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

F-Line to Dudley

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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.
Let's be frank...they don't really have a choice. The branchline slowpokes of the NEC fare worst amid the RUR and Amtrak increases through the SW Corridor bottleneck. Needham flat-out doesn't have a future...the need for it to hug a single bi-directional track to hit both the Ruggles and Forest Hills platforms is the noose that's now snapping tight and leaving it the gimp of all services. At least inside the tunnel if you could level things to a flat T vs. AMTK world where everything Amtrak skips Ruggles, everything T hits Ruggles, and crossover games are played accordingly...you can make a tri-branch CR schedule with Franklin work as there's no difference in how it plays the "to cross over or not to cross over" rules vs. any Providence or Stoughton slot.

Different story altogether once you get into fresh-minted quad-track territory outside of Green St. The line is straight enough for Amtrak to briefly hit triple digits on the 4 miles to 128, and the T (depending on whether Hyde Park or Readville are in the mix) sustaining 80-90. This is where Amtrak really makes hay on its traffic priority by being able to brute-force overtake on its own pair of center tracks without there needing to be crossover games (because crossover switches do nick up high-speed running just enough to matter). And assuming 128 is redone as a quad-track/two-island station with T on the outside and Amtrak in the middle...that traffic separation basically carries through to Canton Jct. split regardless of whether the rock cuts south of Westwood ever get widened for >2 tracks. But the key here is that there can't be unnecessary crossover games if this is the 4-mile stretch you want to target for brute-force priority-setting overtakes. That's where Hyde Park becomes a giant question mark if they can't rebuild it as a 2-side platform/2 center express track station and have to "squish" it on a one-side island (as NEC docs seem to indicate may be the issue). But it also means Franklin is now the odd-man out because it does have to play crossover games cutting across all 4 tracks between HP and Readville to make its split/merge.

With Rail Vision traffic modeling there will no longer be enough open slots projected against Providence/Stoughton RUR frequencies and projected Amtrak growth for the full schedule slate of Forge Park to cut across. Multiple slots on the day's schedule are conflicted right off the bat by the change in NEC traffic management.

The only way to *guarantee* having any slot available is interlining via Fairmount. Now...this would not be the stet 9/6/2020 Fairmount Line. For one, the Readville platform moves up 200 ft. into a double-track island and 2000 ft.'s worth of single main gets completely doubled-up through the station instead of going through yard limits. Fairmount's platforms also get raised so the auto-door coaches can work to/from Readville before going to manual + traps @ Endicott on the freight clearance route. And where right now there are only 2 crossovers on the entire line (Southampton Yard before Newmarket, and between Four Corners & Talbot Ave.) additional ones would be added for a rate of 1 crossover per every 2 stations matching the reference layout for the Worcester Line in Newton for supporting Riverside Urban Rail amidst its service layer cake. Right now overtakes are not really possible with any acceptable precision for a line tasked with carrying more than 1 full-time service pattern, and thus the couple alt-routed Forge Park runs today don't try to play hopscotch at all. They just grab a gap and run up to the taillights of the next-nearest train, which is hardly a time-optimized way of running. With the extra crossovers on the infrastructure, they'll be able to do the precision-overtakes that a co-running Forge Park schedule demands.

Now...as for the NEC, that alignment will still be available *some* of the time during opportune gaps. So I very much doubt Forge Parkers have seen the last of Back Bay Station. It's just that the Rail Vision has already modeled NEC ops and deemed Franklin enough of an odd-man-out that you can't base an all-day reference schedule on running that way. So maybe the :30 minute FP turns run by Fairmount two-thirds of the time, NEC one-third of the time...NEC turnings a little more irregularly spaced since on the spread since they're fishing for conflict-free slots. It's hardly all-or-nothing. But if you want :30 to FP, you're going to have to concede a whole lot of NEC usage. Simply no two ways about that. So let's say that they clock-manage the Fairmount skip-stop jaunt and the NEC grab-n'-go slots to make equal time. Fairmount gets backfilled with an extra short-turn while FP is using the NEC, and schedules to Readville match routing-by-routing so the :30 churn stays exact.

Slightly kludgy...yes. But nobody promised a zero-kludge Rail Vision. This happens to be the one regular-churn route on the whole system that doesn't compute out with perfect mapmaking consistency. I guarantee for the frequency increases that there aren't going to be riots on the streets of Norfolk that 2 out of every 3 times they're going to have to make do without Back Bay. They were too busy thunderously applauding at "30-minute all-day service".
 
