". Neither the splitting-hairs difference in relative CBD headhouse placements nor the splitting-hairs difference in placements (amongst multiple options) of where the forced transfer to a Logan Terminal shuttle takes place gets anywhere close to filling up a $5B cup for second-dip tunneling alignment for Congress and/or the Harbor. Invididual aesthetic preferences for 2D renders are a fun rainy-Thanksgiving debate, but our regional future pretty much depends on getting this thing built someday soon before we're all dead. Minor-difference Airport shuttle transfer points and minor block-difference headhouse placements from the respective caverns aren't the types of inflection points that are going to make the project's fortunes turn one way or the other. Service levels being high enough to pump region-wide service through at region-wide consensus--with no one left out shorted of service--will get it done. And forging that consensus overwhelmingly points to a single alignment that doesn't have to ever be re-created twice over at duplicate cost. If the split hairs like an nth Airport shuttle transfer location (on top of the to-be-sped-up ones and other ones proposed but yet built) and law-of-averages concourse length skewing better at [somebody's idea of a slightly more important CBD station] vs. worse at [somebody's idea of a slightly less important CBD station] are honestly, truly that big a turning point that they are worth sowing a "build it twice at twice the price" commitment...start quantifying those differences by their game-changing bigness. How much bigger a Greater Airportland with a shuttle transfer at a superstation'ed Blue Line instead of spread around the map @ SS, NS, Sullivan, Chelsea? How much bigger a Haymarket ridership blowout is there from a cavern centered under the station block-proper overpowering the loss of NS access and a likely extra-block underground hike to Blue? The net gains from these choices has to be big to justify the build-it-twice cost. So where's all that site-explicit bigness coming from...source and magnitude?

If we can't come up with anything more than "This will be slightly more convenient for some. . .neutral for most others"...it's nowhere near big enough. Not even close to big enough to split the difference between having four tracks of transformative cross-region service to/from every alignment vs. 2 constrained tracks with stratified winners and losers ranked up and down the region. Or securing region-wide buy-in with the same service promise to all vs. trying to sell forked 2-track alignments with stratified +1 convenience for a small audience, total surplus-to-requirement for most others, and possibly some minority of commuters left under-served if the capacity ends up splitting unequally vs. demand at the tunnel forks. As long as "build twice at same price" is the ironclad terms of engagement for the Congress alignment or cross-Harbor vs. the regional capacity considerations, the bang has got to be unequivocally big enough to front the bucks. We're gonna have to do a stratospherically better than a motley collection of semi-inconclusive nice-to-haves in order to make that case.
 

JeffDowntown

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There certainly are examples of a major airport being the impetus to severely warp a rail network to improve multi-mode connectivity. But this likely would only happen at a much later stage of rail development in Boston.

Best example I know of is Charles de Gaulle in Paris. Over the past decades the entire regional and high speed rail network around Paris has been massively rearranged to interface more completely with Charles de Gaulle. But there are huge difference there versus Boston.

1) The regional rail and national high speed rail network already existed and was heavily used.
2) There was an explicit public policy push to reduce reliance on regional jets connecting Paris and smaller cities in France, and rather move that traffic to HSR (TGV service).
3) The dramatic rise in international travelers at Charles de Gaulle put pressure on landing spots, so finding a way to replace regional flights improved airport capacity.

Today, TGV service is so good from CDG that it really is rare that one would use a regional jet to move around the country rather than hopping on the HSR train directly at the airport.
 

Tallguy

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I thought the difference was obvious, but I will indulge you. The Airport alignment is 4.2 miles from Winthrop Ave to SS, nearly arrow straight with one stop. The present alignment is 7.4 miles with four stops, including proposed infills, further slowed by curves, grade crossings and junctions. I would expect at least five minutes off the ride.

You see no utility in an Airport/people mover option? How often do you use the Ted?

5 Billion more? Only if you are comparing a single tunnel NSRL to two tunnels. An honest comparison is two tunnel NSRL vs. NSEWRL. Two tunnels. Equal length. If anything a shallow cut and cover station at Airport could cost less and be less disruptive than a second set of headhouses and stations at NS/CSU. While the Congress alignment put the station north of SS, that isnt required. You could put all four tracks in a Channel station, although cut and cover(after a cofferdam and drainage)would be necessary. This would allow for an any track any tunnel option and more options for a statement station.

Use imbalance? The ER, with Danvers service, should be good for 12tph. Assume OLX to Reading. Lowell and Haverhill should combine for 8tph, and Fitchburg, 6. That's 14 tph. Extension to Nashua? Manchester? Maybe 2 tph more.
What other "layer cake" of service do you propose? Be specific please. Concord? Diesel for 30 years. Electrified Downeaster? 1tph, if you dont run it up the ER,(and yes, I know there is expense to that) which would shave significant time off the route.
So, 14-16 vs 12, plus any short turns to Cambridge/Weston or Airport.
 

