MBTA Construction Projects

F-Line to Dudley

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Well, wherever the new layover yard is going to be, it's not that site. The cleared land was for a tractor-trailer training school. MassGIS shows the property as owned by Big Bend LLC, address 304 VICTORY RD. #2 C/O NETTTS.
View attachment 7070
(Photo courtesy of my parents, who kindly took a detour on their way home from hiking.)
Supposedly a transaction was undertaken (whether or not legally tape-delayed on title deed) given the number of confirmations given to-date namechecking property off Hilldale by the state line far from any residential abutters. That means it has to still be somewhere buffered-enough past the Rosemont St. grade crossing, which means in a 4000-4500 ft. span before the state line where the only abutters are light-industry zoned. We still know that much. Property records search has turned up empty, though, for any MBTA presence in the City land transactions so your guess is as good as mine on coordinates. Though there's no lack of available parcels in the quarter-filled industrial park (look, for example, the way Fondi Rd. clearly bookends several parcels that were meant-to-be but never came to fruition). All of that land is former sandpit excavation with new-growth trees now covering, so no wetlands till you get on the non-Hilldale side of tracks abutting Little River.

The grading on that plot of fresh-cleared land was off to begin with for fitting full-length tracks, so not surprising it turned out unrelated despite that being tantalizing first evidence of land-prep movement. There would've had to be a second burst of significant-acreage tree clearing on the track side running more firmly linear to the south to carve out enough length for full-size storage + lead tracks. What they had done for this apparently unrelated build was only about half the would-be acreage in the wrong shape. The "Option 6" layover from the canceled Plaistow extension was right across the tracks from here on the grassy plot between tracks and Little River, and could still be the as-yet-uncleared mystery plot. However, being on the non-Hillside accessible side of the tracks the access driveway for "Option 6" was to be in Atkinson, NH grafted onto this private (closed?) shop's driveway off NH 121. No chance in hell the NH NIMBY's allow that now, so it's either private grade crossing to Hilldale or "Option 6" isn't the one either.


Google doesn't infill property lines here around building/driveway outlines, so it's guesswork. There's still easily 4-5 big-ass industrial slabs available between the metal fabrication place with the truck-filled backlot and the parcel sandwiched between this new clearing and WBC Extrusion + EMD Performance Materials back-to-back from each other on same driveway. The superfluous Fondi cul de sac seems to be somebody's decades-ago aborted attempt at flinging driveways to all those infill properties that never came to fruition. Oh, well...back to squatting on the property transaction wire. Some mystery slab still did get as far as a M.O.U. cash exchange if it haven't yet formally popped as a deeded transaction.
 
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HelloBostonHi

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They think if they keep sticking these stickers over the completion date that we might forget how miserably delayed this project is. Ruggles busway and elevators.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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From Alewife Brook Pkwy. overpass few hours ago. . .

Giant bundles of ties have been dropped alongside both tracks of the Fitchburg Line as far as the eye can see in both directions. Looks like a tie replacement project starting imminently...and a substantial number of changeouts from the looks of things. Have not seen any sort of announcement of weekend bustitutions except for next 2 weekends Porter-NS for GLX-related work. This job would probably incur a bustitution from Brandeis-in.
 

kingofsheeba

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From Alewife Brook Pkwy. overpass few hours ago. . .

Giant bundles of ties have been dropped alongside both tracks of the Fitchburg Line as far as the eye can see in both directions. Looks like a tie replacement project starting imminently...and a substantial number of changeouts from the looks of things. Have not seen any sort of announcement of weekend bustitutions except for next 2 weekends Porter-NS for GLX-related work. This job would probably incur a bustitution from Brandeis-in.
Probably would be a good time to check in on that slab replacement project going on at the Alewife garage.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Probably would be a good time to check in on that slab replacement project going on at the Alewife garage.
Dunno. With welded rail replacement they can drop the new quarter-mile lengths of ribbon up to a year in advance of the actual install because it stores easily on the trackbed and is hard enough to transport that rail train activity is usually far-decoupled from construction projects. Ties are different. They're great big bundled cubes that eat up lots of side space on the ROW, create very apparent visual obstruction to train crews, age more over the course of a winter in bundle storage than dropped rail, and are a bigger vandal target (don't need any giant creosote-soaked cubes getting arsoned; that'll get abutters evacuated for HAZMAT). While the inbound side has them stacked on top of derelict Track 3 (ex- West Cambridge Yard lead), outbound side they're bogarting lots of space in the Alewife Maint Yard's hi-rail parking lot...definitely not a situation that can persist through the whole of wet-leaf season or snow/cold inspection season when Alewife MOW is proportionately at its busiest all year. So I'd hedge they're doing a weekend bustitution or two and busting out the steampunk tie-changing critters throughout Cambridge & Belmont sometime in next 6 weeks. And it should be a hell of a show to watch from the parkway sidewalk because it's one big-ass tie drop meaning they're preparing to change out a high density of them.
 

