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

F-Line to Dudley

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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

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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

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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.
 
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Riverside

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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

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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

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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

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The MBTA has eliminated the express Worcester-Boston train as part of their new schedule going live June 22... WTF.
 

meddlepal

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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

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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

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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.
 

Riverside

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And just when you thought I was done prattling on about commuter rail service patterns...

I've made a map.

MBTA Commuter Rail Peak Services Map.png


First, just to get some stuff out of the way -- I am not a graphic designer and this map was adapted from an official MBTA commuter rail map using a program equivalent to Microsoft Paint. If you zoom in at all, you'll notice that it is ugly and literally a designer's worst nightmare. Originally, this was just going to be a rough proof-of-concept to plan out a nicer version. But then I got really deep into it and figured I might as well just stick with this and share it once it was complete -- hopefully inspire someone else to do it better than me.

Now, onto the map!

Project Goals

This was an attempt to visualize the peak service patterns that I identified in my post from June. In general, I wanted to stick to the Vignelli principle of "one line, one service" so as to clearly highlight the hidden network of short-turns and expresses.

Design Philosophy

The first challenge was to come up with a design language which would capture the variability I described earlier. I eventually settled on a "most trains stop vs some trains stop" dichotomy for the station markers; combined with "one line, one service", that allowed me to capture a wide swath of the details.

Some judicious use of text helped clear most of the remaining items: first, by explicitly titling the map "Peak Services, one layer of complexity was stripped away. Second, the "very limited service" stations like Plimptonville and Silver Hill are explicitly listed out (in the same way the current map lists stations without parking): this saved me from having to create a third station marker. Finally, I added an asterisk next to Hyde Park, Route 128 and Canton Junction to call out the moderately frequent exceptions to the Providence express services there.

In several cases, my choice of categorizing a stop as "most trains" vs "some trains" on a given service is... pretty arbitrary, but overall seemed "good enough."

Exceptions to the Design Philosophy

The exceptions to the "one line, one service" principle are the Newburyport/Rockport branches, the Old Colony, and the Franklin Line. In the case of Rockburyport, both of the Long Distance services behave identically south of Salem -- this in contrast to, say, the Franklin and Stoughton Lines, where the Franklin trains mainly stop at Readville while the Stoughton trains mainly stop at Hyde Park. A Rockburyport equivalent would be Newburyport trains stopping at Lynn while Rockport trains stop at Chelsea. But they don't, so they get consolidated in order to simplify the map.

(A more rigorous application of this principle would have the Wildcat branch shown as a proper branch off of a Lowell All Stops service, instead of as a separate service, but, alas.)

The Old Colony is shown as one service because it still essentially is. The individual frequencies on each of the Old Colony Lines is markedly lower than on any other line, and you don't really get a "stacking" effect at Braintree, Quincy Center or JFK/UMass the way you do on the NEC, due to the irregularities of the schedules. (Plus, South Station was already visually overwhelming enough, with 10 terminating services.)

The Franklin/Foxboro/Fairmount Line is, unsurprisingly, the diciest part of this map. I'll go through this one by one.

The Problems With The Franklin/Foxboro/Fairmount Line

First, the Foxboro Line is visualized as out-and-out reverse-branching. I toyed with depicting Foxboro-via-Back Bay and Foxboro-via-Fairmount as separate services, but via-Fairmount service actually only has one peak trip in each direction, and its AM trip behaves identically to the via-Back Bay trips -- the PM trip is the only service to Foxboro that skips stops. That did not seem like worth cluttering the map over.

Second, the Forge Park Line... this one is a mess. According to this map, Forge Park trains sometimes skip Windsor Gardens, Norwood Depot, Islington, Endicott, and Readville. The reality is that this is (was) largely true for the PM peak -- if you wanted to go to one of those stations, you needed to take a Foxboro train, with a couple of exceptions. But the AM peak is a lot messier. During mornings, most trains originating from Forge Park do indeed stop at those stations. So it's not a hard-and-fast rule here.

What is true is that Dedham Corp Center and Norwood Central sit a head above the rest -- these are indeed the stations which every train stops at, no matter what. And that comes through, which was the key thing I wanted to convey.

In general, as I described in June, the Franklin/Foxboro Line(s) have the messiest division of labor of any corridor in the system. There's enough differentiation to make it worth considering them separate services (unlike the Old Colony), but not quite the same consistency as seen on the Reading/Haverhill or Fitchburg Lines.

Now, moving onto things that this map does well...

