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

Brattle Loop

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I like the routes but I would have the New Bedford-Fall River route swing by UMass Dartmouth (about a third of the way from New Bedford toward Fall River and south of Route 6). That college is a central destination for a lot of younger people in the area. I went there so I know.
As someone who also went to UMass Dartmouth (albeit only for a semester) I certainly agree that UMass is a central destination in the area and should absolutely be served by any hypothetical New Bedford-Fall River rail service. However, it would be incredibly challenging to put a station on campus or even next to it due to the adjacent developments surrounding the campus on almost all sides. Any station geared towards UMass Dartmouth students or faculty would probably be best sited at the Faunce Corner Road grade crossing, with a shuttle bus between the station and the campus.
Practically impossible. The ROW by UMass Dartmouth is impossible to serve along with New Bedford without a reverse move, and cannot be used to serve Fall River. (Even if the trail was restored to rail, there's nowhere to put a station, and you'd still be stuck with a reverse move, which we know from Kingston/Plymouth practice is not acceptable in terms of quality CR service.)
 

themissinglink

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Practically impossible. The ROW by UMass Dartmouth is impossible to serve along with New Bedford without a reverse move, and cannot be used to serve Fall River. (Even if the trail was restored to rail, there's nowhere to put a station, and you'd still be stuck with a reverse move, which we know from Kingston/Plymouth practice is not acceptable in terms of quality CR service.)
I probably didn't do a good enough job explaining exactly what I meant, so let me clarify. I was specifically talking about a hypothetical service going between Fall River and New Bedford, not South Coast Rail. Trying to send any SCR trains down the Watuppa Branch and necessitating the reverse move that you mentioned would definitely not be a good idea.
 

Brattle Loop

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I probably didn't do a good enough job explaining exactly what I meant, so let me clarify. I was specifically talking about a hypothetical service going between Fall River and New Bedford, not South Coast Rail. Trying to send any SCR trains down the Watuppa Branch and necessitating the reverse move that you mentioned would definitely not be a good idea.
Ahh, okay, I get it. I was responding to two different posts at once and missed the "hypothetical" note in yours. I agree that if there was ever service between them it would make a ton of sense to get as close to the college as possible. (I don't think direct service between the two cities is likely anytime soon, but should it ever happen then serving UMass Dartmouth is a no-brainer.)
 

Charlie_mta

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Practically impossible. The ROW by UMass Dartmouth is impossible to serve along with New Bedford without a reverse move, and cannot be used to serve Fall River. (Even if the trail was restored to rail, there's nowhere to put a station, and you'd still be stuck with a reverse move, which we know from Kingston/Plymouth practice is not acceptable in terms of quality CR service.)
The development in the area is fragmented enough to allow a corridor or two to access UMass-Dartmouth. If an LRV line follows the I-195 corridor, or even if it's coming from downtown New Bedford via a dedicated median on Route 6, there's ample opportunity to make a ROW to access UMass-Dartmouth with minimal taking of homes or wetland impacts. The redline(s) are potential corridors:
 

Brattle Loop

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The development in the area is fragmented enough to allow a corridor or two to access UMass-Dartmouth. If an LRV line follows the I-195 corridor, or even if it's coming from downtown New Bedford via a dedicated median on Route 6, there's ample opportunity to make a ROW to access UMass-Dartmouth with minimal taking of homes or wetland impacts. The redline(s) are potential corridors:
Oh, sure, definitely possible if we're talking Reasonable and/or Crazy Transit Pitches. My comment was based on the impression (given which thread we're in) that the suggestion was to serve the campus area via existing railroad branch, which is infeasible.
 

Charlie_mta

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jass

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As someone who also went to UMass Dartmouth (albeit only for a semester) I certainly agree that UMass is a central destination in the area and should absolutely be served by any hypothetical New Bedford-Fall River rail service. However, it would be incredibly challenging to put a station on campus or even next to it due to the adjacent developments surrounding the campus on almost all sides. Any station geared towards UMass Dartmouth students or faculty would probably be best sited at the Faunce Corner Road grade crossing, with a shuttle bus between the station and the campus.