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Riverside

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^ It's those crossovers I'd need to see spec'ed out before I'd be sold that a proper skip-stop model could work, but you and I are in agreement that it's not possible with today's infrastructure. (And we're also in agreement that funneling most of the Franklin/Forge Park/Foxboro service onto Fairmount is the likeliest course forward.)

(For what it's worth, I also want to see something similar worked up for Urban Rail to Riverside... the idea that you can stuff 15-min or better Urban Rail, regional rail to Worcester and maybe separately to Framingham, intercity Inland Regionals to Springfield, and at least a few trains to Pittsfield and beyond... on to two tracks? Even if you consolidate some of the Urban Rail and Regional Rail trips, it still seems like a lot.)

^^ That all being said, we should probably move this to the RUR/NSRL thread if we want to continue discussing this future state stuff.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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^ It's those crossovers I'd need to see spec'ed out before I'd be sold that a proper skip-stop model could work, but you and I are in agreement that it's not possible with today's infrastructure. (And we're also in agreement that funneling most of the Franklin/Forge Park/Foxboro service onto Fairmount is the likeliest course forward.)

(For what it's worth, I also want to see something similar worked up for Urban Rail to Riverside... the idea that you can stuff 15-min or better Urban Rail, regional rail to Worcester and maybe separately to Framingham, intercity Inland Regionals to Springfield, and at least a few trains to Pittsfield and beyond... on to two tracks? Even if you consolidate some of the Urban Rail and Regional Rail trips, it still seems like a lot.)

^^ That all being said, we should probably move this to the RUR/NSRL thread if we want to continue discussing this future state stuff.
For Riverside we actually do have the probable crossover layout. There's existing CP3 crossovers between Comm Ave. and the Pike 'throat' dividing the Back Bay + Landsdowne 2-station trackage from the West Station trackage. West will at least have a passing track when it's done with design (and it's not done...as I'd say the quad-track renders are nonsensical overkill). Said passer will feed thru to Boston Landing via the existing slack track behind the station and become a reanimated CP4 leading crossover when properly connected (right now CP4, which used to control the west-side end of Beacon Park, is temporarily eliminated and replaced by single hand-throw switch to the outbound track only for purposes of equipment reverses off the Grand Junction). Newly live CP6 out by Parsons St. is then a full-pair leading/trailing crossover. Assuming a Newton Corner infill is mandatory, the next all-new crossover installation would be CP9 between Newtonville and West Newton at a location previously ID'd by Worcester Line resiliency studies. And then the last one would be CP12 after West Newton + Auburndale, controlling movements at Riverside Jct. (currently a hand-throw switch tied only to the inbound track). CP12 is also where they are studying start of third track to Wellesley Farms for traffic-sorting of Amtrak and super-expresses vs. locals coming across 128.

Now...that's what's been modeled to work for a line that has dedicated :15 Riverside short-turns, :30 locals to Framingham/Worcester skipping all of the Newtons + pick 'em of all but 1-2 of the Bostons, some expedited Worcester expresses (if not full-on Heart2Hub, then something halfway), and a full NNEIRI-projected slate of Amtrak Inlands skipping all to Framingham. Fairmount's nowhere near that crowded, or ever will be. You might be able to do just fine adding just one new full-pair crossover between Blue Hill Ave. and Fairmount to chunk it out 3 stations between Southampton-Four Corners crossovers, 3 stations between Four Corners and Blue Hill crossovers, and 2 stations between Blue Hill crossovers and Readville Upper Jct. (split between Franklin connector & NEC connector, split/merge with the freight and CR yard turnouts). Mileage-wise they're equidistant on that chunking. Guessing that this was deemed adequate when they did the original Fairmount upgrades a decade ago, because 2-station crossover chunking in mirror image of Worcester would've had them placing the new Four Corners crossover set in a different place...whereas it's exactly where it should be if you were figuring future 3-station passing ops.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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To be fair, Franklin OTP was flushed down the toilet by this because they started the trial before any of the new double-track was online. Restarting after Phase 2 Norfolk-Franklin is live will be worlds better for schedule control (even with Phase 3 Norwood-Walpole being most impactful on the overlap region, the combo of Phases 1 & 2 are enough to fortify the Forge Park schedules that took the biggest dinger from the F'boro presence). There's no indication that they're backing out for good. It was simply too early to stage it with any par-or-better reliably.
 