Tallguy

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I will concede that ER loses a one seat to GC Haymarket etc, but a transfer to BL probably gets most people closer to work than Central station would. As does Worcester(the most probable match with ER)
 

BosMaineiac

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I think the need to transfer to local transit is the exact reason that people (say outside 128) do not use public transit to get to the airport. Having a regional rail link to the airport wouldn’t directly benefit those who live in Boston and immediate communities, like an urban ring or GL to terminal would, but it would mainly take a lot of stress off the Ted which would lead to secondary benefits. Getting people out of their cars and on public transit is the main goal and I don’t see how a boosted silver line/GLUR could really do that in terms of suburbanites getting to the airport. RUR will compete with highways for occupants, not the subway or bus, and until there’s an east crossing the system will be incomplete in my view, much like the highway system was before Ted.

Regardless, Massport has thrown their weight behind the APM and, even though it’s delayed, it will eventually get built which would make GL to terminals redundant and a much tougher sell.

Plus, if the Eastern gets prioritized for upgrades and extension into NH and Maine, as it should, you start to think about how often trains will be going over those grade crossings (with the hypothetical + RUR) in Chelsea that tallguy noted.
 

KCasiglio

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I've liked the idea of an "East Station" at Airport in my own long term fantasy maps but the idea is exactly that, a far flung fantasy for a time when we're in a more France like position, and the way we get there is not continuing to center the transportation needs of the exburbs when there is so much long neglected low hanging fruit for the urban core and close suburbs. Why would we possibly want to do a big-dig 2.0 scale project with the primary point AGAIN being making life even more convenient for people who don't live in 128?

Our infrastructure investments should be pulling people towards more sustainable patterns of development.
 

BosMaineiac

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I've liked the idea of an "East Station" at Airport in my own long term fantasy maps but the idea is exactly that, a far flung fantasy for a time when we're in a more France like position, and the way we get there is not continuing to center the transportation needs of the exburbs when there is so much long neglected low hanging fruit for the urban core and close suburbs. Why would we possibly want to do a big-dig 2.0 scale project with the primary point AGAIN being making life even more convenient for people who don't live in 128?

Our infrastructure investments should be pulling people towards more sustainable patterns of development.
Well unfortunately people still live in the suburbs and always will. Maybe this project isn’t as important as a base NSRL but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be post RUR, we are in Crazy Transit Pitches last time I checked. I also think increasing public transit is part of a sustainable development pattern because it gives people more incentive to live in TOD.

As CA/T has proven, a project designed to facilitate the “exurb” travel patterns has HUGE benefits for the local population too. It’ll be interesting to see if and how the pandemic changes where people live, but at this rate I’d guess more people will tend to move away from large population centers.
 

ra84970

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As many millions of passengers per year that may be at Logan, the more fiscally responsible idea would be how many hundreds or thousands of employees would now have access to a job at Logan. Opening up the labor shed seems like a better reason than just one off trips. but I don't think I've seen much evidence to say that Logan cannot get the labor it needs to operate the airport.

That being said, this is crazy transit pitches.
 

Riverside

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First of all, welcome to the board @BosMaineiac! Always great to see new faces around here.

Likewise, always great to see another supporter of NSRL! And I like the imaginativeness you've brought to the topic -- that's always an important part of the discussion.

I share your interest in resurrecting that straightaway along the Eastern Route that runs pretty much directly from Lynn (!) all the way to the current Airport station. It is incredibly tempting, especially from a "neat and tidy" perspective. It's just right there.

And as others have noted, there once in fact was a proposal for exactly the kind of cross-harbor tunnel you are describing here between South Station and East Boston. You can see a map of that here on Wikipedia (although ironically they would have hooked this tunnel into today's Blue Line, rather than into the straightaway).

I like the thinking behind incorporating an East-West dimension into the Rail Link concept, but I think it's ultimately unnecessary for a few different reasons.

First, the time/distance savings just aren't that much; I did some back-of-the-napkin math, and from what I can see the best case scenario is shaving a 15-minute journey into a 10-minute journey (with non-trivial drawbacks -- see below).

Second: you argue that this East-West link would reduce the need for BLX to Lynn, but I'm skeptical. One of the arguments in favor of a North-South link is that it would allow northside riders better access to downtown, which North Station is more removed from than South Station. But South Station itself still isn't the be-all-end-all. Many riders have destinations outside of the Financial District (which is better served by the Blue Line than South Station anyway), and the Blue Line (assuming a Blue-Red connector) offers much better transfer opportunities than an East-West tunnel to South Station would; such a tunnel would dump all of its riders on to the Red Line, who would then need to traverse the already-most crowded section of the line. Plus, South Station-Longwood Medical Area is a significantly more awkward journey than State/Gov't Center-Longwood Medical Area (and more on that in a second, too).

And that brings us to another drawback of a cross-tunnel routing -- it avoids a transfer node at Sullivan which can distribute Cambridge- and Somerville- (and maybe even Allston-) bound riders without going downtown, and it actually results in a trajectory that, overall, misses downtown much more than a Chelsea-Sullivan-North Station-South Station alignment would.

