Reasonable Transit Pitches

Blackbird

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I think it's a combination of better frequency, plus selling it to the bus riding crowd, not the commuter rail crowd. If for some reason we can't do a full blown Orange Line extension, what solution favors the most people? One that provides better service to folks currently taking a bus to Forest Hills. The optimal solution is the one in which we spend a lot more money, but maybe that's not a possible solution, given funding priorities.
As someone who used to take both the commuter rail between Boston and Rozzie and the OL-to-bus route depending on the time of day, I think you're grossly underestimating the number of "bus people" in Rozzie who would vastly prefer to not have to change in FH. OLX or bust.
 

BronsonShore

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As someone who used to take both the commuter rail between Boston and Rozzie and the OL-to-bus route depending on the time of day, I think you're grossly underestimating the number of "bus people" in Rozzie who would vastly prefer to not have to change in FH. OLX or bust.
Bingo. I live in the square now, and I’m only ever a “bus person” when the train schedule forces me to be one.
 

bakgwailo

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Bingo. I live in the square now, and I’m only ever a “bus person” when the train schedule forces me to be one.
Have to add onto this - from high school to the various times I still lived over there as an adult, I only ever took the bus when the CR forced me to - or I missed the CR and the next was more than 40 minutes away. Catching the CR at say Bellevue is significantly better/faster in almost every way to doing a 35/36/37/38 dance with a switch at Forest Hills.
 

Riverside

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This person may be on the board (the reference to Van's track map suggests he's at least been here), but the light rail Needham substitution from the Forest Hills side is a notion I don't think I've seen before.

It's a fun thought exercise, and I appreciate the detailed review of the options, but to me the solution has always seemed obvious: Green to Needham Junction (I don't think the travel time costs will be nearly as forbidding as he seems to think), and Orange to West Roxbury-ish.

...

Orange Line to West Roxbury is literally the most reasonable HRT expansion proposal in the entire system. No rail expansion is ever easy, but Orange to W Rox would provide better service on that corridor, and would best for the Boston transit network overall.
So I'm thinking about this a little bit more, especially through the framework I'm trying to embrace of "phased solutions" -- i.e. breaking projects up into smaller pieces, each of which is a reasonable solution suitable for some amount of time, though not necessarily sustainable in the long-term.

I still think that an LRT shuttle is the wrong way to go. However, I wonder if an additional short-turn commuter rail shuttle service could be used to lay the groundwork for public support for rapid transit expansion (on either side of 128). Keep the current hourly trips into South Station, but layer in short-turn trips to Forest Hills every 15-20 minutes, with free transfers to the Orange Line. (In fact, in general, you should probably move the line to rapid transit pricing anyway -- maybe with a small surcharge if you ride "express" to South Station, but I don't think that's worth fussing over.)

That would start to offer some of the benefits of rapid transit service without the need for huge upfront capital investments, and without sacrificing the quality of the current service. Aside from needing some extra equipment, this is a change that could be implemented purely organizationally, without new infrastructure.*

* The one part I'm less confident on is that the majority of the branch is single tracked. There are passing sidings
  • just inbound of Needham Heights
  • just inbound of Needham Junction
  • a bit outbound of West Roxbury
  • about three-quarters of the stretch between Roslindale Village and Forest Hills is doubled -- but, there are no crossovers outbound of Forest Hills, so a short-turn would need to reverse out the same track it enters on, and one of the tracks merges onto the mainline outbound of Forest Hills, so that's not really an option
And it's that stretch between West Roxbury and Forest Hills (all effectively single tracked) that would really pose a problem. 10 minutes from W Rox to FH, then x minutes to turn, then 10 minutes from FH out to W Rox. Assuming x = 10 minutes, which is aggressive, then you're at 30 minutes between inbound trains. Now, with a free transfer to the Orange Line, that's still probably an improvement, but not a huge one.

