Regional Rail (RUR) & North-South Rail Link (NSRL)


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May 26, 2006
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Apparently this issue is still on the table. It'll be curious how it plays out as the South Station Tower gets developed. I'm certainly rooting for it. Here's the MBTA's main NSRL page.

The Globe said:
The conservation connection
By Stephen F. Lynch and James McCaffrey | June 14, 2006

SEVEN million gallons. That's how much gasoline Massachusetts drivers use every day. With the price of a gallon surging past $3 and continued instability in the Middle East, it's time to take action locally to conserve fuel and reduce our future dependence on oil. By encouraging commuters to use public transportation instead of roadways, we can do both. A rail link connecting Boston's North Station with South Station would not only promote fuel conservation, it would significantly ease the burden on our roads, residents, and environment.

The North-South Rail Link would bridge the lone one-mile gap in the East Coast Rail Corridor that stretches from Maine to Miami. It would boost the economic vitality and sustained growth of Boston and New England, and would help to bring the state into compliance with the Clean Air Act. Given the pace of downtown development, if we do not move quickly to make the rail link a priority in the state's long-range transportation plan, we risk losing the opportunity to ever complete this critical project.

Our highways are at or nearing capacity, and more cars continue to be added to them as a result of sprawl, translating into longer commute times. A study by the US Department of Transportation and the MBTA predicts that building the rail link would reduce the number of daily trips on our highways by 55,000. According to the state's Program for Mass Transportation, no other project proposed for the next quarter century would have such a dramatic impact on Massachusetts traffic.

Furthermore, by enabling trains to travel under Boston and by connecting Northern New England to points south, we would increase rail efficiency and simplify complicated routes. Rather than transferring to multiple MBTA subway lines to complete a trip, a North Shore resident could take a single train from her home to her job on the South Shore. Currently, trains have to idle at North Station when they could be used to meet passenger demand south of Boston. Studies predict that within a few years, because of our divided rail network, ``trains will run late 25 percent of the time." With an interconnected rail system, trains would be directed to the busiest routes at peak times, thus improving efficiency and on-time performance.

In addition to reducing traffic and saving time, the rail link has public health and environmental advantages as well. Presently, Boston ranks among the worst cities in the nation for asthma rates and unhealthy air days. By removing tens of thousands of cars from the overcrowded highway system every day, we can significantly reduce pollution, including an estimated 583 tons of carbon dioxide emissions daily.

By reducing car use, the rail link would help drivers to save money by saving gasoline. Even conservative estimates show that the link could trim the state's gasoline usage by at least 42,775 gallons daily -- more than 1,000 barrels of oil.

The link would be a significant job-creation engine as well. Construction industry specialists estimate that the project, which officials predict will cost about $5.7 billion, would create more than 13 million man-hours of construction work, in addition to supporting thousands more jobs in related industries.

State and federal agencies have conducted environmental impact and planning studies on the link, but the project has stalled because Governor Mitt Romney's most recent 20-year, $31 billion draft blueprint for the state's transportation system fails even to mention the proposal. The governor went so far as to request that the Federal Transit Administration scrap its already completed taxpayer-funded study, which would have protected the right-of-way for the link and given planners and engineers the authority to begin work.

Boston and New England are expected to continue to grow, but an efficient rail system would guide that growth in a way that should sustain it. Philadelphia completed a similar project in 1984, the Center City Commuter Connection, which has increased use of public transportation, reduced traffic, and decreased pollution. Without the North-South Rail Link, we run the risk of having a transportation system that is forever at or over capacity, with no ability to absorb future growth. The Romney administration and the state Legislature should work with us to ensure that this historic opportunity is not lost forever. Our region's health and prosperity depend on it.

Stephen F. Lynch represents the Massachusetts Ninth Congressional District. James McCaffrey is the director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club.

