Regional New England Rail (Amtrak & State DOT)

Arlington

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As I read Vtrans website about the Ethan Allan Express extension to Burlington (via Middlebury), they seem like they'll be ready in early 2022:
Phase 1-Realignment of the tracks to the east, removal of the platform canopy at Union Station and stormwater and utility work - Completed, Fall 2020
Phase 2
-Construction of the new platform at Union Station;... - Ongoing, Spring and Summer 2021
Phase 3
- Reconstruction of the railroad crossings at King Street and Maple Street; Vermont Rail Systems railyard to accommodate the overnighting of the Ethan Allen Express train -
Planned for late Summer through early Winter, 2021
Phase 4a
- Realignment of LaValley Lane, south of Maple Street, to install new tracks for the Ethan Allen Express - Planned for Fall 2021
Phase 4b
-Final work in Vermont Rail Systems railyard to accommodate the overnighting of the Ethan Allen Express - Planned for Fall through early Winter, 2021
 

Riverside

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^ All of that prompts me to think, why hasn't Amtrak already re-routed the Vermonter to terminate in Downtown Burlington as opposed to stopping 10 miles away in Essex Jct and then carry on to St. Albans? I mean, I know the long-term hope is to re-extend back to Montreal, but until then, surely a downtown stop would be a bigger draw than the current service?

Given the work being undertaken to support the Ethan Allen Express, I assume that the challenge is the layover facility... I notice that St. Albans has both a yard and a wye (and a turntable), which presumably make it friendly for overnighting and turning the train.

But once the yard in Burlington is fixed up, I wonder if it would make sense in the interim to reroute the Vermonter there as well. I suppose you could get clever and extend it to Burlington and include time for it to turn and then head back out to St. Albans, but that would make a long journey even longer.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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^ All of that prompts me to think, why hasn't Amtrak already re-routed the Vermonter to terminate in Downtown Burlington as opposed to stopping 10 miles away in Essex Jct and then carry on to St. Albans? I mean, I know the long-term hope is to re-extend back to Montreal, but until then, surely a downtown stop would be a bigger draw than the current service?
Because statie-funded route corridors reflect in-state interests.
  • St. Albans is a comparatively high-ridership stop (4th in Vermont after Brattleboro, Essex Jct., and Waterbury) that would be rather isolated if it lacked train service. The state in its own self-interest sees a mandate for continuing to serve it.
  • Downtown is well-served from Essex Jct. via connecting buses, so the Vermonter does not today pass up much Burlington utilization. Whole new ridership levels would not exactly be uncapped by wrapping it around...less than they'd lose by chopping St. Albans and having most of Essex Jct.'s ridership migrate laterally over.
  • Montreal restoration advocacy has been uninterrupted since the day the line was chopped in 1995. There's a large enough French Canadian population in that part of VT that the mandate is seen as essential. 25 years of federal red tape and an uncooperative host RR (Canadian National) have simply made it hard, but this is a galvanizing issue in-state.
  • The route benefits from being an ancestral "A-Day" route inherited by Amtrak (even though B&M service was suspended for a couple of years prior to 1971, it was gifted intact). Amtrak doesn't pay anything for the trackage rights on the Central VT main. It would have to pay out-of-pocket for the NECR Burlington Branch. Given above that the ridership gains for a central Burlington stop likely wouldn't offset the losses, that's another reason why they'd be reluctant.
  • The state doesn't own the Burlington Branch...NECR/G&W does. So unlike the Ethan Allen extension on a state-owned corridor where the rights fees were an all-public transaction, there'd be a lot of profit motive for very little track here re: the private owners.
  • The Burlington Branch isn't in any shape for it. It's 10 MPH minimally operable Class 1 track with crap-riding jointed rail and some unprotected grade crossings. It's got a very sparse freight schedule because G&W and Vermont Rail System do the majority of their freight interchanging in Bellows Falls instead of Burlington. The EAE extension is on the most-critical traffic segment of VRS Western Corridor mainline. It was already pretty immaculately maintained by VRS just for freight, so the passenger upgrades to top it out to Class 3 passenger speeds could be spread over a lot more miles for a lot less money. And would amortize its investment quickly because of the faster freight schedules. The Burlington Branch is shorter...but it's also so much further in the gutter physically that it would take high per-mile cost to get done for what's essentially just a lateral transfer of existing Essex Jct. ridership. And would not help the freight schedules because they're so few/far-between.
  • Wrong route to be wrapping. The EAE is the one that would gain ridership if Essex Jct. were added to it at some later installment-plan date as a +1, because Essex is the Burlington International Airport home stop and they'd be able to wrap the route on either wye leg up to St. Albans or down to Montpelier before turning it back, offering up new city-pair variety at hardly any additional cost. The Vermonter doesn't have reciprocal thru-routing gains on the Western Corridor as the EAE does on the Central Vermont main.
Given the work being undertaken to support the Ethan Allen Express, I assume that the challenge is the layover facility... I notice that St. Albans has both a yard and a wye (and a turntable), which presumably make it friendly for overnighting and turning the train.
St. Albans crucially also has Genessee & Wyoming's biggest Northeastern locomotive shop @ St. Albans (pooling heavy-repair duties for G&W member roads NECR, Connecticut Southern, above-and-beyonds that P&W's Worcester shop doesn't handle, St. Lawerence & Atlantic, and Quebec & Gatineau). They can/do troubleshoot any minor mechanical issues that develop en route, and have native onsite plug-in power for laying over the set. Vermont Rail System's Burlington Yard is a much smaller shops setup (most of their heavy-duty stuff is at Bellows Falls + Rutland), even though they do have a loco roundhouse/turntable. And the yard is much more overstuffed with general freight on a daily basis, which makes actually reserving the tracks for Amtrak to park a juggling exercise. It's a compromise for sure. If they can load up for a later installment to wrap the route around to Essex Jct., they'd wye the train there for turnbacks and probably deadhead to St. Albans for overnight storage rather than staying in Burlington.

