Fall River/New Bedford Commuter Rail (South Coast Rail)

jbray

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jklo

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No...you actually pretty much state point-blank the reason why it's going to badly underperform and be an explicit worry. It's a car culture. It is NOT plug-ready with the bus network. The parking fee for such anemic frequencies is itself prohibitive...therefore the fact that it lacks connectivity to the cheaper bus fares IS a grave inhibitor to showing any kind of pulse.
Problem is, you're talking about an hour and a half on the train just by itself. Can't really afford the extra time taken for a bus.

F-Line has talked at length about how that ROW is gone, unfortunately. I am a huge supporter of Providence developing rail transit and think this connection would have been really positive for both communities over time.
Problem is, you need jobs to get enough ridership to make it worthwhile.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Fall River => Providence would require complicated new bridges/tunnel across either the Taunton River or Narragansett Bay, both of which are navigable waterways (so bridges can't impede marine traffic).

I think you'd be far better off going up the existing proposed SCR route to Taunton, and then connecting to the NE Corridor at Attleboro or Mansfield. From there, trains could run through to Boston, or passengers would have an option to transfer in the other direction going to Providence.
NYC-Newport weekender trains always used to go by the around-the-horn route Attleboro-Taunton-FR because the Slades Ferry Bridge on the old Warren Branch was too weight-restricted to take regular heavyweight coaches...so it's not a new thing at all. The trick for RIDOT would be how threadbare can you slash a schedule to make good time on that routing.

In the interim I think enhanced bus frequencies and squaring the subsidy paper barriers at the state line is more realistic. The rail option isn't going to rate until ridership has grown enough to need higher-capacity mode...and we're nowhere near there yet. Any which way that option kind of requires an interim of working the 195 bus levers to stimulate demand.
 

Stlin

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On the vein of future service improvement "hooks" for Fall River, has anyone actually studied out the cost and ridership of a newport extension? I'm imagining 2 stops, Naval Station and Newport (@ RIPTA terminal) and maybe Portsmouth infill. If not, once fall river is operational... I believe some years ago, MassDOT began the process of freight reactivation to the RI state line, but as far as I can tell, there's been no news or progress since 2017, and it doesn't appear on the 20 or 21 CIP. In RI, there's less than 3 miles of mostly "pre grade seperated" new track, two rail bridges, and I'd guess ~10 miles of rehabbing existing track. That RoW is largely intact looking, but last I heard MassDOT and RIDOT was advancing trail with provision for rail for it's portion from Tiverton to Fall River & Battleship Cove; the Mount Hope Greenway. If any of these things progress, at some point this is well worth the cost of paper.
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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Problem is, you're talking about an hour and a half on the train just by itself. Can't really afford the extra time taken for a bus.
Look at that SRTA spider map again. Some of those routes are hella short. These are sub-20 minute trips to City Hall Loop if you're on one of the routes that's only there because of the hills. Nobody's riding an hour...unless they're taking the meandering #2 that's the only one touching the train station.

Yes...you better believe this is a major problem. Pn'R is not an alternative for folks who have easy buses to City Hall. Total indifference to multimodal integration is killer for abdication any/all draw from preexisting transit shares.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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On the vein of future service improvement "hooks" for Fall River, has anyone actually studied out the cost and ridership of a newport extension? I'm imagining 2 stops, Naval Station and Newport (@ RIPTA terminal) and maybe Portsmouth infill. If not, once fall river is operational... I believe some years ago, MassDOT began the process of freight reactivation to the RI state line, but as far as I can tell, there's been no news or progress since 2017, and it doesn't appear on the 20 or 21 CIP. In RI, there's less than 3 miles of mostly "pre grade seperated" new track, two rail bridges, and I'd guess ~10 miles of rehabbing existing track. That RoW is largely intact looking, but last I heard MassDOT and RIDOT was advancing trail with provision for rail for it's portion from Tiverton to Fall River & Battleship Cove; the Mount Hope Greenway. If any of these things progress, at some point this is well worth the cost of paper.
MassCoastal reactivation to the state line is set so Gold Medal Bakery, a big longstanding customer, can switch back to its home rail siding for the first time in 25 years instead of trucking down the street from rail dropoffs at the Port. Also some new customer taking up residence at the pier across from Gold Medal...ship-to-rail road salt I think. The holdup is that MC is getting "donationware" rail hardware surplus from other T projects, so they're not on any clock. Restoration will cross Mt. Hope Ave. to the gas tank farm at the literal state line for a locomotive runaround track.