That being said: a modest capital project would be to add a second track between Roslindale Village and Bellevue (leaving the stations untouched). Assuming that this could be done in a way that it wouldn't need to be redone for an Orange Line conversion (i.e. lay down a second commuter rail track and use that same track for the Orange Line when its time comes), that could probably get you down to a 20 minute headway (depending on how fast they can turn the train at Forest Hills). This would provide a tangible improvement in service, and would lay the groundwork (physically and politically) for rapid transit conversion.

EDIT: But in case it wasn't clear, the long game and best option is an Orange Line extension.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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So I'm thinking about this a little bit more, especially through the framework I'm trying to embrace of "phased solutions" -- i.e. breaking projects up into smaller pieces, each of which is a reasonable solution suitable for some amount of time, though not necessarily sustainable in the long-term.

I still think that an LRT shuttle is the wrong way to go. However, I wonder if an additional short-turn commuter rail shuttle service could be used to lay the groundwork for public support for rapid transit expansion (on either side of 128). Keep the current hourly trips into South Station, but layer in short-turn trips to Forest Hills every 15-20 minutes, with free transfers to the Orange Line. (In fact, in general, you should probably move the line to rapid transit pricing anyway -- maybe with a small surcharge if you ride "express" to South Station, but I don't think that's worth fussing over.)

That would start to offer some of the benefits of rapid transit service without the need for huge upfront capital investments, and without sacrificing the quality of the current service. Aside from needing some extra equipment, this is a change that could be implemented purely organizationally, without new infrastructure.*

* The one part I'm less confident on is that the majority of the branch is single tracked. There are passing sidings
  • just inbound of Needham Heights
  • just inbound of Needham Junction
  • a bit outbound of West Roxbury
  • about three-quarters of the stretch between Roslindale Village and Forest Hills is doubled -- but, there are no crossovers outbound of Forest Hills, so a short-turn would need to reverse out the same track it enters on, and one of the tracks merges onto the mainline outbound of Forest Hills, so that's not really an option
And it's that stretch between West Roxbury and Forest Hills (all effectively single tracked) that would really pose a problem. 10 minutes from W Rox to FH, then x minutes to turn, then 10 minutes from FH out to W Rox. Assuming x = 10 minutes, which is aggressive, then you're at 30 minutes between inbound trains. Now, with a free transfer to the Orange Line, that's still probably an improvement, but not a huge one.

That being said: a modest capital project would be to add a second track between Roslindale Village and Bellevue (leaving the stations untouched). Assuming that this could be done in a way that it wouldn't need to be redone for an Orange Line conversion (i.e. lay down a second commuter rail track and use that same track for the Orange Line when its time comes), that could probably get you down to a 20 minute headway (depending on how fast they can turn the train at Forest Hills). This would provide a tangible improvement in service, and would lay the groundwork (physically and politically) for rapid transit conversion.

EDIT: But in case it wasn't clear, the long game and best option is an Orange Line extension.
Again...don't think the neighborhood is going to be up for half-solutions here. Not having enough Downtown connectivity is a big chip they carry on their shoulders. Having to deal with severe overcrowding at a FH terminal not well-balanced for taking the swells is a big chip they carry on their shoulders.

And such a staged plan is not likely to work to begin with, since those on-platform reverse maneuvers would be occupying the NEC mainline with 2 stopped trains on half the total available tracks whenever there's a meet for a thru train and a shuttle train. The far side of the island is currently used as the Needham-only turnout, but is where NEC Track 4 to Readville would start. Plains Interlocking (Green St.), the current Needham Line junction, would then become a set of leading crossovers across all NEC tracks, while Forest Hills Interlocking on the mainline other side of the station (currently a set of trailing crossovers on the 3 extant mainline tracks) gains the 4th track + 4th set of trailing crossover. Amtrak aims to use that as the great sorting spot for intercity trains jumping the queue over slow locals, which is why it is ID'd as a priority in the NEC Infrastructure Improvements Master Plan. Any T plan to start bogarting that would-be passing area with lots more parked trains is going to get an immediate veto from Amtrak...who as dispatcher of the NEC do have veto power over it. Up to and including shuttle trains who only enter their dispatch territory for the sake of one-half of the island platform.