The EGE

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Foxboro service was also intended primarily for parking relief at Walpole, Mansfield, etc. That commute from the suburbs to the downtown office has been demolished by COVID and may never come back, so Foxboro service wasn't providing any essential service. (Note that in the Fall 2020 schedule changes, they're changing to substantially less peaky service.)

Long-term, I don't see Foxboro as an endpoint. What I could see is extending those trains 5 miles further to Mansfield (put a new siding next to the OB platform so that it doesn't interact with NEC traffic). That gets you a downtown Foxborough station, and (especially with decent transfers at Mansfield) the potential for a lot of non-Boston-centric trips between smaller cities.
 

bakgwailo

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Foxboro service was also intended primarily for parking relief at Walpole, Mansfield, etc. That commute from the suburbs to the downtown office has been demolished by COVID and may never come back, so Foxboro service wasn't providing any essential service. (Note that in the Fall 2020 schedule changes, they're changing to substantially less peaky service.)
Yeah, I cannot see how a pilot/test would be able to get any sort of meaningful data right now given COVID, and, given the MBTA's budget shortfalls this seems like an easy and logical choice to pause.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Long-term, I don't see Foxboro as an endpoint. What I could see is extending those trains 5 miles further to Mansfield (put a new siding next to the OB platform so that it doesn't interact with NEC traffic). That gets you a downtown Foxborough station, and (especially with decent transfers at Mansfield) the potential for a lot of non-Boston-centric trips between smaller cities.
That'll never happen, because NIMBY haven Town of Foxborough wanted all the assurances in the world that they were never going to catch once glimpse of this trial. They don't want it; never did. They freaked at the prospect of freights going 10 MPH faster after all the track upgrades.
 

Riverside

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As much as I love service to Mansfield via Foxboro from a crayon map perspective, the only way it could make sense is in a 100-year future where 495-land is as dense as 128-land is now, and where there's a fundamental reimagining of downtown's like Mansfield to be highly transit-oriented, combined with the presence of significant employment centers in Foxborough, Norwood and Dedham.

The biggest problem right now is that Mansfield's lot fills up utterly and entirely during rush hour. There is some TOD, and some potential for more, but not a lot more. And you're not going to siphon off many Boston commuters, unless you're willing to offer a major price discount, because the travel time is much worse (see below). So at most you'd be pulling in more commuters who need to park, which aggravates the original problem further.

At best, running largely non-stop, a train from Foxborough Patriot Place takes 45 minutes to get to South Station. Tack on another 5 minutes to travel to Mansfield, and your travel time from Mansfield to South Station clocks at 50 minutes. By contrast, a mid-day local from Mansfield via the NEC, stopping everywhere including Canton Junction and Hyde Park, clocks in at 44 minutes. Pre-pandemic, the morning expresses from Mansfield -- making about as many stops as the 45-minute Foxborough Express -- clocked at 36 and even 31 minutes on the timetable.

(A Foxborough Local, pre-pandemic, was timetabled at 55 minutes, which would make it an even hour from Mansfield.)

60 minute local/50 minute express vs 44 minute local/36 minute express -- in both cases, traveling via Foxborough adds about 37% to your travel time.

Now, strictly speaking, from a crayon map perspective, you possibly could have a little more success running trains the other way -- from Foxborough (or even north) south to Providence. At least there you're not hampered by a significantly slower route, and there probably is a bit more potential for "reverse" commute patronage, at least from as far as Attleboro.

I mean, it's still not much. And of course you'd still have the same parking problem. And if you are gonna run RIDOT trains up the NEC to Attleboro, it's probably better to send them to Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford, the last two having an honest-to-God commuting corridor with Providence.

As with so many transit things, alas.
 

kingofsheeba

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As much as I love service to Mansfield via Foxboro from a crayon map perspective, the only way it could make sense is in a 100-year future where 495-land is as dense as 128-land is now, and where there's a fundamental reimagining of downtown's like Mansfield to be highly transit-oriented, combined with the presence of significant employment centers in Foxborough, Norwood and Dedham.