Tiverton is NON-abandoned. P&W holds active freight rights to the Naval Base under an Out-of-Service designation. This is a reactivation quid pro quo with RIDOT. All they have to do to reactivate is file 30-day notice with abutters (whether it takes 10 years to restore the buried track or not)...no hearings, no NIMBY chaos, no nothing. Running again is a straight FRA inspection.

For that reason no one can really shiv a trail in there as earth-salt move because it's "active". It's only possible if RIDOT is explicitly planning a rail-with-trail redesign, as P&W can be used as the proxy to instantly shut anything down. Therefore this is a very easy one to reactivate. Sakkonet River Bridge is likewise on the OOS designation even though the bridge is physically gone. Channel width is about equal to new $45M Gloucester Draw but with 1 fewer track and no existing bridge to demo, so is a pretty reasonable high-$30's M expense tops. And they are piecemeal upgrading the active line on Aquidneck Island so the tourist RR can start running a general-purpose RDC dinky.

It's by no means high-priority but RIDOT has committed to studying reconnection options if SCR happens. Functionally, ramping up from slow track to commuter-grade track is going to be a very long game much like the Cape...with odds poor for any thru runs if SCR Phase 2 malingers. But RIDOT can probably realize slow-track payoff just getting the tourist train a FR/195 connection and some homeless-man's freight transloading onto the island. So figure some "Flyer" trial being the first reach. And there's also Amtrak potential with a Cape Codder revival that splits/recombines at Taunton into a "Newporter" half. Won't be waiting a lifetime for this reactivation because the utility is a little more varied than Boston-or-bust and can potentially justify itself on slow track at the start...plus the stakes are way lower with the active freight rights cutting off all the usual NIMBY games at the pass.
 

GP40MC

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So where did the IRAP money awarded for the extension to Gold Medal go?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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So where did the IRAP money awarded for the extension to Gold Medal go?
IRAP funding was awarded, but there were two consecutive years of MassWorks grant applications from the City turned down in '18-19 on price dispute (a $6M one that was arguably way more than necessary for the job, and a $3M one that was probably right-sized but the state was still suspicious was being over-padded by the city). Mass Coastal and customers are committed to the installment plan while City sees if third time is the charm on grants, as '20 MassWorks award winners get announced in late-Nov. Stay tuned.
 

Stlin

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MassCoastal reactivation to the state line is set so Gold Medal Bakery, a big longstanding customer, can switch back to its home rail siding for the first time in 25 years instead of trucking down the street from rail dropoffs at the Port. Also some new customer taking up residence at the pier across from Gold Medal...ship-to-rail road salt I think. The holdup is that MC is getting "donationware" rail hardware surplus from other T projects, so they're not on any clock. Restoration will cross Mt. Hope Ave. to the gas tank farm at the literal state line for a locomotive runaround track.

For that reason no one can really shiv a trail in there as earth-salt move because it's "active". It's only possible if RIDOT is explicitly planning a rail-with-trail redesign, as P&W can be used as the proxy to instantly shut anything down.
Any chance on a source for that Fall River reactivation news? This Oct. 2019 Draft Design on the Tiverton Mount Hope Bay Greenway (PDF Warning, large) specifically notes that:
The City of Fall River recently pursued funds to rehabilitate the rail corridor in the city for freight use, however that effort was not successful. No funds or defined project scope have yet materialized.
Edit: in so far as I can tell, it wasn't awarded any funding in the 2012-17 IRAP rounds, or the 2018 or 2019 rounds. But, apparently Fall River also used CPC funds to hire a engineering firm to design a trail option, which appears to assign low priority to rail accomodations, even if they will eventually have no choice.