It's why the Rail Vision Alt. for the shuttle was narrowly phrased as just a take-it/leave-it shuttle and not a blend. Amtrak's going to veto it as a blend because the newly created on-platform meets create a whole new bottleneck for them. So what do you do...start tearing the shit out of the FH platform in the middle of a very cramped cut to add another side turnout? That price tag starts eating into the largely straightforward costs of an RT conversion or even the phased +1-to-Rozzie installment plan, so expanding that station will never hold up to scrutiny.

The options are very constrained here. That's why you don't see the Rail Vision study doing a "LA! LA! LA! I CAN'T HEAR YOU" at the rapid transit proposal anymore. Even the change-resistant agency itself has to look at the NEC's tricky traffic profile with open eyes now for the first time and publicly admit that that there aren't any easy answers to this.


EDIT: New Tk. 4 config annotated below on an old track map. . .
FH.jpg


4th crossover gets installed at FOREST + a switch frog over the No. 4 track on Needham, and then the extra track is off to the races down to Readville. Right now the T runs Needham by-practice unidirectionally on Tk. 3 and whenever humanly possible takes the Tk. 5 turnout so they're completely off the NEC when stopping on the platform. The inner platform is usually avoided at all cost except for a couple select meets where it's unavoidable. Things are going to get a lot tighter for Needham when the 4th track to Readville is tied in, because then a whole lot more T traffic is going to be crossing over out of the way at PLAINS so Amtrak can hit the gas on the center tracks. Which means the outer berth of FH Station, which is currently Needham's exclusive domain, is going to start seeing all sorts of express-thru traffic squeezing it for slots. And when that forces way more use of the No. 4/Inner berth for Needham usage Amtrak and Providence are going to start seeing conflict-city. This is also why the Rail Vision aims to boot most Franklin service to interlining via Fairmount; that branch, forking off the NEC on westerly side, would be the branch most often blowing thru the FH platforms in the act of getting out of everyone else's way. The Rail Vision had to punt Franklin for the sake of either A) preserve current thru-to-Downtown headways on Needham at nothing better than current service levels or B) offer up the Needham-FH shuttle at expense of any Needham-Downtown slots because of the way these bookending interlockings would get hella more crowded in the new pecking order. There isn't a way to accommodate both unless you started vulturing some...say, Stoughton...frequencies in addition to the Franklin/Fairmount switcheroo. FH terminal building is directly on top of all these tracks, and the Orange Line is out-of-picture next to the No. 5 track...so good luck trying to expand the station platforms to offset without incurring one gigantic cost blowout.
 
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Riverside

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And such a staged plan is not likely to work to begin with, since those on-platform reverse maneuvers would be occupying the NEC mainline with 2 stopped trains on half the total available tracks whenever there's a meet for a thru train and a shuttle train.
Keep the current hourly trips into South Station, but layer in short-turn trips to Forest Hills every 15-20 minutes, with free transfers to the Orange Line.

...

Now, with a free transfer to the Orange Line, that's still probably an improvement, but not a huge one.
Not that I disagree with your overall assessment -- but I'm not proposing "shuttle-transfer-to-mainline", I'm proposing "shuttle-transfer-to-Orange Line", which is indeed also terrible in its own right.

Again...don't think the neighborhood is going to be up for half-solutions here.
Cool, but, like, if you're wrong, and there isn't the political willpower initially to support a full conversion to Orange, that's where this interim proposal would come in. This half-solution only kicks in if the full solution is rejected.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Cool, but, like, if you're wrong, and there isn't the political willpower initially to support a full conversion to Orange, that's where this interim proposal would come in. This half-solution only kicks in if the full solution is rejected.
See above post edit. Careens head-first into a traffic brick wall when the Rail Vision is pulsing up Providence/Stoughton and they need to be sorted out of Amtrak's way.