Successes

First, it immediately jumps out at you how the Peak Services system is really two systems superimposed -- one that is short-turn, to Beverly, Reading, Littleton, Framingham, and Stoughton, and one that is long-distance, to Rockport, Newburyport, Lowell, Wachusett, Worcester, Franklin, Rhode Island, and Plymouth County.

Second, it becomes very easy to visualize those "head above the others" stations that basically every train -- short-distance or long -- stops at, whether due to high ridership, track layout, or both. These include Salem (but surprisingly not Lynn), Reading, Anderson/Woburn, S. Acton, Waltham (sorta), West Natick, Dedham Corp Center and Norwood Central.

Third, I think this map also illustrates a number of the systemic issues with the Northeast Corridor.

First, it becomes quite clear visually that by the time Needham joins the party at Forest Hills, things are already very crowded. It's very obviously the odd one out.

Second, the aforementioned reverse branching on the Franklin/Foxboro -- while visually interesting -- is also the most visually complex feature of the map, which reflects its operational complexity.

Third, the skip-stop-esque mess that is Hyde Park, Readville and Route 128 becomes clear. There's almost nowhere else in the system that is this complex, and the visual reinforces that.

Fourth, it becomes easier to see some of the knock-on effects South Coast Rail via Stoughton would have. Stoughton serves -- like Foxboro, Framingham, Littleton, Reading and Beverly -- as a short-turn point for trains serving inner stations like Route 128, Hyde Park and Canton Junction, so that Long Distance trains from Providence and Wickford have the option to blow past them. An extension to the South Coast upsets that whole paradigm by putting Stoughton trains into the Long-Distance category, meaning they'd no longer be suitable for those inner stations. Which means you'd need to find a way to replace service to those stations -- meaning South Coast Rail isn't just a matter of extending Stoughton trains, but also means adding more trains to the Stoughton route. We can see that the NEC trunk currently supports 5 "services", which basically means you need to do some swapping. For example, swap the Needham trains into Stoughton/Taunton Short-Turns, and swap the Franklin trains into NB/FR Long-Distance.

The Unusual Case of the Providence Line

Finally -- and I think this is less obvious -- but I do think this map subtly highlights the one-of-a-kind nature of the Providence Line. It is unique in that it runs very long distance -- akin to Worcester, Fitchburg, Newburyport -- but lacks a short-turn at its midway point:
  • Worcester (~43 miles) short-turns at Framingham (~20 miles, 46%)
  • Wachusett (~52 miles) short-turns at Littleton (~29 miles, 55%)
  • Newburyport (~36 miles) and Rockport (~35 miles) short-turn at Beverly (18 miles, 50% and 51%)
It is true that the Stoughton serves a similar purpose, but it branches off much earlier:
  • Providence (~43 miles) and Wickford Junction (~62 miles) "short-turn" at Canton Junction (~15 miles, 34% and 24%)
  • An equivalent short-turn would be at Mansfield (55% of the way to Providence)
The reason for this is that there's a bit of a density cavity between Canton and Mansfield, and when you look at a satellite image, you realize what's happening: the BosWash density spine heads south to Providence not by way of Canton, but via Norwood. That's where we find the stop-spacing that we see in Wellesley and the North Shore.

The result is that the Franklin/Foxboro Line essentially serves as a kind of "short-turn" service for the Providence Line, especially with the recent iteration of Foxboro trains focusing on the local stops in Norwood and Dedham. In a sense, the Foxboro Line is to the Providence Line as the Framingham Line is to the Worcester.

Conclusions

I don't think this map would be that useful for everyday riders. (Hence my hopefully impossible-to-miss disclaimers at the top.) In general, journeys on the commuter rail are between the Downtown Terminals and Someplace Else. Wayfinding just isn't as critical as on a rapid transit system, and the topology of the network just isn't that complicated. (That would change in an NSRL world, of course.)

But I think it's worth it for railfans, planners, and advocates to think of the system in these terms. The standard map belies the complexity of the network and makes it easier to avoid contending with the gnarliness of running multiple service patterns along the same route.

It also raises important questions. What are the benefits to running a system like this? What are the drawbacks? What are things we can do to simplify this system and/or to enhance it?

Thank you for reading!
 

JeffDowntown

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Are you not showing the South Shore lines as multi-trunk through Quincy Center, because the inner stop usage is random access, rather than a particular line that stops at JFK or Quincy Center?

Would that service benefit from a more defined stopping pattern?
 

Riverside

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Are you not showing the South Shore lines as multi-trunk through Quincy Center, because the inner stop usage is random access, rather than a particular line that stops at JFK or Quincy Center?
Yeah, this is among the most arbitrary decisions I made for this map. Generally yes, you are right -- there isn't a discernible pattern to the stopping patterns of the branches along the trunk: all three appear generally random, so if all three are equally random, consolidation seemed justifiable.