Stlin

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Ties are different. They're great big bundled cubes that eat up lots of side space on the ROW, create very apparent visual obstruction to train crews, age more over the course of a winter in bundle storage than dropped rail, and are a bigger vandal target (don't need any giant creosote-soaked cubes getting arsoned; that'll get abutters evacuated for HAZMAT).
I mean... tie replacement is one of those few railroad things that actually seems to have been highly automated and mechanised. It may be possible to do it just by relying on a single track while a much reduced Covid schedule is in placce.

So, given I'm sure the answer to this will be an education in of itself... Why continue to use creosote impregnated wood, and not concrete? Insofar as I can tell, precast concrete ties can handle more weight, higher speeds, you need fewer of them, and they need far less maintenance and replacment intervals are far longer. For a lightly used freight corridor, sure, keep using wood. But for heavily used passenger corridors, where taking a track out of service creates significant impacts? Why use the thing that degrades in 10 years instead of the thing that degrades in 40-50? Even if the Red Line doesn't need the loading strength, avoiding service interuptions itself would be a good reason to switch when they do full depth reconstruction, but they continued with wood when they did the accelerated track replacement.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I mean... tie replacement is one of those few railroad things that actually seems to have been highly automated and mechanised. It may be possible to do it just by relying on a single track while a much reduced Covid schedule is in placce.

So, given I'm sure the answer to this will be an education in of itself... Why continue to use creosote impregnated wood, and not concrete? Insofar as I can tell, precast concrete ties can handle more weight, higher speeds, you need fewer of them, and they need far less maintenance and replacment intervals are far longer. For a lightly used freight corridor, sure, keep using wood. But for heavily used passenger corridors, where taking a track out of service creates significant impacts? Why use the thing that degrades in 10 years instead of the thing that degrades in 40-50? Even if the Red Line doesn't need the loading strength, avoiding service interuptions itself would be a good reason to switch when they do full depth reconstruction, but they continued with wood when they did the accelerated track replacement.
T's had horrible luck with concrete ties. Remember the Old Colony concrete replacement fiasco? Poor quality control from a (once) reputable vendor led to series of botched-pour batches that weren't water-tight. Advanced mass spalling after barely dozen years of freeze-thaw cycles loosened the clips dangerously. Vendor was sued into bankruptcy, with T and other RR's eating the whole replacement cost because there was no longer an in-business vendor to serve the warranty. This coming 20 years after a similar Needham Line concrete tie replacement fiasco.

Problem is if the batch isn't water-tight concrete ties can fail en masse like that, easily exploited by climate that goes through a nightly freeze-thaw cycle during damp winters. Very specific Northeastern exploit making us the single worst region for them. Uniformly freezing like Midwest winters or uniformly warm is better than daily freeze-thaw. While good vendor QC *should* make even that a non-issue...well, actual results have been rather checkered. And the T is acting the part: twice bitten, thrice-shy.

Wood, despite being "consumable", has much safer failure modes than bad concrete. It's spike-driven so will hold even as the wood splits unlike concrete spalling where the entire clip (or both of them) can completely give way. It's flexible in freeze-thaw. And it's cheap with all the recycling. NJ Transit has probably made the widest (though hardly widespread) use of concrete of any Northeastern RR...but freeze-thaw cycles in Central Jersey are quite a bit less unrelenting than they are in Southern New England. Risk profile isn't quite the same.