At least the RIDOT Tiverton design does however make it very clear that the preferred build alternative is rail with trail, with the trail diverging onto either low volume surface streets or onto a new alignment (CRMC greenway buffer). At any rate, this report encapsulates the environmentals of any future restoration of this segment, and as far as I can tell it's good news for future restoration. The bridges and their super and sub structures appear to be in reasonable shape from a cursory inspection. They do call out deteriorated drainage structures, which would need replaced as part of the shared use path and/or rail service; I suppose rail can sneak through early action on bike paths too. They're well into the public engagement stage at this point.
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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Any chance on a source for that Fall River reactivation news? This Oct. 2019 Draft Design on the Tiverton Mount Hope Bay Greenway (PDF Warning, large) specifically notes that:
Press Herald has extensively covered the MassWorks grant saga. The first two tries were based on 3 customers: (1) GM, (2) a sludge transload at the sewage plant at state line end-of-track for transport to an incinerator facility, and (3) the road salt transload biz setting up on the pier up the street from GM. State thought their asking price was too high for too-fuzzy carload numbers, as they didn't have well-refined numbers for the pier transload or sludge pickups. City's trying again as now the pier owner is negotiating for wind turbine assembly rail-to-ship (similar to what Port of New London is using its rail-enabled docks for a L.I. Sound wind farm deployment), and they drew conclusion from the last rejection that the state wants them to diversify the top-line biz prospects a bit more before they commit the bottom-line resources.

Edit: in so far as I can tell, it wasn't awarded any funding in the 2012-17 IRAP rounds, or the 2018 or 2019 rounds.
2015, Borden & Remington award. That's the Port siding Gold Medal currently shares. The grant expanded storage in those tight confines so GM could go to primary railcar bulk-flour deliveries and trim its long-distance trucking shares. That's the impetus for corporate's self-reinvestment in the home siding, where they'll be able to have automated machinery empty it direct into the factory. Knocking their carload count permanently up was the prerequisite for that, so they've been in negotiation ever since the '15 award while Mass Coastal flogged the real estate at the (then-derelict) pier and City worked the sewer plant sludge angle to give it critical mass.

Right now the plan sans another MassWorks or other grant win is to accumulate small bits of funding and "donationware" hardware to build it piecemeal with no set end timetable. The salt pier (already in operation for truck off Middle St.) would be reached first 3300 ft. from end of rehabbed Port track, and not require any grade crossings to get to. GM would be second, another 4500 ft. and 3 private grade crossings. Sewer plant would be last at 2500 more feet and 1 public grade crossing at Mt. Hope Ave. Winning the grant would simply let them do it all in one shot like they want to instead of staggering it way out on installments.

That same design does however make it very clear that the preferred build alternative is rail with trail, with the trail diverging onto either low volume surface streets or onto a new alignment (CRMC greenway buffer). At any rate, this report encapsulates the environmentals of any future restoration of this segment, and as far as I can tell it's good news for future restoration. The bridges and their super and sub structures appear to be in reasonable shape from a cursory inspection, They do call out deteriorated drainage structures, which would need replaced as part of the shared use path and/or rail service; I suppose rail can sneak through early action on bike paths too. They're well into the public engagement stage at this point.
It's not "preferred"...it's mandatory. The Tiverton study can coach rail-with-trail in whatever language it wants, but it became a federally active line again when Mass Coastal--at MassDOT's agreement--sent out 30-day reactivation notices to abutters some 3 years ago to get their parked boats off the ROW...then sent the brush-cutter through to make sure the tow trucks could get in to haul away any scofflaws on Mt. Hope. Federally-speaking it's already paper-active because the primary rights-holder has stated the intent to operate again. And thus the only legally permissible way of making a trail is designing it for a shared-use active ROW. There are no "choices" in the matter, no matter how the study words it. So while it's good that the study is bullish on the feasibility...we have to be explicit here. There is no alternative except trail with clearance separation from presumed-active rail...no functional wiggle room whatsoever when it comes to turning shovels out of that study. Those are simply the federal preemption privileges of being the incumbent active rights-holder. MC can take as many years as they want to actually do the restoration on the installment plan, because this isn't a move that has to be adjudicated at all through the Surface Transportation Board with any public comment or holding-hands with other parties. It's strictly a 1-on-1 open file at the FRA...that they can either keep open by perpetually filing 30-day activation notices, or finalize by calling for an FRA inspection of their restored track to be blessed with go-ahead to operate. And if MC needs an assist asserting itself...P&W also has overhead rights from East Junction, Attleboro to Fall River and the state line for accessing its extant Newport rights described in previous post and can tag-team a support filing for protection of its own route.