But once the yard in Burlington is fixed up, I wonder if it would make sense in the interim to reroute the Vermonter there as well. I suppose you could get clever and extend it to Burlington and include time for it to turn and then head back out to St. Albans, but that would make a long journey even longer.
Absolutely not, because "making a long journey even longer" is antithetical to the state transit mandate for the underserved northlands. And of course, Montreal restoration is a 25-year be-all/end-all that's very close to happening regardless. It really doesn't matter what outsiders think Vermont should be doing here. Vermont has its priorities, and it has the authority to execute them.

The only reason the EAE has a pathway through the Burlington Branch's largely sunk upgrade costs is for what ridership gains it could net wrapping thru somewhere north or south on the Central VT main. The inverse upside doesn't exist for the in-state constituency funding the service.
 
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Arlington

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Montreal Customs Preclearance was supposed to be "a thing" by now. Have the Canadian officials delayed that because they don't see a point until CN is a better host from St Albans to Montreal? (Preclearance not being "worth it" for just NY's Adirondack?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Montreal Customs Preclearance was supposed to be "a thing" by now. Have the Canadian officials delayed that because they don't see a point until CN is a better host from St Albans to Montreal? (Preclearance not being "worth it" for just NY's Adirondack?
Blame Canada. U.S. approval was in 2012, but the corresponding Canadian treaty legislation didn't pass until 2017. They still haven't passed the follow-up implementation plan enumerating the administrative ops, and keep making excuse after excuse for punting it to the next Parliament session. Last one being wait-and-see around COVID. Trudeau has been almost as much a shithead as all of his predecessors dating back to Chretien re: support for national passenger rail. He talks a good game, but VIA Rail's network and service levels have shrunk even more (if such lower-than-lows were even possible) since he took office.

The treaty is "in-force" now and theoretically there can be consequences if the U.S. complains about the implementation slow-walk via the Ambassadorship, but the last U.S. Admin. gave the Canadians fully adequate cover for continuing to drag their feet. This also bigly affects Vancouver and the Cascades with its much-higher train frequencies and ridership, so isn't an issue that has any risk of getting permanently lost in the shuffle. It will get done. In fact, I bet it gets talked about the first time Biden and Trudeau have a big sit-down because at least 4 pro-transit states' Senatorial delegations are bitching incessantly about the delays. But our neighbors have seriously disappointed us thus far.
 