Now...ties are an active area of R&D (believe it or not the RR tie industry has its own specialized trade press of multiple publications of nothing but crosstie news & views). And there's all kinds of fun (uh...if you're into that) innovations happening with composite materials, plastics, etc. Stuff with similar durability properties as concrete but less all-or-nothing failure mode. That's probably the long-term answer for us.

Couldn't tell you when that composite stuff is coming, though...I let my subscription to "Tie World Monthly" lapse long ago.:unsure:
 
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Stlin

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Problem is if the batch isn't water-tight concrete ties can fail en masse like that, easily exploited by climate that goes through a nightly freeze-thaw cycle during damp winters. Very specific Northeastern exploit making us the single worst region for them. Uniformly freezing like Midwest winters or uniformly warm is better than daily freeze-thaw. While good vendor QC *should* make even that a non-issue...well, actual results have been rather checkered. And the T is acting the part: twice bitten, thrice-shy.

Wood, despite being "consumable", has much safer failure modes than bad concrete. It's spike-driven so will hold even as the wood splits unlike concrete spalling where the entire clip (or both of them) can completely give way. It's flexible in freeze-thaw. And it's cheap with all the recycling. NJ Transit has probably made the widest (though hardly widespread) use of concrete of any Northeastern RR...but freeze-thaw cycles in Central Jersey are quite a bit less unrelenting than they are in Southern New England. Risk profile isn't quite the same.
I get that, but the obvious counter example is, well, the entire NEC south of Back Bay. Has that historically suffered from the same or similar issues?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I get that, but the obvious counter example is, well, the entire NEC south of Back Bay. Has that historically suffered from the same or similar issues?
Yes. Amtrak was bitten square in the ass on the NEC by another bad batch of ties from that same bankrupt Rocla company responsible for the Old Colony fiasco. They likewise had to sue to try to claim whatever warranty scraps they could when the company imploded. Being Class 8 HSR track they had reasons to keep using concrete, especially on the Shoreline where some of the 2-track marshlands are harder to get the equipment in without having to shut both tracks at once. But it's never been wholesale-adopted across the NEC (you can use wood just fine for 150-165 MPH track, but the replacement cycles get shorter with each escalating track class). They too are looking for that next great composite materials innovation before dipping in.

The 'killer app' for Northeastern climate would be something seal-tight like well-poured concrete, but with wood's flex for freeze-thaw, and can take a deep-driven tie plate more like spike through wood and less like a superficially surface-affixed tie plate so the failure modes aren't as all or nothing. Plastic resin -based composite of some sort probably is what checks off all those boxes. All a matter of when the manufacturing sector gets something like that to mass market. The T probably has tons of sample-product installations of composite materials around the system in various limited spots that vendors are paying them to test-monitor for X years at a time, because that's how the new stuff gets field-tested for real-world wear profiles.


FWIW...the state did part out the best-condition of the Old Colony ties for re-use as freight donationware as their booby prize in the Rocla warranty settlement. Not every batch used was a bad one, but enough batches were bad that it impacted all 3 Old Colony lines. The inspected salvage concrete ties ended up rebuilding most of Grafton & Upton's freshly restored-to-service mainline from West Upton to Milford, got dispersed to Pioneer Valley and Mass Central out west, and got doled out through the state IRAP grant program to build/rebuild lots of various carriers' customer sidings. Just unfortunately the inverse of the scenario you floated...the 10 MPH freight-only lines getting the windfall because sans any enforceable manufacturing warranty for their remaining rated lifetime even the good concrete ties were useless idea to keep pushing on Purple Line track. I'm not sure where all the salvage concrete ties newly-installed for the new Pan Am GLX-replacement yard tracks next to Sullivan-Assembly came from. That too was donationware from some place (Beacon Park???)...but the Rocla debacle has now been too long ago for them to still have any of that left in storage.


EDIT: And here's an example of what a type of plastic composite tie (recycled plastic + recycled rubber) looks like. . .



(Note that the tie plates are deep spike-driven like with a wood tie and not clipped to the topmost surface like concrete. These can bend and microfracture around the tie plate like wood without risking the plate completely failing like a spalled concrete surface would after the water flakes out the concrete immediately around the clip. We'd probably be hoping for similar mishmash composites next time the Red Line floating slabs need end-of-life replacement too, as those surface tie clips also got eaten alive by the longstanding water leakage problems in that tunnel.)
 
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