And unlike the Cape lines where MC is on a 10-year open-bid rights renewal from the state because Conrail voluntarily sunset its ancestral preemption when it sold out in 1982, the South Coast lines were a filet dispersal from CSX in 2008: ownership direct-conveyed to MassDOT, rights direct-conveyed to MC. Meaning MC is the incumbent inheritor of all 150+ years of vestigial rights dating from CSX, Conrail, Penn Central, NYNH&H, and Old Colony. The state can't terminate them here because it wants a trail only without going in front of the federal STB and trying to prove gross negligence. That's an utter nonstarter when MC is clearly trying like hell to grow new biz on the OOS section, and has succeeded very well at growing new business on the active line. It's either that or overpay them a giant wad to GTFO and retire their rights voluntarily...but there's zero way the state can justify a one-time buyout vs. the years of revenue passed up (or get that past the local Legislative bloc who are gung-ho for this restoration).

So...rail-with-trail supervised by the line-owning states at no operating demerit (e.g. no time-of-day restrictions on freight ops so the walkers/bikers can frolic off-footprint or anything like that) is the only build Alternative permissible. Anything other than that given lip service in the Tiverton study is a nonstarter, and window-dressing to give abutters the warm-and-fuzzies that they have more options than they actually do. A reactivation from OOS is a completely different and entirely more closed process than reactivation out of landbanking. Given that reactivation plans are already in motion to the MA state line and can take as long as they bloody feel like it to get moving, it needs to be underscored just how limited--nay, virtually singular--the trail choices are. It isn't a negotiation; it's take-it-or-leave-it with the side room available. Tiverton legally isn't any different with the RIDOT/P&W trump card, just not as immediately constricting because 30-day notices haven't been filed on that side of the border yet. I suppose some not-smart planning entity could build a "trail-in-rail's-envelope" a little clearance-carelessly and get away with it for some years there...but they're S.O.L. and out a lot of sunk-cost trail landscaping wherever clearances foul if P&W ever does file FRA notice so I also can't picture any RIDOT-supervised trail job risking getting sloppy. If this is to be a real risk-measured thing, it's going to cost the going rate of a full clearance separation on the ROW property lines. Cut corners won't be allowed period in MA where the reactivation process has already started...and would simply be ill-advised in RI.
 
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HelloBostonHi

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It's been awhile since anyone has posted actual project updates so I'll give it a go, they have a weekly email newsletter and post updates on their site: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/south-coast-rail-construction-activity

The big news is the early action bridges and culverts are all finishing up/done, demolition is done, and construction is starting on the Fall River branch with clearing and retaining walls. The Construction for the New Bedford branch (and Middleboro) got the Notice to Proceed last month, predicted turnover date for the whole thing is August 2023.

Oh and a pretty good presentation summarizing what's happened so far with some photos: https://cdn.mbta.com/sites/default/...fmcb-11-south-coast-rail-quarterly-update.pdf
 

jlichyen

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95% of the work is a pre-requisite for the full build project anyway. Only the Middleboro secondary portion is extra
Unless I'm misunderstanding you, it seems it would have been a better idea to do phase 2 before phase 1? Yeah, they don't serve the actual south coast until the very end of the project, but at least they build the hardest part first and don't overwhelm the single-tracked segment shared with three other lines?
 

HelloBostonHi

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Unless I'm misunderstanding you, it seems it would have been a better idea to do phase 2 before phase 1? Yeah, they don't serve the actual south coast until the very end of the project, but at least they build the hardest part first and don't overwhelm the single-tracked segment shared with three other lines?
That needs an estimated extra 2 billion that they just don't have. Especially with the current economic situation I wouldn't expect phase 2 anytime soon unless there's a sudden influx of federal grant money. It really came down to what they can afford to do, not what's best. That, and the myraid of complaints about wetlands and abutters in the phase 2 route.