To be honest, an equal factor was just simplifying the map when possible. With the exception of the stops along the Red Line, the Old Colony is dead-simple compared to the rest of the network: no short-turns, no expresses, and only one limited-service station, Plymouth. Given that I was making this program in a Mac equivalent of Paint, creating extra lines and moving everything around would be a non-trivial amount of work, and I didn't quite see the point.

Plus, South Station was already overwhelmed with 10 different terminating services.

Now, from a design-perspective, there's an argument to be made that I should have instead applied the same consolidation to the other lines in the terminal zone. For example, I could have had the Framingham and Worcester Lines join at Lansdowne and proceed into Back Bay as one service. Likewise for the Framingham and Littleton Lines at Porter.

The biggest challenge to this is the NEC, where that principle would entail adding branch points at Back Bay, Ruggles, Forest Hills, Hyde Park and Readville, which seems like visual overkill. But I might try a mock-up to see how it looks!

Would that service benefit from a more defined stopping pattern?
Yeah, I have no clue. In general, I am not a fan of Hyde Park-Readville-style skip stops -- it's confusing for novice riders, it's hard to visualize on a map, and it's ultimately antithetical to creating walk-up service. So I'm not sure that -- for example -- serving Braintree with Middleboro trains and Quincy with Kingston trains is the answer.

I suspect that the trunk-line stops on the Old Colony are driven by two things:

1. Commuters to Quincy, UMass and nearby areas -- basically people for whom transferring to the Red Line or local buses sooner rather than later is preferable; this would be why trains stop at Quincy and JFK

2. The operational necessities of dispatching a single track line: if you look at @vanshnookenraggen's fantastic MBTA track map, you'll notice that the Braintree commuter rail station sits just south of the merge between the Middleboro and Kingston Lines, north of which is a single track segment that stretches almost to North Quincy. A station at Braintree gives dispatchers a place to hold inbound M and K trains. In the event of severe delays, it also gives them the easy option of redirecting passengers onto the Red Line. And in general, if the train is going to have to stop there to wait for the track ahead to clear, it's understandable to put a station in.

Now, I really should take a look at the boardings vs alightings numbers for those stations, as they may shed further light on this.

But just for comparison -- between the GREEN interlocking (where the Greenbush line joins) and the SQUANT interlocking in North Quincy, the Old Colony system funnels three branches through one single track. By contrast, if you look along the equivalent stretch to the west, you see four or five tracks at nearly all times, funneling 3 branches plus Amtrak through a combination of the NEC and the Fairmount Line. Franklin and Fairmount trains contend with a pair of brief single-track stretches at Readville, but otherwise it's all double tracks or better for every route.

(All of this, by the by, is why a lot of people here are lamenting the current plans to run trains to Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford via Middleboro -- there really isn't a big enough pipe to offer good service that route.)
 

F-Line to Dudley

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The Problems With The Franklin/Foxboro/Fairmount Line


The answer to this may become clearer with time. RUR isn't all about densifying frequencies. In the outflow of that you start getting some meaty opportunities to apply better discipline to trans-495 travel times on lines that run a little long on the clock. This is because skip-stopping of lesser intermediate stops becomes much easier to rationalize if those stops are backed up by service densification of other route patterns.

As a prime example...Haverhill. We know it's going back to the NH Main as a necessity of the capacity demands, and will be providing a generous share of the urban rail frequencies to the stops inside Wilmington. With that move divorcing it from Reading short-terms solving a lot of problems with the inner Western Route's capacity crunch and conflicting aims of the inner and outer halves of the current corridor, you get a much cleaner and more equitable service pie. But Haverhill is still kind of a crappily long 1:10+ end-to-end schedule that really would benefit a lot if you could knock that down to an even 60 minutes in addition to surging the frequencies to half-hourly. It also has several future infill station candidates on its home routing--South Lawrence (superior replacement for pre-1980 Shawsheen Station a stone's throw south of 495 on MA 133), Ward Hill/495 (replacement for pre-1976 North Andover stop that's too close to post-'04 Lawrence, industrial park TOD, 495 Pn'R, ease-of-access via 495 from MA 213 approximating the canceled 1981 Methuen Branch stop @ 213), and Rosemont St. at the still T-owned station parcel for the canceled 1981 stop that's conveniently near the new state-line layover yard. All those plus reanimated Salem St. on the Wildcat as mandatory 1:1 trade-in for North Wilmington.