Note: Page 25 of this PDF document from the MBTA cites the cost as $8.7B. But even the $5.7B cited above is a huge chunk of change. For it to really be worth it, the area would have to really rally around it. As oil gets more expensive, climate change gets more recognition, and traffic congestion doesn't get any better, this might just happen.
While I'm all for this project I still can't figure out how the trains will get through the South Station head house. Will they go around it, under it? Through it?
Here's an older (2003) article on the topic that touches more on the NSRL's history and politics. link

Is it time to dig another tunnel through Boston?
By JENNIFER PETER, Associated Press writer

BOSTON -- In the late 1800s, the rivalry between railroad barons led to the construction of two separate train stations a mile apart in downtown Boston, one to serve the northern routes and the other to points south.
At the dawn of the next century, according to legend, it was the early taxicab lobby -- thriving on ferrying passengers between the two depots -- that thwarted the first proposal to build an underground rail line connecting the two.
Now, nearly a century later, the completion of the one missing link in the northeast corridor's rail line faces an even more daunting obstacle in a city just beginning to emerge from the havoc wreaked by the over-budget, behind-schedule, traffic-disrupting Big Dig.
"We have to be realistic that the federal government is not about to sink billions of dollars into another tunnel through downtown Boston," said Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett.
The so-called North-South rail link, which -- depending on who you ask -- would cost anywhere from $3 billion to $9 billion and would send trains under the city through a new passageway burrowed beneath the recently opened Big Dig tunnels.
In the planning stages for nearly three decades, the project is championed by a group of fervent and untiring advocates, including former Gov. Mike Dukakis, who argue that the one-mile tunnel would ease transportation throughout New England and the northeast corridor.
"We have two rail systems that serve hundreds of thousands of people and connect to a million jobs, but they're separated by one mile," said Jeremy Marin of the Sierra Club. "If we could connect that gap, it could do wonderful things for our economy all up and down the eastern seaboard."
Opponents, whose growing numbers include the new Romney administration, argue that closing this admittedly cumbersome one-mile gap is not the ideal use of scarce taxpayer dollars.
"Would it be better to have them linked? Sure," said Dan Grabauskas, transportation secretary under Gov. Mitt Romney. "But to remedy today what was poor planning a hundred years ago, just cannot be or shouldn't be something that would put other projects on the shelf."
The administration is focusing on upgrading the existing system, establishing an "urban ring" bus system around the outskirts of the city, and making a new rail connection to Logan International Airport -- and doesn't want to spend any more money on the project until other states agree to help cover its cost.
And then, of course, there is the conundrum of the $14.6 billion Big Dig, the most expensive highway project in national history. It sucked money out of road projects across the state and may have strained the goodwill of the other congressional delegations from around the country.
"Folks from other states, having seen the tremendous amount of federal dollars that have gone into this project, are somewhat skeptical about new megaprojects, particulary projects that would benefit Boston and Massachusetts," said Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
Besides its location and its potential, multibillion-dollar price tag, however, supporters argue, the north-south link has nothing in common with the infamous Big Dig.
While the Central Artery project gained a reputation as an engineering marvel, due to the unique problems it posed and solved, the new rail tunnel would be built with a time-tested, straightforward technology.
"This one's easy," said Dukakis, the former Democratic presidential nominee and current Amtrak vice chairman.
Burying the Central Artery beneath Boston benefits only the metropolitan region. But the link would ease transportation through all of Massachusetts and the entire northeast corridor by joining together the lines of the former Boston, Maine, and New Haven railroads as well as the local commuter and freight lines.
"It's time to do some things for the people of this state who don't happen to live in Boston," said Dukakis.
While space was saved for the creation of the link as part of the Big Dig, project officials ultimately abandoned any thought of adding its multibillion-dollar cost onto the ever-growing price tag of the Central Artery project.
Studies have continued, but support seems to be waning, especially as the state grapples with an estimated $3 billion budget gap.
The MBTA general manager notified the Federal Transit Administration recently that the project, which he estimated at $8.7 billion, was unrealistic given the state's shaky financial situation. The Sierra Club and other supporters put the estimate closer to $3.6 billion, arguing that the higher total includes unnecessary contingencies and calculates the pricetag in 2010 dollars rather than the current-day cost.
When the concept of the Big Dig was posed to him decades ago, Dukakis said, it was the prospect of the link that sold him on the project -- that, and the elimination of the unsightly scar of the green highway structure through the center of the city.
"They told me that we could get rid of this damn wall, we could put a rail line down the middle of it, and do it all with highway money," Dukakis said. "As soon as they said you could get the north-south link with this thing, then I said, 'You got me.'"

