Red Line Extension to Mattapan


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May 25, 2006
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This popped up on my Twitter feed:

In the piece the author outlines how it might be beneficial to replace the high speed line with a simple extension of the Red Line. The MBTA is looking at what to do with the old light rail line especially in the wake of the recent crash. Knowing them they'd want to just pave it over and throw down BRT but a full heavy rail extension might be worth looking at.
^ The proposal for consolidated stops at Milton & Mattapan, bolstered by good paths and bridges over rivers, seems like an ideal long-term plan.
I agree it's a good option. This has been under serious consideration at least since the 1960's, and I remember it covered quite a bit in the Boston news media back then.
I had been assuming that the two grade crossings at Capen St and Central Ave would be too expensive to grade separate to make such a Red Line extension worthwhile, but reading that blog post has left me not at all convinced that those grade separations would be too expensive.

I think the assumption in that blog post that a terminal station needs to be complex and expensive is not necessarily right in this case. I think a simple island platform at Mattapan with no tail tracks beyond the platform ought to be fine: if something blocks the southbound track for, say, 15-30 minutes somewhere between JFK/UMass and Ashmont, and then all of the trains start heading toward Ashmont at faster than 6 minute headways when the track becomes unblocked, Mattapan doesn't need to be able to handle the tight headways, because at that point half the trains can terminate at Ashmont / Codman Yard. It might be appropriate to make the length of the Mattapan platform be equal to the length of a 6 car Red Line train, plus the distance a new Red Line train is expected to take to decelerate from 10 MPH to stopped, plus a small safety factor, plus maybe a fudge factor if there's imprecision in where the signal system transitions from telling the train it is allowed to go 10 MPH to the point where the signal system tells the train it needs to decelerate to 0 MPH. (The goal being that if you reach that transition point at just above 0 MPH, you'll end up near the east end of the platform, and if you hit that transition point at 10 MPH, you'll end up near the west end of the platform.)

It might be appropriate to build the Mattapan platform 40' to 60' wide, with space for ramps in the middle. At the west end, have a ramp going from the platform down to street level; if Red Line platforms are 48" above the ground (I don't know for sure if that's the case or not), then that would be 48' plus 5' for a landing (or maybe a slightly longer landing) plus probably a bit more for a fudge factor so that it can be built a bit less steep than 12:1 in case the construction is imprecise so that after it gets built slightly wrong it's still less steep than 12:1. It might make sense to build this so that if a train ends up at the very westernmost 40' of the platform, and you get out at the front most door or possibly even the next door, you won't be able to walk directly across to a train at the other side (if it manages to also platform equally far west), but you'd instead have to walk over to the eastern end of the ramp first.

If the bridge across the Neponset just to the east of Mattapan Station is currently deficient, it would probably be best to work out the ideal geometry for the new Mattapan Station and that bridge before rebuilding the bridge.

I'm wondering if a ramp from the Mattapan platform up to the Neponset Trail bridge would be practical. If a 10' elevation difference turns out to be enough to get from the floor elevation of a Red Line car to the height where a bridge can cross over it, that's 120' plus 3 x 5' landings plus fudge factors, or 135' plus fudge factors, or probably roughly the length of two Red Line cars. It might make sense to have ramp + elevator here, preferably with a fare gate configuration on the upper level so that one bank of fare gates provides access to both the elevator and ramp.

I think the blog post's list of things needed may have omitted the fare gates on the outbound platform at Ashmont; last time I was there there were none.

I'm wondering if it would be practical to build an island platform which would have its eastern end maybe 150' or so west of the Valley Road access path (which apparently doesn't actually connect to Valley Road) with a ramp down to the platform, and then at the western end of that platform, a ramp down to track level, and then an underpass to get to the south side of the tracks once the Capen St grade separation climbs high enough to provide adequate clearance.

I'm also wondering if a station could be built with the southern end of its platform(s) near the existing Cedar Grove station and its northern end near Gallivan Blvd to better maintain service for more of the existing walk shed.
If they can pull this off this would be great. The trolley is a joke and it just so happens to head out to Mattapan, one of the poorest areas of the city. The city is taking steps to get transit to the poorer neighborhoods and this would be a great start. These people need to get downtown to where the jobs are and having to transfer from this pos trolley to the red line is a joke. This needs to happen. I am happy to see the new stops being added on the fairmount line. Everything helps.
As they often did, BERy planned for the possibility of that extension. The line goes onto a 3% grade west of Milton station, which was purposely built to accommodate future grade separation.
That's not necessarily true:

  • The Haymarket North Extension was built with the third track and other preparations for the deferred extension to Reading. I believe the Wellington Yard was also left with extra space for additional tracks.
  • The Red Line Northwest Extension was built with tail tracks aligned for Arlington, and an expandable garage at Alewife.
  • The Southwest Corridor was built with space for a fourth track south of Forest Hills, an Orange Line yard aligned for a Needham extension, and provisions for catenary supports.
  • The Seaport Transitway was built to a large loading gauge, was designed for easy light rail conversion, and what appears to be extendable platforms.
  • The GLX was always planned with Union Square station specifically not precluding an extension towards Porter (though it's not clear whether the shortsighted cuts and recent partial restoration will affect that). There have also been some similar consideration with vehicles - the Type 9s have plug doors that would allow future conversion to true level boarding.
  • Several commuter rail extensions were designed with future capacity in mind. A number of Old Colony stations, as well as Rowley, can have a second track added very easily.