The biggest problem right now is that Mansfield's lot fills up utterly and entirely during rush hour. There is some TOD, and some potential for more, but not a lot more. And you're not going to siphon off many Boston commuters, unless you're willing to offer a major price discount, because the travel time is much worse (see below). So at most you'd be pulling in more commuters who need to park, which aggravates the original problem further.
I think the inner belt from Canton to Mansfield will get built up much sooner than you think.

One-hundred years? That’s a tad melodramatic
 

Riverside

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(Note that in the Fall 2020 schedule changes, they're changing to substantially less peaky service.)
Sorry for the double post but I just noticed this and read through -- that is super interesting. It's a shame to lose the dense peak headways (obviously not that they're being used right now, but still), but I'm really intrigued by the concept of level headways all-day (even if they are hourly). I wonder if they'll be able to make them clock-facing, or close to it.

Predictable all-day service sounds an awful lot like a conceptual precursor to proper regional rail. Yes, the cadence is nowhere near high enough, but maybe this is the first step to effecting a mindset-shift to understanding the commuter rail as a system that runs all day, rather than one that is focused on the peaks.

I notice the Fairmount Line is planned to increase from 60-minute headways to 45-minute headways. I'll be really interested in rider feedback on that, both verbal and behavioral. The upside obviously is more trains and more frequent service. The downside is the loss of clockfacing regularity. I wonder how much of an impact that will have.

Notable that the Middleboro, Eastern and Fairmount Lines will also see more trains than they did last fall overall. 60 minute headways to Brockton -- i.e. what the Fairmount Line has been getting -- will be interesting.

And Lynn -- if I'm reading this right -- is due for 30-minute headways during midday, which is really something.

I think the inner belt from Canton to Mansfield will get built up much sooner than you think.

One-hundred years? That’s a tad melodramatic
Yeah, in hindsight I agree 100 is a bit much. Still at least 50 though.
 

JeffDowntown

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Sorry for the double post but I just noticed this and read through -- that is super interesting. It's a shame to lose the dense peak headways (obviously not that they're being used right now, but still), but I'm really intrigued by the concept of level headways all-day (even if they are hourly). I wonder if they'll be able to make them clock-facing, or close to it.

Predictable all-day service sounds an awful lot like a conceptual precursor to proper regional rail. Yes, the cadence is nowhere near high enough, but maybe this is the first step to effecting a mindset-shift to understanding the commuter rail as a system that runs all day, rather than one that is focused on the peaks.

I notice the Fairmount Line is planned to increase from 60-minute headways to 45-minute headways. I'll be really interested in rider feedback on that, both verbal and behavioral. The upside obviously is more trains and more frequent service. The downside is the loss of clockfacing regularity. I wonder how much of an impact that will have.

Notable that the Middleboro, Eastern and Fairmount Lines will also see more trains than they did last fall overall. 60 minute headways to Brockton -- i.e. what the Fairmount Line has been getting -- will be interesting.

And Lynn -- if I'm reading this right -- is due for 30-minute headways during midday, which is really something.



Yeah, in hindsight I agree 100 is a bit much. Still at least 50 though.
Several commenters are saying the Lynn 30 minute headway needs to extend out to Salem -- hopefully it will. Both could be major catchment areas for commuter rail off peak -- if service levels are high enough. Idea is specifically to move people over from the crowded buses and Blue Line connection at Wonderland.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Several commenters are saying the Lynn 30 minute headway needs to extend out to Salem -- hopefully it will. Both could be major catchment areas for commuter rail off peak -- if service levels are high enough. Idea is specifically to move people over from the crowded buses and Blue Line connection at Wonderland.
It is. The target communities are Lynn + Brockton, but Rockburport + M'boro schedules are being increased. Lynn isn't set up for instant turnbacks right now to begin with.

I'd be interested to see if this makes a difference with Brockton on the midday. BAT #12 to Ashmont is a lightning-fast trip on the midday when 28 traffic is light and hardly any riders are getting on/off in Avon or Randolph. Brockton's well accustomed to the garbage 90-minute midday gaps in train service where M'boro is frequently picking up Braintree or JFK as extra stops. Depends if the destinations trips really are going to tilt to SS, transfers, & Cambridge...because otherwise 12 + Red at lunchtime is pretty supremely well-matched frequency-on-frequency.
 

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