There's considerably less political willpower to blow the shit out of Forest Hills Station to try to carve turnout space for a conflict-free shuttle platform than there is the Boston 2030 plan to +1 the Orange Line to Rozzie so at least the bus-transfer crowd bomb can be usefully defused a little bit to some aggregate (if temporary...because schedules to W. Rox/Needham will still be permanently limited) relief. The slots will literally not be available to mix/match dinky vs. thru service, and Amtrak dispatch holds veto power if they don't like being pinched by newfound bottlenecks.
 

DominusNovus

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This is a technical question, relevant to the Needham discussion tangentially. What are the challenges of large loops in transit?

By way of demonstration: if the E line were restored down to Forest Hills, and then extended out to Needham as the LRT option discussed above all the way to the Upper Falls area and then connected to the D line, inbound, there. What are the pro's and con's of that sort of arrangement, in general? I know restoring the E line to Forest Hills is not practical at this time, I'm just using that as a demonstration of the sort of loop I'm asking about.
 

The EGE

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Such a "Needham Circuit" route was actually run from 1911 to 1914, and was terminated not by insufficient ridership but by anti-trust legislation. Similar circuit routes were run on the B&A Highland Branch / main line (Highland Circuit) and the NYNH&H Dedham Branch / West Roxbury Branch (Dedham Circuit) until 1958 and 1940, respectively.

The only real advantages are some crosstown trips (West Roxbury to Newton Highlands, say) that would otherwise require a transfer, and that passengers at the terminal have a choice of two services. The downsides are dispatching (if you're continuing through the outer terminal, you can only control dispatching at the inner terminal), and that one side of the loop may have higher ridership.
 

HenryAlan

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As someone who used to take both the commuter rail between Boston and Rozzie and the OL-to-bus route depending on the time of day, I think you're grossly underestimating the number of "bus people" in Rozzie who would vastly prefer to not have to change in FH. OLX or bust.
Bingo. I live in the square now, and I’m only ever a “bus person” when the train schedule forces me to be one.
Respectfully, I think you both are focusing narrowly on your own experience. It's true that people don't like transfers, but my view on the bus/OL option, which I do quite often, is that the bus is the issue, much more so than the transfer. The bus is slow and low capacity in a densely populated corridor with lots of transit riders. Most of us in Rozzie do not take the Needham Line. I did for years, but the schedule tweaks and price hikes got me out of that habit. The difference in bus/OL from Rozzie Square to Back Bay vs. Needham Line is actually only about 10 minutes when traffic and boarding times don't mess things up too much. Get rid of those two issues, and a lot of bus riders (emphasis on bus riders, not commuter rail riders) will find a much improved experience.

That said, I much prefer an Orange Line extension. This is a thought exercise, a question about what might provide a large improvement for less money. I think an LRT shuttle could work. Is it the optimal solution? No, not at all. But it is a substantial improvement for most people.
 

jklo

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The difference in bus/OL from Rozzie Square to Back Bay vs. Needham Line is actually only about 10 minutes when traffic and boarding times don't mess things up too much.
Depends on how long the walk and bus ride is. CR is 12 minutes according to the Trip Planner. The OL ride by itself from FH is 13 minutes.

The Zone 1 fare is an big issue for sure. You do OLX you could even ditch the bus.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Respectfully, I think you both are focusing narrowly on your own experience. It's true that people don't like transfers, but my view on the bus/OL option, which I do quite often, is that the bus is the issue, much more so than the transfer. The bus is slow and low capacity in a densely populated corridor with lots of transit riders. Most of us in Rozzie do not take the Needham Line. I did for years, but the schedule tweaks and price hikes got me out of that habit. The difference in bus/OL from Rozzie Square to Back Bay vs. Needham Line is actually only about 10 minutes when traffic and boarding times don't mess things up too much. Get rid of those two issues, and a lot of bus riders (emphasis on bus riders, not commuter rail riders) will find a much improved experience.