Riverside

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St. Albans is a comparatively high-ridership stop (4th in Vermont after Brattleboro, Essex Jct., and Waterbury) that would be rather isolated if it lacked train service. The state in its own self-interest sees a mandate for continuing to serve it.
The rest of your reply is interesting, but this was the part that surprised me the most and of course makes everything else fall into place.
 

Arlington

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How much St Albans ridership is Canadians/Montrealers making their own international service?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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The rest of your reply is interesting, but this was the part that surprised me the most and of course makes everything else fall into place.
How much St Albans ridership is Canadians/Montrealers making their own international service?
There is one big hidden reason for this: St. Albans (which is an official-blessed "city"...biggish for Vermont standards) is home to a humongous U.S. Immigration & Customization field office there that employs 600+ office workers and serves as the nearest office for 400-something more remote field staff scattered throughout Northern New England (primarily border agents). It draws very outsized transit shares on the Vermonter from super-commuters coming in to visit from USCIS headquarters in D.C. and other points on the NEC. I-89 is closeby, but the Montreal buses don't really dump so close after serving Burlington so linked trips aren't really driving the numbers. Its ridership heft is primarily explainable by the outsized feddie presence.


Swanton a little bit north is almost an exact match to St. Albans on population and density, but it lacks the singular employer hook and the Central Vermont ROW avoids downtown for the outskirts on the other side of the river (with few connecting bridges for getting across). So it never had an intercity stop on old schedules and isn't a target for one when the Montrealer comes back.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Tying all these threads together:

It is not a coincidence that Sen. Patrick Leahy:
  • ...is Congress' biggest Vermonter fan by a mile.
  • ...was the Senate's sponsor of the pre-clearance treaty legislation, when the Customs office @ USCIS-St. Albans helpfully positioned in walking distance from the last intermediate stop before Gare Central stands the most to gain from such a move
  • ...is also the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, the single-most powerful committee in the Senate
  • ...is President Pro Tempore of the entire Senate by seniority
  • ...serves on the (1) Border Security, (2) Homeland Security (USCIS daddy agency), and (3) State & Foreign Operations subcommittees
  • ...did lots of the heavy-lift politicking during Obama's 2nd term to score the TIGER grant that got all NECR trackage to the Allburg border crossing quietly pre-upgraded to Class 3/59 MPH passenger spec in prep for restoration
  • ...lives 1 town over from the Montpelier-Berlin stop and has been known to regularly ride the thing

Yeah...he has a lot of political capital riding on a one-seat to Montreal coming back while he's still in office, and has strategically amassed it to be so. Throw in Majority Leader Schumer (NY), Asst. Majority Leader Murray (WA), Majority Whip Merkeley (OR), Budget Committee Chair Sanders (VT), Gildebrand (NY), Cantwell (WA), and Wyden (OR) all chomping at the bit for the Canadians to finish up preclearance implementation for the benefit of their border-crossing routes. Also: the U.S. ambassadorship to Canada is still vacant as of right this moment with Biden on the hotseat to submit a nominee to the Senate. I can't imagine the how/where to needle the Canadians to get this preclearance implementation show on the road isn't going to be part of the confirmation vetting given how that helps tie the room together for other Admin. uber-priorities.

Fairly safe prediction: you will almost certainly be able to book Montrealer tix within the next half-dozen years. It's pretty hard even with a pessimistic overall outlook about national infrastructure politics to not see that crowning a symbolic feather in somebody's cap in pretty short order.
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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bigeman312

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Proposed in this document:
  • A new service providing five round trips per day between Boston and Concord, NH via Manchester
  • Extend the Downeaster seasonally from Brunswick to Rockland, ME
  • Two additional round trips per day between Boston and Albany via Springfield
  • Extending the Ethan Allen from Rutland to Burlington, VT
  • Extending the Vermonter from St. Albans, VT to Montreal
 

Stlin

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So obviously the CapeFlyer is its own distinct service category, but now that it has a First Class offering ... I believe this the only "premium cabin" offering in anything commuter rail in the US?

This to me raises a interesting question; namely, is service tier segregation maybe a good idea as we develop regional rail? Some international regional/commuter rail systems already have dedicated first class seats /cars on every train, sold at a substantial premium in exchange for, basically, a guaranteed/ comfier seat. (Most UK commuter services, Zurich S-Bahn, HK MTR East, Dubai, etc) In times of substantial crowding, or on the longest iteneraries, I could definitely see some CR patrons paying a premium for that. Also, this might not be the worst idea for most CR operators with long routes; I'm looking at the LIRR, Metro North and NJT.