All of those sites have their topline bona fides (esp. South Lawrence) with the added frequencies, but how do you balance the need for some end-to-end schedule streamlining so you don't cough any bolt-tightening for 60 minutes right back up? That's where the backstopping of other RUR frequencies on the NH Main can help. Maybe Haverhill does only a stop selection of North Station <--> Winchester Center <--> Montvale/Woburn <--> Anderson RTC <--> Wilmington on the combined segment and skips West Medford (diminished importance post-GLX) and Wedgemere + Mishawum if either of those bit players still exists. That's enough to clear the bandwidth for up to a 9-stop roster once the route diverges and still keep to a taut 60 minutes because of the expressing and well-controlled dwells. If any backfill is needed in the Urban Rail zone for service equity...that's where an Anderson/Wilmington short-turn can be easily summoned to plug a gap. The NH Main has ample capacity for such augmentation. There's no reason why Lowell + Haverhill *must* join hands and cover every single link in the chain every time. Lowell is an intrinsically faster end-to-end schedule than Haverhill...so Lowell is the one to task with local-schlepping duties by default. Mix-and-match the short-turns to cover any shortfalls, but if a reference Haverhill schedule always skips the same stops in the name of self-balance it'll be self-evident enough to remember.

If skipping the least-of-all 3 NH Main stops is what serves up the bandwidth for 2-3 by-demand infills that can hang close to an hour...then that's what you do.


You're looking at the same with Foxboro vs. Forge Park. Foxboro makes good end-to-end time on fully-upgraded infrastructure hitting every single Fairmount + Franklin main stop to Walpole. Forge Park is already a kind of sucky 1:05+ going via vastly fewer NEC stops (including extremely few Hyde Park appearances), and as long as the T is wedded to the Milford Branch's curves and grade crossing hell the speedup opportunities are nonexistent with the over-long 10 minutes between Franklin/Dean and Forge Park. It gets vastly worse if you envision further extension to Milford and/or Woonsocket. Milford would be +2 more stations on more crazy curves w/ crossings...Woonsocket would be +3 stations (with a lateral-trade Forge Park replacement or augmentation at Canal St.) zippy through the intermediates but similar slow meander as Franklin/Dean-FP on that last half-mile hook into Downtown Woonsocket. Given that one or both of those extensions rate as the "tie the room together" desired endpoint of the main, you're already got what amounts as a standing mandate to slash travel times back to Franklin/Dean by any equitable means.

The equitable means are juxtaposing Franklin skip-stopping vs. Foxboro all-locals. Obviously if the Rail Vision sends both to the Fairmount Line the Forge Park trains are not going to be making more than a Top Two highest-demand pick 'em Newmarket thru Fairmount before taking its regular turn at a Readville stop. If the NEC is too over-capacity to be usable most of the time, then at minimum you have to make equal time to Readville on the new route. But what about after that? Franklin/Foxboro would be a very unusual case at :30 + :30 = :15 frequencies all the way out to Walpole way the hell past the Route 128 demarcation point of all the other Urban Rail vs. Regional Rail frequency zones. And there's arguments both ways...Norwood Central and Walpole (esp. if it got the regional feeder bus juvenation machine) can arguably fill up :15 frequencies any time of day, whereas that's extreme overkill for Islington and Windsor Gardens and arguably also close-spaced Norwood Depot.

So maybe the answer is similar skip-stoppage for Forge Park vs. the all-stops Foxboro locals: Forge Park skips tiny Endicott (while technically inside 128, kind of a NIMBY enclave), Islington, N. Depot, and WG in addition to its shallow pick 'em of Fairmount intermediates inbound of Readville. Foxboro stops everywhere. Endicott, Islington, Norwood Depot, and Windsor Gardens thus end up with :30 baseline all-day frequencies...but the exceptional monster catchments Dedham Corporate, Norwood Central, Walpole all get to double-dip to :15. End-to-end FP schedules bleed their necessary time pre-Walpole for tucking Forge Park well under an hour, and for extension planning the extra running miles on either/or/both branches out of Franklin/Dean have slack to reliably tuck within 1:10 to absolute worst-case 1:15. Eminently tolerable target for a major border-crosser and transfer node like Woonsocket...YMMV for whether the probable Milford schedule would draw enough at that length (though it would still be worlds better than the most recently studied extension schedule there).