There are certainly times they shoot themselves in the foot, for sure. (Hello, Ashmont station and the horrible transfer design). But when they do build things, they're occasionally smart about it.
Thanks for the interesting list.

There's also the pocket dead-end tracks in the Green line tunnel just south of the portal at Leverett Circle.
Not to get off-topic, but those actually were never designed to be part of a future extension, and for good reason. There's nowhere useful to go from there - west and you're just duplicating the Red Line into East Cambridge (much cheaper to go down the Grand Junction from the GLX, if you want the North Station - Kendall connection), south and you're running into the much-better-positioned Blue Line.

Off Campus | February 18, 2014
Alex Wallach Hanson

A working-class, Irish-Catholic community on the edge of suburbia, with access to downtown Boston, and a small-town feel that no one wanted to change—this is Arlington, MA in the 1970s. Most families had lived in the town for their entire lives, and connections ran deep. The church parish was strong (“devout, conservative and traditional”) and children growing up knew they were going to play either Little League or hockey.

However, as the 1980s approached, a change was going to come in the form of a proposed subway through the heart of the town. The Red Line Extension, which was to extend the Red Line from Harvard Square to Arlington Heights and eventually to Rt. 128 in Bedford, divided the community. It was eventually defeated, but not before laying bare the town for what it really was: a community resistant to change and overwhelmed by the prospect of outsiders dictating—some would say even taking part in—its future.

To anyone who has moved to Boston in the last 30 years, the Red Line has always ended at Alewife, and Tufts has always been known as the university that is near the Davis Square T stop. However, this was not always the case; there is a story behind why the Red Line exists as it does today. At its heart is Arlington, a town that borders Somerville and is just one mile from Tufts’ campus. The community of Arlington played a central role in how the Red Line Extension project proceeded, with consequences that reverberate today.

Since 1914, the Red Line terminated in Harvard Square. Along with Harvard University, the station at the end of the Red Line contributed to the development of Harvard Square as a hub of commercial activity. However, in the early 1970s, a concerted effort began to finally complete the Red Line. The governor at the time, Francis Sargent, had placed a moratorium on new highway construction in 1970 and was utilizing federal highway funds, not to build more highways but to fund public transportation projects such as the extension of the Red Line to Braintree and the re-construction of the Orange Line. It was during this era of mass transportation that the push to extend the Red Line to Rt. 128, by way of Arlington, began.

The Red Line Extension plan in its original conception would have essentially consisted of two parts. The first part would have extended the subway from Harvard Square to Arlington Center, while the second part would have taken the subway all the way to Rt. 128 in Lexington, where it would connect to a major highway.

Though this plan won almost immediate approval in Cambridge and Somerville, the fact that the Red Line would temporarily end in Arlington Center caused an initial round of opposition. The community feared additional traffic, parking, and general congestion that would result from living at the end of a subway line where commuters would park and ride into the city. As a result, in 1972, the Board of Selectmen voted for “128 or nothing”—either the Red Line would extend all the way to Rt. 128 or it would not extend through Arlington at all.

As the Board of Selectmen vote illustrates, some initial opposition to the Red Line Extension did exist, but it was not determinative. In fact, the local opinion at the time was split not on the question of whether the Red Line should be extended, but on whether or not the community could allow it temporarily to end in Arlington Center. Just four years later, in April of 1976, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council completed an application for federal funding for the Red Line Extension. At the time, it was the largest application for federal funds ever made in Boston ($381,191,000) and these federal dollars would have covered 80 percent of the cost of the total project. Today, such spending by the federal government on large mass transportation projects is unheard of; this application truly represented a once in a lifetime opportunity to complete the Red Line.

Local opposition intensified quickly. The proposed Red Line station in Arlington Center was near Arlington Catholic High School, a division of the local church. Local residents and parishioners saw this location as undesirable. The State Representative, John Cusack, responded by introducing a bill to prohibit the MBTA from constructing any facility within 150 yards of the high school. Though never passed, the bill was supported by 1,000 Arlington residents at a town hall meeting. Out of this legislative effort, the Arlington Red Line Action Movement (ALARM) was born.