I would tend to assume that a "comfy car" and seat reservations would be operationally low cost, and would probably generate positive revenue. Admittedly, if trains remain the same length and frequency, it may contribute to crowding elsewhere in the train, and it would be inherently classist, and benefit only those that could pay for it. The crowding could be mitigated with frequency, but I have no idea if this could ever be title VI compliant.
 
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Brattle Loop

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I would tend to assume that a "comfy car" and seat reservations would be operationally low cost, and would probably generate positive revenue. Admittedly, if trains remain the same length and frequency, it may contribute to crowding elsewhere in the train, and it would be inherently classist, and benefit only those that could pay for it. The crowding could be mitigated with frequency, but I have no idea if this could ever be title VI compliant.
I'm not sure it would be all that low a cost. You'd need a system for seat reservations that the CR doesn't currently have, and you'd need a mechanism (presumably a conductor or attendant) to enforce it to keep the 'coach-class' passengers out of the premium car, plus those cars would be an additional fleet expense given that they wouldn't be suitable for general service given their reduced seating (unless the T treated them like Amtrak used to treat business class cars on the NEC and just randomly insert them in the coach pool, which was nice if you got one but made you wonder why anyone would bother paying for the slight upgrade).
 

F-Line to Dudley

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So obviously the CapeFlyer is its own distinct service category, but now that it has a First Class offering ... I believe this the only "premium cabin" offering in anything commuter rail in the US?

This to me raises a interesting question; namely, is service tier segregation maybe a good idea as we develop regional rail? Some international regional/commuter rail systems already have dedicated first class seats /cars on every train, sold at a substantial premium in exchange for, basically, a guaranteed/ comfier seat. (Most UK commuter services, Zurich S-Bahn, HK MTR East, Dubai, etc) In times of substantial crowding, or on the longest iteneraries, I could definitely see some CR patrons paying a premium for that. Also, this might not be the worst idea for most CR operators with long routes; I'm looking at the LIRR, Metro North and NJT.

I would tend to assume that a "comfy car" and seat reservations would be operationally low cost, and would probably generate positive revenue. Admittedly, if trains remain the same length and frequency, it may contribute to crowding elsewhere in the train, and it would be inherently classist, and benefit only those that could pay for it. The crowding could be mitigated with frequency, but I have no idea if this could ever be title VI compliant.
I'm not sure that would scale well too well here. I mean, crowding is a problem for everyone so if you've got crowding problems then the solution isn't going to be a class-skewed gimmick. It's going to be very much eat-your-peas stuff.
  • If the 5:00 to Providence is standing-room-only on too many days, the train clearly isn't stocked with enough cars. Pre-COVID the T had a rather pressing car shortage which should be abating when the new bi-level order comes in. Make sure the likeliest sardine-can runs are stocked accordingly when the equipment is available.
  • Standing Room Only runs too often get trigged during delay recovery from a prior schedule that got hosed. Continue to attack delay problems at their source on lines that aren't hitting their OTP targets. Ongoing equipment renewal (new coaches, rebuilt locos, potentially new EMU's) should positively impact equipment-sourced delays, closeout of remaining northside cab signal installations related to the PTC mandate should leave the system at wholesale-refreshed signal plant for the first time in generations. Franklin double-tracking Phases II & III + doubling up the Worcester Union + Newton platforms should slay the largest per-line delay sources. Ratchet up level boarding upgrades on the ones (Inner Worcester, Inner Haverhill, etc.) that are really suffering with their door dwell delays. And then keep the CIP investment-fresh with some new OTP-targeted mitigation work.
  • Implement Regional Rail best practices and the loads will redistribute. Those 5:00pm S.R.O. runs that are starting to max out their car counts will see some load reshaping by having their all-day schedules rebooted clock-facing...especially if the new practice eliminates any hiccups of overlong headways within the peak period. Some lines on the system don't even do neatly predictable clock timings within the peak, so tons of room for improvement here. It'll condition more people to utilize flexible work schedules offset by +/- 1-2 hours, but also serve up schedule chunking that optimally matches where work hours can be more flexible.
Second, there are no super-long schedules on the system outside of Cape Flyer. Hyannis isn't an MBTA district member (nor is Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, or any surrounding towns for station catchments...only Bourne). Regular hourly service isn't going to take place there without a few high-profile town elections, which is why the most recent regular-service expansion study stopped at Buzzards Bay on a not-much-longer than Middleboro schedule. If you implanted the full Middleboro schedule @ BB the most you'd probably see is a couple unidirectional AM/PM runs super-extended using Cape MPO's/Cape Chamber of Commerce's grant-seeking and subsidy trickery from the Flyer applied to like 2-4 daily trains...and that's it. Yes, it could be a thing if the towns join the district, but it's not necessarily a crucial enough 'get' to warp your service classes over one super-long regular schedule.