That said, I much prefer an Orange Line extension. This is a thought exercise, a question about what might provide a large improvement for less money. I think an LRT shuttle could work. Is it the optimal solution? No, not at all. But it is a substantial improvement for most people.
You haven't answered the key question the LRT shuttle option hinges on: how is that an order of magnitude better than a Purple Line shuttle? The LRT shuttle is a forced transfer that would at best do a few minutes' headway improvement over the CR shuttle that the neighborhoods found vehemently objectionable. You either have evidence to cite that the prime objection was that the CR shuttle was only a few minutes' shy of some magical headway target sweet spot before vehement objection flips into broad support...or else it's extremely likely upended by the exact same Downtown preclusion that got them shouting down the Rail Vision Alt. in the first place.

So where's the leading indicators that a shuttle / any shuttle is sitting on the cusp of support??? There isn't any polling indicating that they'd be satisfied by same old FH forced transfer at few mins' improvement...loads of evidence that they demand better thru-to-Downtown headways. This think exercise needs to point to some evidence favoring its conclusion. It's not. It's one individual's opinion refuting other individuals' opinions, which is...the very narrow-focusing on one's personal experience non-usefully that your post warns against. There is a public record of prevailing attitudes, because there were Rail Vision public meetings that fully worked out the shuttle option. Where's the treatment of that?
 

HenryAlan

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@F-Line to Dudley the objection to the commuter rail shuttle will also exist with an LRT shuttle. It's based on people wanting to avoid a transfer. I get the objection, and in a perfect world, we would be able to cater to it. I don't think we're really talking about the same thing here at all, because you are stuck on the idea that a shuttle of any sort will be rejected, whereas I'm talking about shuttle modes. People like RT better than CR for short distances because it's perceived as available on demand. No matter how much you tighten the schedule and market the thing, a CR shuttle will be seen as not available on demand. But if your point is that yes, well, it's still better than a bus, then yeah, can't argue against that.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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@F-Line to Dudley the objection to the commuter rail shuttle will also exist with an LRT shuttle. It's based on people wanting to avoid a transfer. I get the objection, and in a perfect world, we would be able to cater to it. I don't think we're really talking about the same thing here at all, because you are stuck on the idea that a shuttle of any sort will be rejected, whereas I'm talking about shuttle modes. People like RT better than CR for short distances because it's perceived as available on demand. No matter how much you tighten the schedule and market the thing, a CR shuttle will be seen as not available on demand. But if your point is that yes, well, it's still better than a bus, then yeah, can't argue against that.
The shuttle was the objectionable thing to the neighborhood with the Rail Vision Alt...not the frequencies, which were enormously better and clock-facing. There were public meetings on this with lots of feedback polled. That was the be-all/end-all objectionable thing.

So you have to posit some evidence that "people like RT better than CR for short distances" counteracts the bullseyed objection that it was the forced-transfer at Forest Hills that was objectionable. You're right...we're not talking about the same thing at all, because no RT shuttle addresses the primary objection at all. Being forced to transfer at FH Terminal was the one huge thing that got all the howls from the neighborhoods. You're talking about some nebulous "feels" optics about tangiental ride experience somehow making yet another shuttle not be perceived as a shuttle because of...[???] intangibles. That doesn't specifically address the objection in any way/shape/form. The neighborhoods were quite crystal clear in what they didn't like, and why what they didn't like was no-go as a solution. So the solution either direct-targets what they were awfully explicit in not liking--the fact that it had to be a FH shuttle--or it's tapdancing around the problem. Really...there isn't enormous room for the imagination here. They want a higher-frequency not-shuttle, period.
 

