From the studio that brought you “Project Blue-Lace
”, now presenting the Milford-Medway-Millis-Medfield-Mattapan-Ashmont High-Speed Line
(or “MMMMM Line” for short):
(As the image says, to be clear, this is not a serious proposal. This is another exercise in crayoning gone awry, a lesson in not knowing when to stop.)
Heading west from Mattapan, the MMMMM Line tunnels under River St (as we’ve discussed when proposing Red Line extensions to Fairmount and Dedham) and joins the Fairmount Line’s ROW where it is wider and supports four tracks. At Readville, it flies over the NEC to pick up the abandoned Dedham Branch to run to Dedham Center.
From Dedham Center, the MMMMM Line enters a reconfigured VFW Parkway with dedicated transit lanes or a median, and heads north. Just south of the Needham Line ROW (converted to Orange Line), the MMMMM Line leaves the parkway and hooks into a Millennium Park transfer station to provide connection to the Orange Line.
Then we head west along the Hersey cutoff, now abandoned from mainline usage, to meet the Green Line at Needham Junction. (This also gives the MMMMM Line access to the Green Line maintenance facilities, albeit at some distance.)
From here, we turn southwest on to the abandoned Milis Line. Long stretches without stops finally give the “High-Speed” Line a chance to live up to its name. The view is gorgeous, as our trolley flies through the forest. Frequencies south of Needham Junction are significantly lower, meaning that there are some stretches of single track along here, which helps accommodate a mixed use trail alongside.
In some saner version of this “proposal” (a term I use here very loosely), the MMMMM Line terminates in Medfield, either at the historic Medfield Jct location, or a mile or two to the southeast in downtown Medfield, traversed either by street-running or by running alongside (not replacing) the Framingham Secondary tracks. But that would just make this the MM Line – why stop at two M’s when you can have five
(Again, to be clear, I am not – in this post – seriously advocating running light rail from Ashmont to Medfield, to say nothing of Milford.)
We continue on southwest on the abandoned ROW until we hit West Medway, at which point this “proposal” required a little bit of creative planning, since the only ROWs to Milford from here are very roundabout. Thus we shift to street-running again, hopping over to Route 109 and riding it all the way in to Milford. In Milford proper, we make a couple of stops in town once the density picks up, before terminating at the Milford Medical Center. (Which I suppose could warrant calling this the MMMMMMM Line if we add “Milford Medical” at the front.)
End to end, the line runs around 30 miles.
So, as with “Project Blue Lace”, this is what you get when you take individual segments that each seem vaguely reasonable in isolation, and then keep stringing them together without recognizing when too much is too much.
And I think it’s worth recognizing that, if you were to pick any set of two or three sequential paragraphs from above, they would make a vaguely reasonable route – maybe not a good enough route, but not necessarily something to reject on sight.
I see this basically as three ideas on top of each other:
- Mattapan to Readville/Dedham/West Roxbury
- West Roxbury/Needham Junction to Dover or Medfield
- Interurban to Milford
Idea 1, especially if only to Readville or Dedham, is probably the most “conventional”, in that it would mostly use existing ROWs and, insofar as ArchBoston is “mainstream”, does reflect mainstream ideas that we’ve been batting around for how to bring rail to Dedham.
Is it a particularly compelling idea? I would not rank it high on my list, no. It’s pretty circumferential, and somewhat circuitously so, and not really along a corridor that seems to be screaming for it. Perhaps if Dedham wants some sort of rail service but doesn’t want Red Line heavy rail (and can’t justify siphoning away mainline trains), this could be a viable option, though I think if one was to create a “Dedham High Speed Line”, it might be better to feed it from Needham Junction: Needham - West Roxbury - Dedham - Readville.
Idea 2, if Dover got really excited about it, could be interesting. Light rail does not actually have to be “rapid transit” per se, and it would have the advantage of a smaller footprint. 30-minute headways could be perfectly reasonable here. Given the length of the line, I’d say it would be better to avoid through-running to downtown Boston most of the time, but perhaps a couple of peak runs could be scheduled inbound in the mornings. Hopping over to West Roxbury could help mitigate the lack of one-seat-rides by offering direct transfers to both the Green and Orange Lines.
Ironically, the relationship between the town of Milton and the current Mattapan Line makes me think that a low frequency light rail line could pass muster with the NIMBY crowd – it’s relatively unobtrusive, it can have a small footprint, and it can maintain some of the charming bucolic territory of those suburbs (which are amazingly rural, given their proximity to Boston).
Idea 3, even on its own, is a huge stretch. That is a very long route, and unlike Idea 2 would certainly require street-running, and street-running at 30 mph no less. (There is an alternate route that is more roundabout, but mostly reuses old ROWs, plus a powerline ROW.) I’ve written before how Milford is tough
: it’s actually not far from Boston at all, but because of the enormous density cavity between it and Needham, it’s very hard to propose a direct commuter rail route – you have to go via Franklin, which makes it a significantly longer ride.
Light rail potentially could offer a compromise, offering low-footprint service to the low-density towns in between, while still providing direct service between Milford and the rapid transit system. The availability of a hook-in node at Needham Junction, combined with the lack of active railroads but presence of historic ROWs, opens up some unusual options.
One of the biggest drawbacks of an LRT interurban to Milford would be all the wiring you’d need to set up. There are a handful of diesel-powered light rail vehicles out there… and then at that point we’re literally just talking about restoring Budd Car service, but on light rail tracks rather than mainline tracks. And while the infrastructure impact would then be lower, the impact of the individual vehicles would be much more pronounced – louder and dirtier.
(If battery-powered light rail ever takes off successfully, then the calculus on this changes.)
And it’s worth asking what the benefit of a Needham-Milford LRT line would be over a commuter bus route, or a feeder bus route to a commuter rail station like Framingham (especially if timed to transfer to trains that run express on the mid and inner B&A). Given potential slowdowns from automobile traffic, perhaps an interurban line with a transfer could be faster?
Let’s assume that an extended Orange Line to Millennium Park takes 40 minutes to reach downtown. From Millennium Park to Milford, it’s about 20 miles. Google estimates about 30 min (on a bad day) to reach the Southborough commuter rail station by driving from Milford. Pre-covid, an express train from Worcester took just under an hour from Southborough, so our “time to beat” is 90 minutes. From Millennium Park, our interurban would need to traverse 20 miles in 50 minutes – an average speed of 25 mph.
That doesn’t sound too difficult, but let’s do some comparisons:
- Riverside - Park St (18 stops): 11 miles in 44 min = 15 mph
- Framingham - South Station (local, 12 stops): 21 miles in 55 min = 22.5 mph
- Mansfield - South Station (local, 6 stops): 25 miles in 46 min = 35 mph
In my map here, I’ve (not very carefully) placed 12 stops after leaving Milford, though probably some of those could be eliminated. The stop spacing is around 3-5 miles, closer to the Providence Line’s 4-6 miles than the Framingham’s 1-3. The top speed of a light rail vehicle is lower than a mainline commuter rail train, although because it’s lighter and electric it’ll reach that top speed quickly, possibly faster than the train.
So… maybe? If all the variables work out just
right, an interurban to Milford could provide competitive service? But it would indeed need to be just