This story appeared on Page B4 of The Standard-Times on June 1, 2003.
The cost of this project would probably fund all of the MBTA fantasy maps on vanshnookenragen's page. I just can't conceive of what value this link brings the state that can even remotely compensate for an $8 billion price tag.
For comparison's sake, the closest thing to this project is probably Philly's Center City Commuter Connection, which opened in 1984. But, from the article:

From what I gather, not much passenger traffic goes "through the tunnel", i.e. completely through all three Center City stations.
I'd expect many more people to pass through Boston's downtown commuter rail stations (North, South, and Central/Aquarium), especially to go to work in Back Bay or to Sox games.

...The closest thing currently in the works is probably NYC's East Side Access tunnel bringing LIRR into Grand Central.

...One final thought: Currently, the two halves of the commuter rail system are connected via the Grand Junction Railroad which runs through Cambridge just north of MIT. It's only one track and trains are only sent through late at night to get to repair facilities, etc. However, there's talk of using this corridor for the Urban Ring. Without the NSRL, this might not be possible.
statler said:
While I'm all for this project I still can't figure out how the trains will get through the South Station head house. Will they go around it, under it? Through it?

I think I read somewhere that it would be a new station, maybe underground, and with just four tracks, which works when there is no more idling. Or maybe that is just the plan for the new Central Station at Aquarium.
DowntownDave said:
The cost of this project would probably fund all of the MBTA fantasy maps on vanshnookenragen's page. I just can't conceive of what value this link brings the state that can even remotely compensate for an $8 billion price tag.

The way things are going with inflation, $8 billion might only build one extension.
Re: North-South Rail Link

Banker & Tradesman said:
North/South Rail Link Plan Could Be Going Off Track

Proposal to Connect Two Commuter Rail Stations Losing Momentum as Other Needs Take Priority

By Thomas Grillo

Michael Dukakis knows something about defeat. And now the failed presidential candidate appears to be on the losing side of another campaign.

The former Massachusetts governor is advocating a link from Boston?s North and South stations that would remove thousands of cars from the region?s highways and make travel more convenient. But the idea is going nowhere.

?It?s a hell of a lot more important than spending $1 billion on a one-mile Silver Line bus tunnel under the city of Boston,? said Dukakis about Phase III of the city?s rapid-transit bus line, which calls for an underground passageway with a portal at Charles and Tremont streets. ?The North/South link is affordable and doable and I?d like to see us get cracking on it.?

A tunnel connection between the two major transit hubs would unite a pair of commuter rail systems operated by the MBTA, one that stops at North Station and another that ends at South Station. The connection also would allow Amtrak?s Acela high-speed rail service to extend through Boston to benefit travelers from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Canada.

Today, passengers traveling from Hingham to Ipswich must board the commuter rail?s Greenbush Line in Hingham; then travel to South Station, in order to take the subway to North Station; then board the Newburyport/Rockport Line to Ipswich.

?I think that?s crazy,? said Dukakis. ?Can you imagine if rapid-transit lines operated that way? No one would stand for it. But that?s what we?ve got here.?

The idea for a North/South Rail Link was identified as a priority in the 1960s by the Boston Transportation Planning Review. In 1993, the Central Artery Rail Link Task Force appointed by then-Gov. William Weld issued a 70-page report that confirmed the link?s feasibility with an estimated cost of $1.74 billion. Construction of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, or Big Dig, was planned with the possibility of a link in the future. From 1995 to 2003, Amtrak and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation and Construction developed an investment study and a draft version of an environmental impact report.

But the idea has lost momentum. The state?s crumbling infrastructure and other public transportation needs, including the Green Line extension to Somerville and the new commuter rail to New Bedford and Fall River, have taken priority.

?Given the lack of money to repair the state?s roads and bridges at a cost of $20 billion and a host of other planned transit projects, the link is a tough thing to consider right now,? said Wig Zamore, a founding member of the Mystic View Task Force, a Somerville-based advocacy group.

?A Fresh Look?

Transportation advocates are reluctant to criticize any project that would remove vehicles from congested Bay State roads. But privately they say that the North/South link should be less of a priority because the commuter rail has dramatically fewer riders than the MBTA?s other lines.

While there are 78,150 daily round trips on the commuter rail including the new Greenbush line that opened this week, the Red, Blue, Orange and Silver lines transport nearly 675,000 riders daily, according to MBTA data.

Erik Abell, a spokesman for the state Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works, said in an e-mail that while the Patrick administration recognizes that the North/South project could benefits the traveling public, funding sources have not been identified.

