MBTA Commuter Rail (Operations, Keolis, & Short Term)

F-Line to Dudley

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2010
Messages
6,289
Reaction score
1,176
So, we need TWO Amtrak spec platforms for the Lake Shore Limited?
They're building this to ease Worcester Line congestion that's happening right now, because Purple Line trains right now aren't clearing off the stubby side platform in time for the next slot. In part because the existing 350-footer full-high can only platform doors on 4 cars at once, and Worcester already runs 7-packs at rush making that platform an all-around horrible dwell. Building the new island at NE Regional-spec 1000-footer (12 cars) instead of T-spec 800-footer (9 cars) is 95% the serendipitous result of needing to align the north stairs parallel to the kiss-and-ride lot on the other side of 290. That's just where it happens to be...at the 1000 ft. mark instead of 800 ft. They'd have to lop the employee lot in half to move the sidewalks around in another egress configuration to take 200 ft. off the platform length, and that was more construction touches than truly necessary so they aren't bothering. Because the stubby side platform pinches at the 290 overpass to less than regulated ADA length, they're leaving it stubby. Only the first 4 cars on Track 1 will be able to open all-doors. The island is thus going to become the primary overall platform.

The remaining 5% consideration is future-proofing is for the Inland Route. Should a Springfield-terminating Regional get routed east (distinct from a NHV-SPG-BOS Shuttle making up the bulk of the schedules), the maxi-Regional length platform is already there at Springfield and Worcester for convenience. Nothing routed specifically on the Inland--Shuttles, LSL, Boston-Montreal, future Western MA & Albany--is ever going to run that many cars. Only a thru-routed DC-SPG Regional at prime time slot...but that could be a bit player in the overall schedule churn.
 

F-Line to Dudley

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2010
Messages
6,289
Reaction score
1,176

Keolis expected to get a 2-year contract extension to 2024 because FCMB fears that all the COVID recovery will make a thorough bid vetting next year for the '22 contact expiration hard to pull off. Which seems reasonable. And also times better with final votes on the Rail Vision so the next bid process can be way more concrete about what deliverables are expected to provide RUR-level service and vehicle maintenance with EMU fleet. Article drips with sentiment/resentment that the state still prefers to run screaming from Keolis as fast as possible during the next full bid.
 

F-Line to Dudley

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2010
Messages
6,289
Reaction score
1,176

Worcester Redevelopment Authority seeking an exemption from the city's COVID ban on demolition activity to kick-start some prelim site prep work @ Worcester Union for the second platform. Scope of front-loaded demo work includes demolition of the old 1974-2000 low platform east of Grafton St. (now just used as a long egress), and demo of some derelict Harding St. decking where an ancient staircase used to be.


The demo ban has already ensnared replacement of the Plantation St. bridge over the tracks just east of downtown. That's being replaced halves-at-a-time for a wider span accommodating better turn lanes.
 
Last edited:

Riverside

Active Member
Joined
Mar 19, 2012
Messages
398
Reaction score
73
This is a post I was working on before Covid hit — obviously a lot of it is temporarily out of date, but hopefully still interesting and maybe accurate again in the future.



So, as a nerd who likes train timetables and naming things, I present a Wholly Unnecessary Exercise in Naming Commuter Rail Services.

On a map, the Commuter Rail has about a dozen lines, with a few places where several lines double up on each other. Crack open a schedule — especially during peak hours — and things become a bit more complex. One-off stations get skipped, services short-turn, and you have hidden express services, both peak and off-peak.

On closer inspection, however, some clear patterns emerge, and you realize that the Commuter Rail isn’t made of a dozen services, but of perhaps three times that. This post will examine those in-depth.

A couple of caveats. First, this doesn’t capture every single service pattern — there are more than a few one-offs that do not get called out here, and there are a handful of one-offs that do get called out, for one reason or another.