To get back to the discussion about SCR, here's the proposed track map for Phase II, with egregious amounts of single track:
View attachment 18987
Single track can be fine if its pre-planned with a complete schedule and passing zones at the right places (usually stations)
 

Brattle Loop

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Single track can be fine if its pre-planned with a complete schedule and passing zones at the right places (usually stations)
This is true, though while I don't know how old that map is, as I recall from earlier discussion by F-Line and others, the amount (and location) of single-tracking on previous iterations of the Stoughton-Taunton SCR alignment made the schedules very brittle (to the point of at least suspicion that part of the electrification requirement was to make the schedules work on paper at all).
 

themissinglink

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Single track can be fine if its pre-planned with a complete schedule and passing zones at the right places (usually stations)
The biggest problem with South Coast Rail single track is the proposed single track only trestle over Hockomock Swamp being mandated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Over an existing double track width embankment.

If they wanted to change this proposed segment to double track in the future, they'd have to build a second trestle or rebuild the first one entirely. Which certainly isn't a small task seeing as how the proposed trestle is to cost like $50 million or something like that.
 

Tallguy

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The biggest problem with South Coast Rail single track is the proposed single track only trestle over Hockomock Swamp being mandated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Over an existing double track width embankment.

If they wanted to change this proposed segment to double track in the future, they'd have to build a second trestle or rebuild the first one entirely. Which certainly isn't a small task seeing as how the proposed trestle is to cost like $50 million or something like that.
If they were serious, they would have appealed the Cof E demand
 

Brattle Loop

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The biggest problem with South Coast Rail single track is the proposed single track only trestle over Hockomock Swamp being mandated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Over an existing double track width embankment.

If they wanted to change this proposed segment to double track in the future, they'd have to build a second trestle or rebuild the first one entirely. Which certainly isn't a small task seeing as how the proposed trestle is to cost like $50 million or something like that.
If they were serious, they would have appealed the Cof E demand
As I recall, F-Line had a fairly comprehensive screed about the ludicrousness of that demand and the practical chances of getting it overturned on appeal. That said, it would as noted require the state (and at the moment Baker & Company) to do something more difficult and more expensive than born-flawed Phase I, so, unfortunately, the gulf between "could happen" and "will happen" looks like a big one on this, at least for now. 😞
 

Riverside

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Alright, so here's a reasonable transit pitch to enhance SCR: allocate one additional trainset, and double frequencies to each branch by coordinating a timed transfer in East Taunton.

Now, before you go grab your throwing vegetables, let me be clear that timed transfers suck. Nobody likes settling into a seat for 25 minutes, and then schlepping back out into the cold/rain/snow/heat to board another train, settling into another seat for 65 minutes, and then trekking into the subway for one last leg of the journey.

But this whole situation very clearly sucks. A colleague once told me (about another situation), "This is like being given chicken shit and being told to make chicken salad." I'm not saying that a timed transfer is a good thing. But I'm raising the possibility that it might be preferable to the alternative.

The Phase 1 proposal calls for 6 trains to/from the South Coast during each peak period -- 3 from New Bedford, 3 from Fall River. Now, first of all, let's compare how many inbound peak trains cities of similar size had before covid:
  • Lowell: 8
  • Brockton: 5
  • Lynn: 8
  • Lawrence: 5
Historically, 5 inbound peak trains has been the minimum on branches going to cities. Greenbush and Kingston usually had 4.

The most recent DSEIR proposes 70-min headways on each branch (page 2-48) but does so basically just by extending the then-current Middleboro schedule. We know from the current clock-facing schedules that the Braintree-South Station stretch can definitely accommodate three inbound trains per hour. In the past, we know that the T was able to swing 13 inbound trains arriving between 6:15am and 9:15am, though trains would skip random stops in Red Line territory. 13 inbound trains during those three hours means that Braintree-South Station could in fact accommodate four inbound trains per hour.

If we extend our definition of rush hour by 15 minutes, we get one more slot, which allows us to fit 6 South Coast trains, 4 Kingston trains, and 4 Greenbush trains arriving from 6:00am to 9:15am.