And honestly, if we're going to spend an extra 2 billion on commuter rail, I can think of better places to put it
 

The EGE

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Phase 2 is never going to happen as currently planned. $2 billion for 15 miles of reactivated track, with almost zero new intermediate ridership, through a density crater, with 24 new grade crossings, through three towns that don't want it and specifically don't want grade crossings, for marginal improvement to South Coast service? Not a chance.

The proper solution has been staring us in the face since 1995: the Attleboro bypass.
Annotation 2020-11-25 102822.jpg

Just 2.5 miles of new rail ROW, entirely along an existing and nearly flat power line ROW. Only two new grade crossings, both of which would be easy to bridge. The rest is just upgrades of active freight rail; of the 17 crossings, half are easy eliminations. (You could probably trench through Taunton to eliminate the rest and still save a lot of money.) Two new stations: Norton (wherever the town wants it), and Taunton at the bus terminal next to downtown. Improvements on the NEC would be relatively modest - probably an Amtrak/freight passing track at Mansfield, siding at Sharon, and the long-desired triple-track from Readville to 128. A much easier sell to the towns - Attleboro could probably be convinced because the SCR trains serving Sharon and Mansfield would allow some faster expresses. (Two fewer station stops versus the Stoughton route, and no single-track swamp trestle, means your schedules aren't as constrained.)
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Attleboro bypass was *violently* opposed by Town of Norton. And Taunton had (way more legit/substantive) major issues with that routing engaging all 15 (!) grade crossings in town on the Middleboro Secondary on a double-barrel commuter schedule...with steep traffic demerits where they cluster one crossing every 2/10ths mile through 2 miles of dead-center downtown. That was the very first of the DEIR Alts. eliminated, way before the Army Corps FEIR broke the Stoughton Line with that single-track trestle insanity through the swamp + skip-stoppage requirements. The M'boro Alternative is a service shit sandwich, but don't automatically assume the Attleboro Alt. looks the least bit rosy by comparison. It had a multitude of hard-to-overcome problems.

A *properly* constructed Stoughton Alt. is still king of the heap on ridership. And only hits 2 of the 15 Taunton crossings on the Middleboro Secondary while avoiding all of the most-problematic dead-center Downtown ones that the Attleboro Alt. was forced to engage. The 4 other Taunton crossings exclusive to the Stoughton Line were all minor and well out of Downtown. Hands-down Stoughton was a faster and far less-invasive route through Taunton because of the polar-opposite crossing disparity to the Attleboro Alt. The only thing that has to be done is challenge the Bush Admin. Army Corp's bullshit trestle requirement for the old double-track embankment through Hock Swamp...which (per lengthier other explainers) is challengeable because a Clinton Admin. Army Corps did not object to the Greenbush Line's far more environmentally sensitive DT embankment through Scituate's marshlands making the sum total difference between the 2 restoration projects arbitrary politics. The Corps' kingmaker arbitariness was significantly defanged in the Obama Admin. over fishy calls exactly like this, so the DEIR is ripe for a re-try if anyone cares enough to press a case (which Baker/Pollack have made clear they never will, but maybe some subsequent regime can be talked into). Lose the trestle and $1B immediately comes off the project cost while mending all the skip-stop breakage on the mainline. Someone just has to give enough shits to try for it.

If you can get twin-bill :30 RUR schedules down to Taunton Depot on (1) a Stoughton Line mended from the DEIR's intentional breakage, and (2) with due attention paid to NEC capacity Readville-Canton Jct.--which no other South Coast-related study ever considered within-scope to its own demerit--then you can ensure hourlies to each of the endpoints that will actually hit paydirt on ridership. But pretty much nothing else at these sad 90-minute or worse intervals--including the DEIR-sabotaged single-tracked Stoughton Alt.--will accomplish that. Attleboro Alt. included, because more NEC running south of Canton is going to net something sub-hourly on branch frequencies...and that's probably the paydirt threshold that must be upheld.