The Purple Line simply isn't going to be handling service to Springfield or Western MA. That's an Amtrak joint, and far easier to mount as an AMTK joint than trying to vote that many new municipalities into the district. It's not going to go any further west than Wachusett, either. Further, the interstate schedules current and future don't offer much of an angle.
  • RIDOT is eventually going to cleave its intrastate schedules back off the Providence Line leaving thru Boston schedules to pick up probably no more than just Pawtucket, Providence, and T.F. Green post-differentiation. They have no need for tiering. If they ever did see a need for tiering, they'd have an easier time subsidizing some commuter Amtrak fares for super-expresses on a stock Regional like ConnDOT does with the Springfield Shuttle/Valley Flyer.
  • NHDOT doesn't need it, either. Their plan for the Cap Corridor is to have the Lowell all-stops locals turn at Nashua in an even hour, and have the Concord runs super-express Lowell<=>Anderson<=>North Station inside of MA to keep those travel times to a 78 min. spec. Any future Haverhill-Dover service restoration like B&M ran pre-1967 would probably play off the same exact super-express-in-MA template to make time.
  • Other potential interstate schedules don't run long enough. Franklin/Dean-Woonsocket would fit inside of 1:15, especially if service layering w/Foxboro @ Regional Rail frequencies allowed them to do more judicious skip-stopping of the lesser intermediates inbound of Walpole. Newburyport-Portsmouth simply doesn't top 1:15 on an all-stops local, if NHDOT ever joins in there. Newport via Fall River would be a Hyannis analogue in schedule length, but also a very weak daily commute market so I kinda doubt you'll be seeing much Boston play beyond another summertime Flyer clone.
It's nothing like New York where some insignificant-to-not-insignificant quantities each day are making Montauk (116 miles), Greenport (94 miles), Wassaic (82 miles), Poughkeepsie (74 miles), and New Haven (72 miles) work round-trips. Other than not-district-member Hyannis we literally don't have any daily trips longer than Wachusett's 54 miles. Cape Flyer at 79 miles itself would only place 4th behind Wassaic amongst comparable NYC commutes. When our whole system is set up to be more compact than NYC, there's even less reason to play service tier games.
 

jlichyen

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Writing from the Tokyo area, I think I can provide a bit of an example of what those "premium" seats look like, because every major line in the area offers generally 2 cars worth of them (out of 10~15). They're called the "green car" - they're not bad! You pay an extra 500~800JPY for the seat by tapping an IC card against a reader above you, or by purchasing a ticket from a machine on the platform. But the other cars on the train have their seats against the wall to allow a far greater number of people to stand on the train because rush hour volumes here are extreme - imagine packed cars as far out as Nashua or Portsmouth, two cities topping 400k in population in this scenario.

And to be clear, Tokyo is the only city in Japan which makes use of this system for regular commutes, because it's the only place in Japan where you have people commuting from 1+ hours away on packed trains which run every 10 minutes. Not even Osaka, the same population of LA but whose population distributions are more similar to NYC + Philly, makes use of the green car. As F-Line said, it's really only valuable in the NYC area where people are already commuting from long distances, and I think those trains would need to be over 10 cars in length, and filling up even with 10-minute intervals to make the premium commuter seating worth it (because if you're boarding at Montauk or Poughkeepsie, you're basically guaranteed a seat right now).

What makes them a valuable option is, in part, that the seats are spacious (like Amtrak seating) and the non-premium cars are actually subway standard, so there's a real difference in quality that you feel when you pay for them. I don't think running regional rail in the US with subway-style seating is ever going to fly - you'd have a commuter revolt before it could get anywhere.