HenryAlan

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I don't know what to tell you F-Line. I live in the neighborhood, I know the people who live here who think about transit. With the exception of people who are extremists demanding the best solution or no solution, people will accept most ideas on the continuum between status quo and the best solution. I'm not sure what point you are trying to make other than to say that some people reject a commuter rail shuttle. Yes, that's true, congratulations! Anyway, I'm done here, because we are never not going to talk past each other on this.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I don't know what to tell you F-Line. I live in the neighborhood, I know the people who live here who think about transit. With the exception of people who are extremists demanding the best solution or no solution, people will accept most ideas on the continuum between status quo and the best solution. I'm not sure what point you are trying to make other than to say that some people reject a commuter rail shuttle. Yes, that's true, congratulations! Anyway, I'm done here, because we are never not going to talk past each other on this.
You've had multiple testimonials on the thread here from people who have lived in the neighborhood detailing why the buses with their forced transfer don't cut it, and then all the public evidence from the Rail Vision conversation. So I don't know what to tell you. You're going to believe what your own experience tells you to believe. All I'm asking here for is some cited evidence to counterpoint the public-record RV feedback that shuttle service period was the objection.
 

jklo

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They want a higher-frequency not-shuttle, period.
To me it sounds like they want the fastest to BB/SS. Perhaps the real question is whether the residents have the juice to undermine Amtrak's ambitions if there is an attempt to dismantle the Needham line without OLX.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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To me it sounds like they want the fastest to BB/SS. Perhaps the real question is whether the residents have the juice to undermine Amtrak's ambitions if there is an attempt to dismantle the Needham line without OLX.
More than BBY/SS. It's also bus hub-to-bus hub @ Ruggles for the Nubian routes. Being captive to FH as a forever-terminal is sooooooo mobility-limiting for neighborhoods with high incumbent transit shares.

And if we're going to get into 'intangibles'...the intangible that got specifically cited a lot with the RV public comment was the Orange Line platform overcrowding @ FH when a wrong-sized lump of bunched buses dumps its transferee load on the OL platform all at once. FH '87 isn't a spatially cramped platform like...say, Kendall's 1912 platforms are...but they can dangerously overcrowd with the size of some of the swells, and the decade-level growth tracks of some of the bus routes out of there makes this get worse with time. It can be very hard during some of the swells to get a seat on Orange, at a terminal stop. It's a withering future if they're going to be pinned into forever-shuttle here when the long-term growth curve of the bus routes is unbounded and there's only so much you can do on Lower Washington to even out the swells. Only so much you can do with restructuring some loads to immaculately-timed rail shuttle swells vs. the rest of the bus transfer swells that are already going to be some degree of variable to chaos effects. This was the crux of the Walsh Admin's advocacy for the OLX-Roslindale +1 in the Boston 2030 plan. It punts out the long-term issue of NEC traffic, but at least substantially tackles the platform-overcrowding 'intangible' demerit by load-spreading the transfers and cutting some bus routes early @ Rozzie.

Shuttling to a FH transfer singularity doesn't even provide as much relief as the down-payment OLX +1. The terminal overcrowding problem that provokes such strong local reaction stays unbounded in that scenario. And also, OLX-Rozzie at least takes an edge off without vulturing any thru-to-Downtown Needham Line frequencies. Those Needham frequencies are still way underwhelming and long-term it's still diminishing returns as NEC congestion eventually forces the issue all the same. But the B30 advocacy was a palatable interim compromise by defusing the overcrowding bomb that was so loudly objectionable without forcing every single frequency to be a forced-transfer.

Forced-transfer is very clearly the public-opinion line in the sand. There are multiple converging reasons for that, but that's where the major fault line is.
 

Stlin

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Out of curiosity, what is different about European light rail construction that enables grassy/green tramways, and is this something that the MBTA could reasonably implement on future Green Line full depth track renewal projects? (As design intent, rather than a weed situtation) For example, on the B? Basically, do this sort of thing:
Screenshot_20210412-102802_Acrobat for Samsung.jpg

Below is from the brand new line in Paris, but they're reasonably common across european cities and even up into the former soviet bloc. If the concern is plows, just keep it below the rail tops. Apparently, they even have environmental benefits with particle suspension and runoff.
Screenshot_20210412-095304_Chrome.jpg
Screenshot_20210412-102827_Acrobat for Samsung.jpg
 
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