Second, a service described as “making all stops” may skip certain stations that receive limited service. The more common examples of this are called out in notes under each section, with a reminder to the hypothetical rider to “consult timetable.”

For the most part, every line has a Fast service and a Local service. Some also have a Local Short-Turn service, and a couple have an Express service that has a rare and unusually fast stopping pattern. Typical weekend service is the Local on each route, usually skipping limited service stops. Unless otherwise noted, Fast service runs all the way to its named terminus, making all local stops following its express stretch.

The naming conventions are arbitrary — in some cases, “Fast” services are such only by the merit of skipping a couple of stations. If this categorization system were ever adopted publicly, I’d expect a different naming convention would be used.

Let’s go through the corridors counterclockwise.

Eastern Route

Newburyport Local: makes all stops between North Station and Newburyport
Newburyport Fast: runs non-stop between North Station and Salem before making all stops to Newburyport
Rockport Local: makes all stops between North Station and Rockport
Rockport Fast: runs non-stop between North Station and Salem before making all stops to Rockport
Beverly Local: makes all stops between North Station and Beverly

Prides Crossing and River Works receive limited service. Consult timetable.

Western Route

Haverhill Local: makes all stops between North Station and Haverhill
Haverhill Fast: runs non-stop between North Station and Ballardvale on southbound trips and North Station and Wakefield on northbound trips before making all stops to Haverhill
Reading Local: makes all stops between North Station and Reading
Wildcat Local: makes all stops between North Station and Haverhill via Woburn

Though a local service, the Wildcat Local’s travel time from Haverhill is roughly equivalent to a Haverhill Fast. Wildcat Locals skip Mishawum.

B&M Main Line

Lowell Local: makes all stops between North Station and Lowell
Lowell Fast: runs non-stop between North Station and Anderson/Woburn before making all stops to Lowell
Wildcat Local: makes all stops between North Station and Haverhill via Woburn.

Mishawum receives limited service. Consult timetable.

B&M Fitchburg Line

Fitchburg Local: makes all stops between North Station and Wachusett
Fitchburg Fast: runs non-stop between Porter Square and South Acton before making all stops to Wachusett
Littleton Local: makes all stops between North Station and Littleton

Not all trains stop at Hastings and Waverly. Silver Hill receives limited service. Consult timetable.

Boston & Albany

Worcester Local: makes all stops between South Station and Worcester
Worcester Fast: runs non-stop between Lansdowne and West Natick before making all stops to Worcester
Worcester Express: runs non-stop between Lansdowne and Worcester (“Heart-To-Hub”)
Framingham Local: makes all stops between South Station and Framingham

Newtonville, West Newton and Auburndale are primarily served in the peak direction of travel by Local services. They receive no service in the reverse peak direction, and are skipped by other trains at certain times. Consult timetable.

Needham (Charles River Branch & Needham Cutoff)

Needham Local: makes all stops between South Station and Needham Heights

Certain reverse peak services have unusual stopping patterns. Consult timetable.

Midland

Franklin Local: makes all stops between South Station and Forge Park/495 via Back Bay
Franklin Fast: runs between South Station and Forge Park/495 via Back Bay, stopping at Dedham Corporate Center, Norwood Central, Walpole, Norfolk, and Franklin
Foxboro Local: makes all stops between South Station and Foxboro via Fairmount
Foxboro Fast: makes all stops between South Station and Foxboro via Back Bay
Fairmount Local: makes all stops between South Station and Readville via Fairmount

Not all trains stop at Ruggles, Readville, and Windsor Gardens. Hyde Park and Plymptonville receive limited service. Service patterns to Foxboro are complex. Consult timetable.