The other option is a premium-service style, which could work on the Cape Flyer! This is where you pay for a lunch or dinner as part of your ticket, and have professional wait service. This is beyond premium service - it's pure tourism. I do think it's not a bad idea, though, because a lot of the smaller rail companies in Japan have started implementing lines like this one out of Nagasaki where tickets are over $200USD but help cover the commuter service on the same rails.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Writing from the Tokyo area, I think I can provide a bit of an example of what those "premium" seats look like, because every major line in the area offers generally 2 cars worth of them (out of 10~15). They're called the "green car" - they're not bad! You pay an extra 500~800JPY for the seat by tapping an IC card against a reader above you, or by purchasing a ticket from a machine on the platform. But the other cars on the train have their seats against the wall to allow a far greater number of people to stand on the train because rush hour volumes here are extreme - imagine packed cars as far out as Nashua or Portsmouth, two cities topping 400k in population in this scenario.

And to be clear, Tokyo is the only city in Japan which makes use of this system for regular commutes, because it's the only place in Japan where you have people commuting from 1+ hours away on packed trains which run every 10 minutes. Not even Osaka, the same population of LA but whose population distributions are more similar to NYC + Philly, makes use of the green car. As F-Line said, it's really only valuable in the NYC area where people are already commuting from long distances, and I think those trains would need to be over 10 cars in length, and filling up even with 10-minute intervals to make the premium commuter seating worth it (because if you're boarding at Montauk or Poughkeepsie, you're basically guaranteed a seat right now).

What makes them a valuable option is, in part, that the seats are spacious (like Amtrak seating) and the non-premium cars are actually subway standard, so there's a real difference in quality that you feel when you pay for them. I don't think running regional rail in the US with subway-style seating is ever going to fly - you'd have a commuter revolt before it could get anywhere.

The other option is a premium-service style, which could work on the Cape Flyer! This is where you pay for a lunch or dinner as part of your ticket, and have professional wait service. This is beyond premium service - it's pure tourism. I do think it's not a bad idea, though, because a lot of the smaller rail companies in Japan have started implementing lines like this one out of Nagasaki where tickets are over $200USD but help cover the commuter service on the same rails.
Excellent example, and sort of ballparks the degrees of difference required to drive a cleaving towards premium-class. Tokyo is not only massively larger and more dense than Metro Boston, it's got massively denser suburbia and massively larger/denser satellite cities a longer distance out. And massively large transit shares throughout the whole works, which makes standee trips from very long commuter distances largely non-optional. Since absolutely nothing smaller/less-dense in Japan than Metro Tokyo can sustain that tiering despite the same insanely high transit shares, there end up being pretty stiff bounds on the supportable premium.

Like...if Metro Boston were twice or more as dense and drove transit shares so insane that full Regional Rail service-level trains offered no expectations of a seat by the time you cross I-495? There you might have a genuine opportunity for tiering. But we aren't insane-dense to the exurbs with ginormous gateway cities, and the best transit shares we could ever future-hope to drive come many decades and a Marshall Plan's worth of suburban last-mile buses of growth into the Regional Rail era. Which also won't necessarily fill up more seats because the percentage of interzone trips tracks massively larger above certain frequency thresholds; they won't all be cramming into a Downtown Boston singularity. With all the capacity-side improvements that come through running stratospherically greater frequencies...and then lengthening out trains on those frequency gains...it probably won't in our wildest 50 year dreams ever be that it's S.R.O. 99% of the time by 495. We're too much smaller, with too many gears left wanting in frequency/capacity improvements.

It's probably also not a thing that'll ever work for the New York region, which has the more Tokyo-like density (although maybe not the ginormous gateway cities) but way more closely resembles Boston in transit shares or best-case futures for transit shares. Most of those east-end Long Island stops are truly microscopic in boardings per the MTA's Ridership Books (their Blue Book equivalent), and stacked to the weekends more closely resembling a perma-Cape Flyer than a baseline commuter service. And a fairly large share of those Upper Harlem, New Haven, or CT branchline trips are interzone rather than strict butts-in-seat to Grand Central in terms of how they use their seating capacity...meaning they don't usually fit the profile of asploding sardine cans. Poughkeepsie and New Haven are also doubled-up by frequent enough Amtrak service to function as the de facto 'premium' commuter tier, to give some actionable measure of the size of that audience. ConnDOT has long been in the game of subsidizing quasi-commuter fares on Amtrak for the Springfield Line, but neither they nor NY have seen enough of a difference to attempt the same just for New Haven or the MTA district despite the frequency availability. The margins aren't big enough. If there were worth-it margins, the frequent co-scheduled Amtrak trains would be the place to trial it and data-collect on it.