So maybe the schedule would look like this:

040070002042004072006044008074010046012076
Greenbush​
5:15​
6:15​
7:15​
8:15​
Kingston​
5:00​
-​
5:45​
-​
6:45​
-​
7:45​
-​
Fall River​
-​
-​
5:00​
-​
-​
-​
6:00​
-​
-​
-​
7:00​
-​
-​
-​
New Bedford​
-​
-​
-​
-​
5:30​
-​
-​
-​
6:30​
-​
-​
-​
7:30​
-​
Middleboro​
-​
-​
5:30​
-​
6:00​
-​
6:30​
-​
7:00​
-​
7:30​
-​
8:00​
-​
Boston​
6:00​
6:15​
6:30​
6:45​
7:00​
7:15​
7:30​
7:45​
8:00​
8:15​
8:30​
8:45​
9:00​
9:15​

The upside here is that all termini enjoy hourly departures, no earlier than 5am and arriving no later than 9:15am. The downside is that, because of the extra long journey, Fall River and New Bedford each get one fewer morning train: with the 15-minute slots, you either need to leave super early (i.e. before 5am) or arrive after 9:15. So that means 3 trains per peak, rather than the 4 trains enjoyed by (the much less populated) Kingston and Greenbush. (It also means that the latest peak train to depart Fall River leaves at 7am, which is still quite early.)

Fall River and New Bedford are both about the size of Brockton and Lynn. Lynn currently enjoys 30-minute headways, as would Brockton under the above schedule, both very rightly so. Yet Fall River and New Bedford would be saddled with 60-minute headways, and the fewest number of peak trains in the system.

Now, a timed transfer in Taunton would suck, to be clear. But it would enable 6 peak period transit departures from each city, at 30-minute headways, and, based on the DSEIR's own analysis (page 2-15, in discussion of a transfer at a rebuilt Bridgewater), would only add 5 minutes to the total journey time. Moreover, the proposed East Taunton station sits on a two-track segment and will have an island platform, enabling a direct cross-platform transfer (page 2-43):

Screen Shot 2021-11-19 at 7.01.59 PM.png


Additionally, the availability of the shuttle train may increase operational reliability and flexibility: instead of having to wait for a set to return from Boston, there will be another set available much closer. Furthermore, the DSEIR notes (as seen in my addendum below) that several single-level coaches will need to be replaced with bi-levels. Those singles could be reallocated to the shuttle train. (As I read the DSEIR, it does not otherwise suggest uses for those coaches.)

We know that a forced transfer was panned in public feedback meetings. So, like I said, we know that this isn't a fantastic idea. But there would still be a one-seat ride available every hour, with the added knowledge that missing your train means a delay of 30 minutes, rather than a whole hour.

Addendum: Okay, after all that, I found a proposed schedule buried in the DSEIR, on page 2-55.

SCR Peak Schedule.png


In my read-through of the report, I couldn't find any justification for the ~70-minute headways. Like I said, I think all they did was extend the existing Middleboro schedule, and add an extra trip in between the 5:20 and 6:00 departures.

So, there's no reason why we can't apply a regular clock-facing schedule to the South Coast Rail extension, providing regular 60-minute headways to Fall River and New Bedford, and then 30-minute headways to Taunton and north. Add in a shuttle and timed transfer, and you have sub-100-minute journeys to Boston available every 30 minutes.

Post-script: and if anyone is wondering why SCR Phase 1 makes one-seat Commuter Rail to Bourne basically impossible until Phase 2 is built, check out that schedule grid I put together above. No trains available to extend to Bourne, and each branch already contending with 1 hour peak headways.
 

Brattle Loop

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Alright, so here's a reasonable transit pitch to enhance SCR: allocate one additional trainset, and double frequencies to each branch by coordinating a timed transfer in East Taunton.

(Editor's Note: Quote section shortened for due to post length limit.)

I'll leave it to other people with more operational knowledge and experience to chew over the schedule numbers (I have no reason to doubt the statements on what the main line can handle, I just don't have the knowledge basis to confirm or question it myself) and throw out a couple of thoughts.

First, I would question whether an SCR shuttle train is an appropriately-efficient use of equipment assets at all. I'm unclear if you're talking about a captive or semi-captive (peak) equipment set, or just bogarting one from elsewhere to pad the fleet by 1 set to have a few SCR sets rotate in and out of shuttle and main-duty assignments as the schedule demands, but in any event it's a +1 set to SCR that could, alternatively, be used elsewhere, meaning (to me at least) that it needs to justify itself being dedicated to SCR rather than being used elsewhere.