Northeast Corridor

Providence Local: makes all stops between South Station and Providence or Wickford Junction
Providence Fast: makes all stops between South Station and Providence or Wickford Junction, except for Hyde Park and Canton Junction
Providence Express: runs non-stop between Ruggles and Sharon before making all stops to Providence or Wickford Junction
Wickford Shuttle: makes all stops between Providence and Wickford Junction
Stoughton Local: makes all stops between South Station and Stoughton
Stoughton Fast: runs non-stop between Ruggles and Route 128 before making all stops to Stoughton

Not all trains stop at Ruggles. Certain trains skip certain stops. Not all Providence services run to Wickford Junction. Consult timetable.

Old Colony

Middleboro Local: makes all stops between South Station and Middleboro
Hyannis Express (Cape Flyer): runs between South Station and Hyannis, stopping at Braintree, Brockton, Middleboro, Wareham, Buzzard’s Bay, and Bourne
Kingston Local: makes all stops between South Station and Kingston
Plymouth Local: makes all stops between South Station and Plymouth (limited service)
Greenbush Local: makes all stops between South Station and Greenbush

Plymouth receives limited service. Certain Plymouth trains also stop at Kingston, and vice-versa. Not all trains stop at Braintree, Quincy Center, and JFK/UMass. Consult timetable.
 

Riverside

Active Member
Joined
Mar 19, 2012
Messages
398
Reaction score
73
Some comments on this (siphoned into a double post due to the character limit):

First of all, this system of categorization works surprisingly well. Almost every single line has this tidy little three-tier configuration that is clear and predictable:
  • Long Distance Local
  • Long Distance Fast
  • Short Turn Local
There are a few one-offs — for example, a single AM Fitchburg Fast service that stops at Waltham, or the one-off short-turns at Attleboro and Ashland. But, even during off-peak and reverse peak, these patterns are surprisingly stable.

This approach works the least effectively on the Franklin Line, where the current spaghetti of services that combines branching, reverse branching, and semi-express service patterns makes it very hard to distill down into simple buckets.

It also is a bit challenging on the Providence Line. For one, some trains operate all the way to Wickford, and others don’t — should those count as a separate service, or simply variants on the Providence series?

But the bigger challenge is that Providence’s schedule has an unusual number of stopping patterns for Canton Junction, Route 128, and Hyde Park. In a simple world, “Stoughton Locals” would handle all peak service between Ruggles and Canton Junction, while “Providence Fasts” would fly through during the peak. This would mirror, for example, the “Littleton Local” and “Fitchburg Fast.”

But the reality is that a fair number of peak Providence trains don’t skip Route 128. And some peak Providence trains also call at Hyde Park, while certain Stoughton trains will skip it.

Moreover, there is a distinct class of peak Providence service that flies non-stop from Mansfield/Sharon all the way to Ruggles/Back Bay. This is why a two-way Local/Fast designation system isn’t quite enough, hence the three-way Local/Fast/Express.

Happily, Providence is not alone in this regard; Worcester, thanks to the dubious Heart-to-Hub service, also needs an extra bucket, so the term “Express” gets used for both.

Other notes:

Some of the Fast Services only run once or twice day in each direction. Still, the patterns are repeated clearly in the AM Peak and the PM Peak, so it seems fair to include them.

I was surprised to find the asymmetry in the Haverhill Fast service. I assume it has something to do with the wonkiness of the single tracks along there, but it’s quite striking. And, once again, it is a pattern that is repeated consistently across several trains.

The Newton stations are really one-of-a-kind in their stopping patterns. This is an obvious side effect of having platforms on one track only, combined with the need to support both Fast and Local services.

While all lines have their various odd service patterns off-peak, the Needham Line really is distinctive for its more extreme random reverse peak expresses during the latter half of the rush hour, both AM and PM. Presumably this is done to get trains back in place that much quicker — again, the side effect of single tracking — but it really is quite noticeable.

There really seems to be no rhyme nor reason to which Old Colony trains stop at JFK vs Quincy vs Braintree. That’s a mystery to me.

Finally — pruning out the random “limited service stations” really does make it a lot easier for these patterns to jump out at you. The Fitchburg schedule looks like a mess, until you trim out Hastings and Silver Hill, and then the pattern becomes very clear.