[NOTE: The Metro North bar cars were not "worth it" margins. They were a bought-Legislator gun to the head for the sake of adult manbabies for most of their public-subsidy lifespan. The ops margins on the bar cars were mediocre *in the best possible light*, probably did not break even in the real world, and cost incalculable sums in court every time some ambulance-chaser named the State in a lawsuit after some drunk driver racked up a body count and/or damage bill on the drive home from the park-n'-ride lot.]


So if New York isn't showing the way, it's extremely hard to see how we're going to see any need for it with less suburban density and uniformly way shorter trips. Same goes for projecting a future with way higher transit shares than today: if Metro Boston can *someday* scrape that ceiling with a Marshall Plan's worth of suburban buses kicking the cars aside, we'd still be following somewhat in New York's footsteps who'd be buying some of the same clue for the same multi-decade gestation period under whence behavior is changing. If you can't picture a 30-30-30 future New Haven Line train doing S.R.O. business within a 10-12 car capacity limit, it's probably not going to be a thing that has its own market. And if it's 'maybe-possibly' a thing, ConnDOT would be fare-subsidizing it on co-running Northeast Regional schedules as first move before making one single touch to their seating or their reservation system. That's an improbably high bar for looking for something to template in Greater Boston.

The Flyer, BTW, has at least an hour's worth of improvement left to tap just by closing out the state-of-repair hole...so our only outlier now or likely for any forseeable future isn't actually that big an outlier. What today takes 3 hours while hitting 6 intermediate stops took NYNH&H 2:12 spread over 11 intermediate stops in 1955. During an era where the RR was bankrupt, was heavily into deferred maintenance, used wimpier diesels than the T currently does, and was running that same schedule slower than a few decades earlier. Full SOGR and re-signalization of everything south of Middleboro with no ops or equipment changes whatsoever ought to make an all-stops local of 13 stops slightly beat the NH's '55 time. Any degree of ops modernization and/or express layering should be able to pound that down to 2 hours without struggle. While I severely doubt anyone would ever want to ride TransitMatters' un-serious 1:19/100 MPH-spec Hyannis "puke train" in the real world--that's Fun With Train Sim more than a serious proposal--, somewhere between their 1:20 dare and 2:00 lies real-world 'truth' for what's achievable if you want to chase it. A splitting-hairs outlier, if any practical outlier at all. Definitely not the exception that proves the rule for implementing "tiering" here, as it starts to resemble an any-old-trans-495 commute in a hurry with some bolt-tightening and fades further into the background of what longer NYC commutes don't command any tangible tiering bona fides.
 
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jlichyen

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One place in which assigned seating could work is, I've been on some trains in some far-out region (think Concord-to-Portland in terms of size/distance) where a section of seats on a 2-car train will be assigned seating based on a ticket you've purchased on the train platform. But these aren't "premium" seating, just an assigned section, and I've also never seen these cars so full that it's strictly necessary - a way of ensuring some businessman doesn't lose a seat to high schoolers. And you'd have to double ridership on any MBTA line before it becomes more than a luxury proposal.

[NOTE: The Metro North bar cars were not "worth it" margins. They were a bought-Legislator gun to the head for the sake of adult manbabies for most of their public-subsidy lifespan. The ops margins on the bar cars were mediocre *in the best possible light*, probably did not break even in the real world, and cost incalculable sums in court every time some ambulance-chaser named the State in a lawsuit after some drunk driver racked up a body count and/or damage bill on the drive home from the park-n'-ride lot.]
Yes, on-board meals are generally a loss-leading amenity unless you're trying to craft an expensive upper-premium service. The shinkansen still have ladies pushing carts up and down the trains with basic stocks but that's it - I'm not aware of any local trains offering meals except for the excursion-type services like what I linked before. If you want a beer, coffee, or a meal onboard you have to purchase it from a station shop first (also its own subculture here).