Third (and I'm surprised this hasn't been brought up yet): how exactly would things work at South Station in terms of that X-shaped network you've drawn? Is it a Camden Town-style double flying junction, with essentially two stations allowing all trains to go everywhere? Is it like District Line Earl's Court with a single unified station with flying junctions before and after? Or do you abandon "all trains go everywhere" and split the network into a North-South network and an East-West network with separate superimposed stations à la Notting Hill Gate? Or with cross-platform transfers akin to Finsbury Park?

The reason this matters -- aside from the potential for an incredible amount of spaghetti under there -- is that you have to trade-off between the network comprehensiveness of "all trains everywhere" and the speed reductions incurred by crossovers, curves and capacity constraints. Plus, it impacts passenger journeys: you could mitigate some of that Red Line transfer crush if you can guarantee some x % of trains will travel Airport-Back Bay, Airport-Ruggles and Airport-Lansdowne, but again, that is going to entail a much more complicated build. (Plus, addressing the needs of incoming Airport riders impacts riders from the other direction as well, shunting away trains that might otherwise serve downtown more directly.)

^ Okay, so there are challenges with this -- any infrastructure proposal has challenges; the question is whether it's worth the benefit.

And that brings us to this (emphasis mine):

Plus, if the Eastern gets prioritized for upgrades and extension into NH and Maine, as it should, you start to think about how often trains will be going over those grade crossings (with the hypothetical + RUR) in Chelsea that tallguy noted.
This lurks in the background of your proposal, and I want to examine it further. What exactly is the benefit of creating all this infrastructure for the benefit of the Eastern Route? (Setting aside access to the airport.)

Put another way, why would Amtrak run trains along the Eastern Route? The Western Route ends up getting you to the same place in Southern Maine, and has the benefit of hitting Haverhill/Lawrence and UNH along the way. Newburyport is practically a seaside village by comparison. Moreover, when leveraged with the Wildcat Branch, as the Downeaster currently does, a Western Route alignment can bootstrap itself to the Main Line (Lowell Line), which is the much stronger candidate for Amtrak expansion into New Hampshire (Nashua, Manchester and Concord).

(And, indeed, on the 100-year timescale, an alignment via Lowell is where Boston should be looking for its northern expansion -- follow that alignment long enough and you hit Montreal; there's nothing comparable north of Newburyport and there almost certainly never will be.)

So, in summary, while I like the idea for its creativity and imagination, I'm pretty skeptical of its ultimate benefit.

An alternative:

So the one big benefit that I haven't addressed is better access to the airport. There's a larger political and theoretical debate here that I'm not qualified to weigh in on (about the merits of intercity rail-airport connections). But I will happily and generally agree that better public transit access to Logan is a Good Thing, even if I'm agnostic on where it should rank on the priority list.

Your proposal calls for a massive investment in a cross-harbor tunnel to provide transfer-minimal public transit access to Logan. Let me propose an alternate version of the same.

Instead of a mainline rail tunnel hooked into the NSRL, construct a roomy third tunnel along the Ted Williams Tunnel alignment that can support light rail, BRT and intercity buses. Hook it in directly to the existing Silver Line Transitway tunnel (along with a connection to the I-90 tunnel for those Greyhounds and a surface portal) and convert the Transitway to dual BRT/LRT running. If you have extra money, expand the Transitway into "four tracks/four lanes" to support non-stop South Station-Airport Terminals services.

On the other end, hook the tunnel into the mode of your choice -- continue running BRT to the terminals at street level, build an elevated LRT in lieu of the APM, construct an APM/LRT transfer station along Harborside Dr, what have you. Personally I think the ideal would be integrated LRT all the way -- not saying that you use long-haul South Station-Chelsea LRT service as a terminal shuttle -- you probably want to have some dedicated short-turns -- but that seems like it would give maximum flexibility.

For local public transit, a third TWT would obviously be a boon, speeding access and reliability to Logan from the Seaport, Southie and the South End, closing the one section of the Urban Ring Corridor that's Really Hard™ to put rail into. Moreover, a dual LRT/BRT tunnel would give maximal flexibility for metropolitan connectivity -- the downside of a mainline rail tunnel is that you can only put electrified mainline rail through it. A properly designed dual-mode tunnel could support a veritable smorgasbord of urban and suburban and regional services.

For regional access to the airport, a third TWT would I think ultimately be more beneficial than an East-West Rail Link. Assuming an NSRL, all suburban quadrants would have direct access to South Station, from which it'd be a single transfer to direct terminal access; by contrast, under an EWRL, only North Shore riders and whichever service(s) from the south get paired would have access to Airport Station, from which they'd still need to transfer to the APM.

A dual-mode tunnel also gives you a lot more flexibility with alignments and grades. When working with mainline rail, you have to deal with longer platforms, gentler grades and therefore longer approach tunnels. A dual-mode tunnel gives you a lot more flexibility both at South Station and at the airport.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that while South Station may seem far away from the airport, it really isn't. An express South Station-Airport service would only travel ~2.75 miles. The JFK AirTrain from Jamaica Station in NYC travels a bit less than twice as far. (And, of course, Jamaica Station itself is already between 20 and 60 minutes from Manhattan, depending how you travel.)
 

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