Some practical ideas:

It would be interesting for the MBTA to publish a wider variety of timetables. For example, instead of the current Newburyport/Rockport timetable, separate timetables could be produced for each branch, with a third one devoted to showing all service between Beverly and Boston. That way, each timetable would have two patterns — the Local Service along that stretch and the Fast service — instead of the current timetable, which squeezes five patterns in there, with a bunch of one-off exceptions for River Works and Prides Crossing.

Another idea: consider siphoning out limited service stations from the main timetable, and include their timings as foot notes. That increases readability of the timetable for the vast majority of riders.

Finally: publish a “Northeast Corridor” cumulative schedule, centrally listing all trains which stop at Ruggles, Hyde Park, Readville, and optionally indicate the time those trains arrive at Route 128 and Dedham Corporate Center. As far as I know, no such schedule exists; there is no centralized document that shows every train which stops at Ruggles, Hyde Park, or Readville. This has become a personal project of mine, so we’ll see where that goes.

Bless you for reading.
 

F-Line to Dudley

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2010
Messages
6,289
Reaction score
1,176
FMCB has extended Keolis through 2025:

Makes sense. Takes 2 years to eval contracts...and COVID recovery has already thoroughly compressed the timetable for the '22 decision so that was already looking like too big a longshot to hold. They were going to have to grant an interim extension anyway given lack of time, and if granting an extension it's better to make it 3-4 years instead of a 2-year placeholder so there's a complete voted-on Rail Vision for Keolis to pitch itself concretely to in the final eval rather than half-unsettled suppositions which we'd still be sifting through details of if it were only a shortie extension.
 

meddlepal

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 19, 2012
Messages
1,523
Reaction score
240
The MBTA has eliminated the express Worcester-Boston train as part of their new schedule going live June 22... WTF.
 

meddlepal

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 19, 2012
Messages
1,523
Reaction score
240
It was absolutely the best way to get into Boston from Worcester for 9:30am. I don't think the state should be cutting services like this. The only problem with it was the late 7pm return expresser.

It's absolutely appalling how the state fucks over anything that isn't immediately around Boston.

If anything they should have shifted the schedule forward 30 minutes then it would have been even more popular. But knowing the MBTA and the political hacks that operate there I'm sure this was all planned from the beginning to be a failure.
 

jklo

Active Member
Joined
Feb 8, 2015
Messages
491
Reaction score
34
It was absolutely the best way to get into Boston from Worcester for 9:30am. I don't think the state should be cutting services like this. The only problem with it was the late 7pm return expresser.
Looking at the schedule, it's all Express trains, not just H2H. Does make commute time brutal for anyone past Natick.

I imagine it will return if/when volume picks up.
 

F-Line to Dudley

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2010
Messages
6,289
Reaction score
1,176
Psst...Cape Flyer's running this weekend for the most under-radar season opener of its career: https://capeflyer.com/

Fri. rush debut run carried 83 passengers to Hyannis, which isn't bad considering the circumstances. Cafe car is open for business as usual, social distancing rules same as with regular commuter rail. CCRTA is reporting daily bus ridership has spiked to 1500 per day with big increases coming in last 10 days, which exceeds their expectations so far on projected rebounding. Probably foretells well for the base the Flyer can build on for rest of the summer.


Side note...Cape Cod Central RR of dinner train fame ended up buying itself out of Iowa Pacific Holdings' bankruptcy, with the former owners / current minority owners ponying up to re-take the company and its Mass Coastal freight arm back private. They narrowly beat out a competing bid by Grafton & Upton RR owner John Priscoli, who came in 2nd in the bidding. So same management team as ever will be running the show at Cape Rail for the excursion trains, Cape trash train, South Coast freight lines, and doing odd-jobs contracted construction work for the MBTA.
 

Top