Thinking about this made me check the Cape Central excursion rail website, and I'd be interested in knowing what a one-way Boston-Hyannis business proposal would look - it would require shuttle bus service between the station and a cooperating hotel (or a rental car facility at the station). But I'm guessing it would also require newer dining cars which would be more stable at higher speeds, and overall a higher degree of investment in the rails which can only be done by MassDOT, an organization which would look insane investing in luxury dining rail service.
 
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Arlington

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So, will NH actually say “yes” to Amtrak’s proposed Boston-Nashua-MHT-Mancester-Concord service?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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So, will NH actually say “yes” to Amtrak’s proposed Boston-Nashua-MHT-Mancester-Concord service?
Saying "yes" has never been the problem. They've already said "yes" multiple times before. Changing one's mind from one wild 2-year state elections term to the other is the problem when it comes to NH keeping eye on the prize. That's as unpredictable as ever. It helps that there's some use-it-or-lose-it study money assigned right at this moment, but predicting the swing of the People's Legislature come 2023 is a fool's errand in this particular political climate.

Also...this is quite clearly not gonna be an Amtrak joint, it'll be Purple Line-via-Pilgrim Agreement templating because the T already has lifetime trackage rights and Amtrak doesn't. That's a significant enough distinction to inform the ultimate outcome. It's placed on the official map--along with very similar to-be- commuter-operated corridors Scranton and Allentown--to illustrate fed corridor funding priorities, not designated operator.
 

Riverside

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With respect to a "comfy car" on the commuter rail: everything said above looks good on paper, and probably ultimately adds up to it not making sense. Plus I also am not really comfortable with the (literal) class system created by a premium fare seat. (Although to be honest, I think there's an easy fix for that: require a Zone 8 journey to sit in the comfy car. No more classist than the current system, and arguably somewhat more equitable, given the longer travel times.)

That being said, I've done the Boston-Providence commute via commuter rail and other public transit, and there were many times when I wished for

1) guaranteed seating
2) better seating
3) less crowded seating

and sometimes elected to buy a last-minute Regional ticket in order to get those. On paper, it's an hour-ten from South Station to Providence, but in reality it adds up to more:

1) due to delays, which were frequent
2) most of the PVD commuters I knew would try to board early at South Station (sometimes to get "good" seats, but also because it was very common to depart South Station with people standing in the aisles because they don't want the middle seat -- and also sadly common to get a short set, guaranteeing SRO) -- so add another 10-12 minutes of being in that seat
3) unlike many commuter rail suburbs, commuter rail journeys to Providence (and presumably Worcester) often do not end with a car ride from the station parking lot back home, but instead have either a connecting bus journey, walk, or bike ride

Door to door, my commute took just about 2 hours each way. That could be shortened, but then you started to risk missing transfers. Close to 90 minutes of that one-way commute would be spent in a commuter rail seat. (I have no idea how Worcester commuters do it.) And, it's worth saying, my commute was close to the ideal transit commute:

1) Live one block away from a frequent bus route that goes directly to the station
2) Major commuter rail destination = relatively frequent trains
3) Work right above a subway station, 10 min walk from South Station

Short of living in one of those fancy TOD apartments that have sprung up next to Providence Station, there's close to no way to make that commute any less ideal. And it still would eat up 20 hours of my week, every week.

Now, Electrified Regional Rail will ameliorate many of those issues: faster service and full-highs should reduce overall travel time. More frequent service should reduce crowding (relieving pressure to board the train early to get a good seat for the long ride) and reduce the cost of missed transfers, making it easier to de-pad one's personal itinerary.

And a "comfy car" won't really do that much to help make the journey shorter or easier. But, to the average rider, who doesn't have insight into the T's long-term projects, I think popping an Amfleet coach into each Providence and Worcester set would be very popular.

Is all that a good enough reason to actually do it? No, I don't think so. Probably the better solution is to do something Amtrak-focused (i.e. add a second northbound run in the morning that arrives before 9am, and figure out some level of fare integration -- easier said than done).

But if we really want to promote sustainable car-free city living across the Northeast, the answer can't be to have folks spend 15 hours a week in those janky seats.
 

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