For mapmaking purposes I guess at some point you will have to learn how to drawn two distinct thin-line schedules inside the fat-line border of a mainline double-up, because the services are likely to diverge in stop selection more with time rather than assemble like easy-plug tinker toys. Haverhill and Forge Park are just the two most obvious current-schedule examples where fine-tuning is needed. That doesn't even account for all-new layering like Concord, NH as an interstate super-express distinct from an all-stops Lowell/Nashua local. The quest for tolerable travel times breaks that official-study proposal more dramatically away as all-stops in NH, then Lowell + Anderson + NS only in MA for the sake of keeping travel times within the 80-minute sweet spot that slays I-93 and gives NH residents working in Greater Boston enough slack bandwidth to make linked subway/bus trips once they do get to the City of can radially transit along the 128 biz parks. Despite such dramatic skip-stoppage it's only about a 25-min. max possible schedule difference from the all-stops Lowell/Nashua locals...which goes to show just how finely they studied out the tension between stop selection and travel time for the Cap Corridor demographic.

I'm sure you're gonna have to factor similar balance for returning regular commuter service to the Cape, pounding out inequities in South Coast Rail branch vs. branch IF we can first get an unbroken Phase II double-track main to Taunton, figuring out how to rope (representably sparse) Newport runs when RIDOT inevitably reattaches that appendage to Fall River, figuring out the equitable demarcations between Providence/T.F. Green local service and RIDOT intrastate (esp. when it comes to whether to hit some of the potential inner infills like Cranston or Olneyville on a Boston schedule), and so on. Could even see it in-play on the Eastern Route out to Salem depending on how much you want to lather on new intermediate stops. Say you can fit an East Lynn addendum snugly on a Peabody schedule, but the Rockburyport end-to-enders are better off fileting a selection of that, Riverworks, and South Salem such that the Chelsea-Lynn-Salem monsters all get :30 + :30 + :30 superduper frequencies but all the other lesser members including Swampscott are portioned to 2 out of 3 branch schedule pick-'em at straight :30 + :30 = :15.

I think you'll find that needing to draw the mini-line maps inside of the fat line maps is probably going to become a necessity when the need for system balance starts going micro-target like that.
 

Riverside

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I think you'll find that needing to draw the mini-line maps inside of the fat line maps is probably going to become a necessity when the need for system balance starts going micro-target like that.
Indeed, and that was in the back of my mind throughout this entire project.

At one stage in the development of the map -- a rather late stage, in fact, while I was drafting the writeup for this thread -- the Forge Park Line on my map looked significantly different:

Old Franklin Line design.png


Showing pretty much exactly the patten you describe as a potential long-term, minus a stop at Islington. This is what I meant about the schedule being messy -- this service pattern does exist, after a fashion, in the pre-pandemic schedule, and you could argue that this is what the schedule is currently aiming for, but keeps missing due to the need for one-off exceptions.

And let's be clear, almost all of the lines are at least a little messy, pattern-wise. Fitchburg, for example, actually does have multiple all-stops from Fitchburg during the peak (first thing in the morning). Franklin/Foxboro is the messiest, but largely it's only a question of degree. So there's an argument to be made that I should have just gone with the over-simplification instead.

It's not publicly available for free, but the creator of the Bullet Map also includes a commuter/regional rail map for NYC, and it's one of the best integrated maps I've seen of the MNR, LIRR and NJT, and it pretty extensively uses this same strategy (one line, one service). You can see an LIRR-specific version of that map for free at TransitMap.net, and in fact in hindsight I'm realizing that it definitely served as inspiration for this map -- I'll try to edit my original post to give credit. (EDIT: And nope, right up against the char limit.) Of course, the NYC systems also have to contend with forced-transfers between the diesel and electric services, which creates its own mapping challenge.

Obviously if the Rail Vision sends both to the Fairmount Line the Forge Park trains are not going to be making more than a Top Two highest-demand pick 'em Newmarket thru Fairmount before taking its regular turn at a Readville stop. If the NEC is too over-capacity to be usable most of the time, then at minimum you have to make equal time to Readville on the new route.
I don't disagree that there is a need for this, but I'm skeptical that it's feasible to express through stops on the Fairmount Line, both operationally and politically. Back in the day (2015), there were a couple of express runs on the Fairmount schedule that did Readville-South Station in 23 minutes. By contrast, pre-pandemic it took an NEC train that same amount of time if it stopped at Back Bay, Ruggles and Hyde Park; if it expressed to Back Bay, it could swing it in 18.

It seems hard to imagine reliably sliding an express run in between 15-minute Fairmount All-Stop headways. And if you start adding in more intermediate stops, then aren't you falling away from being competitive with the NEC routing?

That being said -- the current (pre-pandemic) Fairmount All-Stop schedule timetables the journey from Readville to South Station as 30 minutes even, which is significant, but not earth-shattering. So I'm not sure trying to plan overtakes is worth the trouble.
 

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