That leads into the second thought, which is that what would justify that set's use, ridership, isn't going to be thrilled by the forced transfer. It was panned for a reason. You correctly knowledge how it's less than ideal, but I'm not sure whether we've pegged just how unfavorable people would be towards that service. The shorter the window for the connection, the more brittle it becomes, and even if you make it as short as humanly possible, it makes an already-long journey that much longer, and way more of a hassle. I'd be concerned that those shuttles would see very poor ridership; I know I for one would deliberately skip the shuttle train and take the nonstop even if it had a worse arrival or departure time, just to avoid the transfer (though I'm a Haverhill Line rider where there were regular pre-pandemic scrambles for seats whenever the Reading trains were short a car, so I may be biased based on desire for a seat that might not exist on SCR if the ridership isn't packed-to-the-gills from the get-go, which of course we don't expect it to be).

It's certainly an interesting proposal, and it might be worth a try, but I would not be surprised if the numbers don't work for it.
 

GP40MC

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As I recall, F-Line had a fairly comprehensive screed about the ludicrousness of that demand and the practical chances of getting it overturned on appeal. That said, it would as noted require the state (and at the moment Baker & Company) to do something more difficult and more expensive than born-flawed Phase I, so, unfortunately, the gulf between "could happen" and "will happen" looks like a big one on this, at least for now. 😞
I saved F-Line's screed somewhere. If I find it, I wonder if its okay to repost here? Was on Railroad.Net.
 

Stlin

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F-Line to Dudley said:
Re: Fall River/New Bedford Commuter Rail

I did a daily New Bedford-Copley Sq. commute for 3-1/2 months in 2000 when living with a relative. Forced into the move so I could scrape together some apartment money from my temp job after being crushed by student loan payments. Drove from Acushnet Ave. to 18 to 140 to 79 to 105 to Middleboro Station, and caught the equivalent of today's train 004 in. No traffic anywhere because I was coming from the north of NB at a godforsaken early hour and 140 is always a piece of cake north of the Kings Highway exit. Would've been a different story if I were downtown and had to engage 195.

Several days I had to drive all the way in because I had an apartment-hunting itinerary to do. I pretty much wanted to die on those days. Between the clusterfuck at the 24/140 interchange and all the daily suffering Stoughton-north on 24 & 93, it was enough to swear me off ever living away from the train again. And that was traffic 19 years ago, not today.

I've made the same M'boro train + drive trip many times since to get picked up by family scattered between Swansea and Wareham when visiting. Especially when Cape traffic @ 24/495 is horrible it's just easier that way. Even though I'm not a native myself (CT) about half my extended family lives on the South Coast, with one parent being born in FR and raised in NB. They remember taking Budd RDC's to Boston as kids back when commuter rail last ran pre-'58.


Commutes are highly variable down there. As mentioned, mine was a piece of cake because I was closer to Acushnet than Downtown. 195 when you're caught up in the east-west flow of commutes...not so much. The consistently weak (even pre- service reduction) ridership projections for Freetown Station sort of reflect that dichotomy, as it projects off even by transit share of population rather than raw population. But I don't think there's any question the demand is there if the frequencies are delivered. The problem is simply that the frequencies are not minimally acceptable by any definition, and both the FEIR Stoughton routing and the Middleboro routing cripple it further by omitting scheduled stops with access to employment in the Greater of Greater Boston (i.e. 128 belt). And there's lots to skewer on the unwillingness to incorporate multimodal planning as any meaningful part of the last 20 years of process...specifically the implications on the SRTA networks around South Coast stops, and increasing transit shares writ-large with a push from this project.

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

RE: the Army Corps. See here for a general overview on the politics. They've gotten a bit precious of themselves swinging a big stick on strictly civil projects, and for morphing into an ungovernable collection of fiefdoms (9 regional divisions, all headed by generals who get to throw their weight around on their own agendas). As the Wiki article shows, wetlands and water resources jurisdictions were the hammer the Corps wielded to insert itself and pick project priorities over the wishes of the Federal Government and states. In some particularly pork-laden cases, they ended up pushing shoddy work because the right backs got scratched. And in other cases they tanked badly needed projects with unfavorable environmental reviews because there wasn't enough incentive in it for moi. There have been legislative and executive efforts to curb the Corps' power in recent years, after things really got out-of-hand in the 2000's. But basically they got too big and the Army brass too egotistical, so the Corps ended up abandoning too much of its original limited mission to become its own 'shadow' government on whatever things civilly engineered--water, transportation, ecology--they deem lucrative to sustaining their power.