Largely a creation of the local church, St. Agnes, ALARM placed a special referendum on the ballot in March 1977 on whether or not the Red Line should go through Arlington. The pastor of St. Agnes called a “no” vote, “a must for the survival of Arlington as a residential community.” ALARM and the church worked together to distribute literature, call 18,000 homes, and in the end send the referendum question to overwhelming defeat, with voters rejecting the Red Line Extension 9 to 1.

At the end of the day, Arlington had a chance to have a station on the Red Line and rejected it. In the course of less than one year, the town went from being part of the largest federal mass transit project ever proposed in the region, to forever excluding itself from the subway system.

The causes were a combination of reasons, both those stated overtly and those left unsaid. Local residents worried that the second half of the extension project would be delayed for decades, leaving Arlington Center as the terminus of the subway line with increased congestion and parking needs. The church—politically influential and “omnipotent” according to a local official—spoke of the need to preserve the fabric of the community.

Together, these concerns may have been enough to stop the project on its own, but they were not what fundamentally drove opposition to the Red Line in Arlington. In reality, it was fear; Fear of “undesirables” using the subway to get the community, including those who “need no more instruction than finding the end of the line in order to get to Arlington.” The church magnified the views of its white, semi-suburban constituency and convinced them that the subway would bring “outsiders” into the community. No argument about transportation or jobs could stand up to this fear.

Today, the town of Arlington still holds on to remnants of its past. Though the church is no longer monolithic, old ways die-hard and pockets of Irish-Catholicism remain. Children still know they are going to play one of two sports, except now it is hockey or soccer. The lack of a subway protected the community from urban change longer than its neighbors in Somerville, but today Arlington experiences rising housing costs just like any other local community. The town often does not want to face its less-than-praiseworthy past, and would rather focus on the neighborhood it has become today.

Without acknowledging where it came from though, Arlington will never know who it really is. The fear of change still exists, as seen through a lack of diversity in Arlington’s affordable housing, socio-economic isolation, and resistance to the Mass Ave. redevelopment project—and it is not unique to ‘townies.’ Progressive or conservative, new to town or born and raised, the urge to exclude crosses all boundaries. As Arlington plans for the next 40 years, it would do well to heed the lessons of the previous 40 and plan for not just a prosperous, but an inclusive future.
I don't see what the failed extension to Arlington (documented in a 4 year old article) has to do with the hypothetical extension to Mattapan. Full copying and pasting articles is also generally frowned upon.
I don't see what the failed extension to Arlington (documented in a 4 year old article) has to do with the hypothetical extension to Mattapan. Full copying and pasting articles is also generally frowned upon.

I’m also pretty sure someone has posted that very article here before.
This idea got a name drop today at the FMCB meeting because it had been included in the limited public comments on the CIP. As today is the last day of comments and there are so few that they have a larger voice, those who see this as a reasonable future solution should probably add their voice to the comments as it seems to be on the CIP radar.
I'd say take the Red Line even further than Mattapan Square. Keep 'er goin' right into Roslindale Square with a transfer to an Orange Line extension there. Build an elevated over Cummins Highway.
I like that in theory, but I think some sections of Cummins are pretty narrow for an El. It's also quite hilly, so in many ways, a subway would probably be a better choice from a design and engineering point of view.
I like that in theory, but I think some sections of Cummins are pretty narrow for an El. It's also quite hilly, so in many ways, a subway would probably be a better choice from a design and engineering point of view.

Sometimes I look at streetview of Washington St and marvel that they managed to fit an El down that thing in places.
Sometimes I look at streetview of Washington St and marvel that they managed to fit an El down that thing in places.
I feel the same way about sections of Main Street in Charlestown. The train was right outside people's windows.
Sometimes I look at streetview of Washington St and marvel that they managed to fit an El down that thing in places.
Yeah, and it's not something that will ever happen again. We could certainly build some elevated rail in Boston in places like Comm Ave. (and probably should), but it's never going to happen on any 2 lane roads again.
Rozzie has less of a need for TWO intersecting heavy rail lines than Hyde Park has for getting one at all. I think if past-Mattapan is a consideration then #1 above all other routings is going to be a River St. subway, Poydras St. portal, and bolting onto the ex- 4-track portion of Fairmount ROW from there to Readville. Stops at River St. just outside the portal, Fairmount superstation, Readville superstation. Storage yard on extra space at Readville and future option to extend to Dedham Ctr. on the grade-separated Dedham Branch ROW. Does 2-1/2 times the bestest possible headways of RUR, and links the HP + Mattapan + Ashmont + Fields Corner bus terminals together as the 'killer feature' for neighborhood transit.

I don't dislike the idea of a major Rozzie hub, but I don't see how it competes whole-package wise with all ^that^ at similar money.