This would be a fantastic project if actual hourlies to the cities were ever in the cards. We've just had everything less than and except that threshold shoved down our throats instead, and this shell game where the clearly bullshit FEIR by an Army Corps that got reined in afterwards for submitting too many bullshit FEIR's gets treated as some sacrosanct immovable object instead of a challenge ripe for a fight. This is the end result.

It never had to be this unacceptable. It was an explicit choice somebody made to spend to pornography on unusable service levels. Never forget that they willingly chose utter frequency brokenness and shit service integration that rather than choosing to fight for anything remotely taut, frequent, or coordinated with last-mile feeders. Chose this.
 

GP40MC

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Attleboro bypass was *violently* opposed by Town of Norton. And Taunton had (way more legit/substantive) major issues with that routing engaging all 15 (!) grade crossings in town on the Middleboro Secondary on a double-barrel commuter schedule...with steep traffic demerits where they cluster one crossing every 2/10ths mile through 2 miles of dead-center downtown. That was the very first of the DEIR Alts. eliminated, way before the Army Corps FEIR broke the Stoughton Line with that single-track trestle insanity through the swamp + skip-stoppage requirements. The M'boro Alternative is a service shit sandwich, but don't automatically assume the Attleboro Alt. looks the least bit rosy by comparison. It had a multitude of hard-to-overcome problems.

A *properly* constructed Stoughton Alt. is still king of the heap on ridership. And only hits 2 of the 15 Taunton crossings on the Middleboro Secondary while avoiding all of the most-problematic dead-center Downtown ones that the Attleboro Alt. was forced to engage. The 4 other Taunton crossings exclusive to the Stoughton Line were all minor and well out of Downtown. Hands-down Stoughton was a faster and far less-invasive route through Taunton because of the polar-opposite crossing disparity to the Attleboro Alt. The only thing that has to be done is challenge the Bush Admin. Army Corp's bullshit trestle requirement for the old double-track embankment through Hock Swamp...which (per lengthier other explainers) is challengeable because a Clinton Admin. Army Corps did not object to the Greenbush Line's far more environmentally sensitive DT embankment through Scituate's marshlands making the sum total difference between the 2 restoration projects arbitrary politics. The Corps' kingmaker arbitariness was significantly defanged in the Obama Admin. over fishy calls exactly like this, so the DEIR is ripe for a re-try if anyone cares enough to press a case (which Baker/Pollack have made clear they never will, but maybe some subsequent regime can be talked into). Lose the trestle and $1B immediately comes off the project cost while mending all the skip-stop breakage on the mainline. Someone just has to give enough shits to try for it.

If you can get twin-bill :30 RUR schedules down to Taunton Depot on (1) a Stoughton Line mended from the DEIR's intentional breakage, and (2) with due attention paid to NEC capacity Readville-Canton Jct.--which no other South Coast-related study ever considered within-scope to its own demerit--then you can ensure hourlies to each of the endpoints that will actually hit paydirt on ridership. But pretty much nothing else at these sad 90-minute or worse intervals--including the DEIR-sabotaged single-tracked Stoughton Alt.--will accomplish that. Attleboro Alt. included, because more NEC running south of Canton is going to net something sub-hourly on branch frequencies...and that's probably the paydirt threshold that must be upheld.


This would be a fantastic project if actual hourlies to the cities were ever in the cards. We've just had everything less than and except that threshold shoved down our throats instead, and this shell game where the clearly bullshit FEIR by an Army Corps that got reined in afterwards for submitting too many bullshit FEIR's gets treated as some sacrosanct immovable object instead of a challenge ripe for a fight. This is the end result.

It never had to be this unacceptable. It was an explicit choice somebody made to spend to pornography on unusable service levels. Never forget that they willingly chose utter frequency brokenness and shit service integration that rather than choosing to fight for anything remotely taut, frequent, or coordinated with last-mile feeders. Chose this.
Brings back memories of the Norton Gang (CCATS)! Battled them in the New Bedford Standard-Times for a while until one of them went over the edge!
 

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