For SCR they were definitely playing decider against the project. And that is not surprising given that the feds looked pretty dimly on funding the project during the Bush Admin. For awhile the Romney Admin. here was trying to fluff up its FTA cred by calling it "intercity" instead of commuter rail, but the feds weren't buying it. The Army Corps had to come in because there were wetlands, but the resulting FEIR is a travesty of rhetorical bullshit.

The line was historically double-track end-to-end and still features a double-track embankment through Hock Swamp. However, the Corps decided that the embankment would not be enough protection and ordered a trestle with catch-basins to be constructed instead on top of the existing DT embankment at a cost premium of close to a half-billion. Not just any trestle...but a single-track only trestle. Why not a double-track trestle? They never said why...just single-track because said so. Maybe DT would've been a step too far and gotten the state to call BS on them. But the trestle then wrecked the schedules (which were already threadbare from the lack of attention to the NEC), forcing the branches to each skip-stop a separate half of the stations from Taunton to Canton Jct. And then because the train meets were so impossibly narrow, they threw on the electrification requirement--despite the difference vs. diesel being only 1-4 minutes at peak and 1-2 minutes off-peak--to distract that the meets were too tight to ever actually work in-practice. In-practice there would be trains paused at North Easton (the only stop scheduled for all trains) for "schedule adjustment" for minutes on end every rush hour.

Why did they sandbag it? The feds weren't ever going to fund it, so a favorable FEIR wouldn't have advanced project starts at all. It still wouldn't advance project starts today because Phase II is a big chunk of money even done right and it's too much easier for a lackadaisical local Admin. to shove nothingburger service quality down Phase I rather than actually give an honest look at the project's valuation. However, if they larded it up with so much of their own demands--a trestle, the wires because of the meets caused by the trestle--ensuring that if the state really wanted this product badly enough to "Go Big", the Corps would have all kinds of lucrative work ahead of them surveying post-dig spots in the Swamp while hopefully some of their chummiest contractors got to work beside them.

The same probably would not happen today because they've been curbed just a little bit by subsequent Administrations on the kind of gross overreach they were doing in the 2000's right when they were working on SCR. A state motivated enough to challenge the obvious whoppers--such as the meets that can't possibly work on single-track--might be able to get a do-over from a somewhat tamed newer Corps staff. And there is precedent to throw back at them over the swamp. The Greenbush Line, formerly contiguous double-track and likewise abandoned in south-of-Cohasset the same year of 1960 that the Stoughton Line was abandoned south of MA 106, was given the full greenlight by the Corps to run on its historical double-track embankment through several tidal estuaries between North Scituate and Greenbush without special mitigation. Through much longer and more environmentally sensitive lands than Hock Swamp, which absorbs runoff from 24 and 495 all day every day. Greenbush's EIS was done by a previous Admin's Army Corps and a previous general in charge of the North Atlantic Division.

Yes, it matters the world to challenge an old regime's overreach with a new regime that is--if not sympathetic to the project itself--at least sympathetic to the chore of having to constantly clean up some predecessor idiot's mistakes and overreaches. Another crack at the FEIR is very unlikely to come out the same way the last one did. The last one was almost too insane to believe at the amount of overreach and incompetence. But the state has to try it (and give the NEC full treatment this time) because the service will never be good enough any other way.
The second half of Flines post I quoted above is probably substantively similar in covering the issues here.
 

Riverside

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It's certainly an interesting proposal, and it might be worth a try, but I would not be surprised if the numbers don't work for it.
Yeah I mean, ultimately this is how I also feel about the idea. As you say, we haven't identified the strength of the unfavorability about transfers. Does a 50-50 split between one-seat and two-seat seem significantly more palatable than exclusively two-seats? And likewise, we'd need to better understand the low ridership numbers -- are they a result of frequencies, lengthy travel times, or both? Depending on the split between those two factors, the availability of off-set two-seaters could make the difference, because if you miss your intended one-seater, you aren't as as hosed as you would be if you had to wait a full hour.

On the other hand, the objections may well be to any forced transfer, and to the lengthy travel times. In which case, yeah -- a shuttle service will do very little. I would not be surprised either if the numbers don't work for it, but it does seem worth considering.

The shorter the window for the connection, the more brittle it becomes, and even if you make it as short as humanly possible, it makes an already-long journey that much longer, and way more of a hassle.
So I suppose I should clarify. The only way I can see this being workable is if the transfer is guaranteed, even if that means holding the through train in order to make the connection. Which, as you say, creates additional complexity in the schedule. The only saving grace I see is that the two trains in question should have their respective branchlines entirely to themselves, which of course doesn't rule out delays from equipment failure, etc.

And what about outbound service?
First, I would question whether an SCR shuttle train is an appropriately-efficient use of equipment assets at all. I'm unclear if you're talking about a captive or semi-captive (peak) equipment set, or just bogarting one from elsewhere to pad the fleet by 1 set to have a few SCR sets rotate in and out of shuttle and main-duty assignments as the schedule demands, but in any event it's a +1 set to SCR that could, alternatively, be used elsewhere, meaning (to me at least) that it needs to justify itself being dedicated to SCR rather than being used elsewhere.
Yeah so I think these two questions go hand in hand -- and are both legitimate critiques. When I was sketching out the schedules, I was assuming that only a peak direction connection would be guaranteed, but did so mostly to simplify the planning. As you (Brattle Loop) point out, there basically are two options from an equipment perspective:
  • A "shuttle set" remains isolated to the two branchlines, and pings back and forth between Fall River, East Taunton, and New Bedford
  • A "Millbrae move" in which a full set runs out one branch as a direct train, returns to East Taunton as a shuttle train to meet the inbound direct from the other branch, reverses out the other branch and then returns north as direct service to Boston
    • I'm calling this a "Millbrae move" because this mirrors the pattern used by BART's weekday Red Line service to Millbrae, where service runs out one branch to Millbrae, reverses back to a second branch to SFO Airport, before heading back to San Francisco proper.
    • (Yes, technically the track topology is different, but my point is that each branch gets served by the same train one after another.)
The "Millbrae move" option would be much more complicated, but would offer more "go-time" flexibility for last-minute hot-swaps, since all equipment would be suitable for all possible trips. However, by definition this would mean increasing the size of the "SCR fleet" by one. As you say, it may be hard to justify this use of rolling stock. (Although I think it's worth considering whether there would be capacity elsewhere on the system to use an extra set. We know for example that there wouldn't be capacity elsewhere on the Old Colony, and the only place I can think of on the South Side where there might be slack peak capacity is the Fairmount Line -- at least not until certain capital improvements on the NEC and B&A.)

Regarding outbound/reverse-peak connections: the simplest way to accomplish this would be to have the shuttle train wait at East Taunton for the next southbound train, make a synchronized departure, and then basically run in parallel. Luckily the running time on each branch is near identical, so the schedule coordination would not be a herculean task.

Finally, with respect to equipment: I alluded to this earlier but there might be a little bit of a "cheat" here... The DSEIR calls for "topping off" several of the existing sets which were (at the time) used for Middleboro services, replacing several single-levels with bi-levels. I don't believe that they specify a use for the singles that are being swapped out, and it actually is only 4 or 5 coaches total -- barely long enough to run in revenue service, I believe. So, yes, it's very possible that those coaches could be effectively used elsewhere -- tagged on to 7-car trains to make full-8's -- but these would be 4-5 coaches that aren't currently allocated for any specific use. (And for what it's worth, I would not want to waste a rush hour slot into Boston with a dinky of 5 singles.) So it may be a matter of "making use of otherwise useless leftovers."

^ Is all that a reach? Yep, absolutely. Plus, you also need to find a locomotive to use.

The alternative to all of this would be run shuttle coach buses for timed transfers at East Taunton. The upside is that all of the stations are very close to highways and off-ramps. The downside is that it would definitely not be a cross-platform transfer, and reliability would be even less than on rail. Still, if those buses were regularly filling up, that would point to instituting rail shuttles later on.

The second half of Flines post I quoted above is probably substantively similar in covering the issues here.
So F-Line explained a little bit of this, but I'm still not clear. Why exactly does the Army Corps of Engineers have anything to say -- to say nothing of actual jurisdiction -- about this project?
 

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