?When the Patrick administration came into office, we wanted to take a fresh look at the project and began a dialogue with stakeholders,? Abell wrote in his e-mail. ?There are no identified sources of funding yet ? Should full federal funding become available to advance the planning stage, we would strongly consider advancing that process.?

In April, Gov. Deval Patrick vowed to bring passenger rail service to the South Coast by 2016. The South Coast Rail project would extend passenger rail transportation from South Station to Fall River and New Bedford. The announcement came 20 years after a string of Massachusetts governors promised the residents of southeastern Massachusetts access to the transit system that would connect the cities and towns of eastern Massachusetts.

The administration pledged an initial bonding commitment of $17.2 million toward the $1.4 billion project. Still, Patrick noted that new revenue sources would be needed to pay for the full cost of the project. At the time, the governor did not mention the North/South link.

But Dukakis, a Northeastern University professor, insisted the link would pay for itself. He said up to two-thirds of the cost would be generated as a result of ?significant savings? derived from not having to stop trains at each terminal and turn them around.

?This project will also dramatically increase revenue because it will take 60,000 cars off the roads,? he said. ?There are an awful lot of people these days who are driving because they just refuse to get off at North Station or South Station and have to transfer to another line to reach their destination.?

Still, after a decade of inconvenience due to the Big Dig, which saw its budget soar from $2.8 billion in 1985 to over $14.6 billion in 2006, is the public ready for a Little Dig?

?When I was governor and Fred Salvucci was transportation secretary, we tunneled a Red Line extension from Harvard Square to Alewife 100 feet below the surface on time and on budget with a minimum of disruption,? Dukakis said. ?The Callahan Tunnel was done in 24 months. The Big Dig was sheer incompetence.?

Dukakis is not alone in his steadfast support for the North/South link. The Sierra Club, a nonprofit group whose mission is to protect the environment, is a major backer.

Club members argue that the connection would remove thousands of commuters from the state?s highways. Environmental studies for the project show that the connection will result in the largest time savings of any transportation project in Massachusetts, and create cleaner air by eliminating more than 582 tons of the global warming gas CO2 daily, the advocacy group noted.

In addition, the Sierra Club vows that building the North/South Rail Link project would create the infrastructure for an efficient, convenient rail service that offers attractive transportation options for local commuters and passengers traveling throughout the Northeast. Its members say it would enhance the federal investment made in Amtrak?s Northeast Corridor because continuous interstate and intercity rail service would be available along the East Coast for the first time.

?Boston will be one of the great megalopoli over the next 50 years and the single-most important investment in this region?s economic future would be a high-speed rail system from Maine to Virginia. There?s no question about that,? Dukakis said. ?The link is an important part of that.

?I think our chances working with the 12 New England states and the District of Columbia are very good. It sure beats spending $4 billion a week in Iraq.?
Re: North-South Rail Link

Regarding the example of going from Hingham to Ipswich...that is the worst example ever, or best, depending on how you look at it. This is a worthless one who lives on a commuter rail line is going to travel from one suburban destination to another.....that's the whole point of "commuter rail" you commute to work. People drive their car to the station, get on, and then get off and need to be able to walk to wherever they are going/or take some other's not like a car will be waiting for them at their destination. I know there is an Ipswich shuttle to Crane Beach, but really, is a person who chose to live in Hingham going to go through all of that even if there was direct access.....of course not.

If the federal government believes it's worth their while to build this tunnel so that Acela can go to Maine and NH, then I say let the feds build it, but not at the expense of any other project in this city.
Re: North-South Rail Link

I think the real benefit will be that comuter rail riders will have access to the back bay in one ride. I would bet that a large number of people do not want to get on a packed orange line or green line car to continue their commute. However, I'm sure that the increase in commuters can hardly justify the cost of the n-s connector.
Re: North-South Rail Link

Philadelphia connected its two separate commuter rail systems, allowing suburb-to-suburb commuting. I don't know how many people use it for that purpose, though (I've never visited there).
Re: North-South Rail Link

To what extent is commuter rail useage currently limited by the lack of parking spaces at outlying stations ?

If realizing the increased ridership projected for the North-South rail link will require expenditures on additional parking, that should be included in the overall price.

Sorry to be a skeptic, but I see a lot of higher transit priorities than the North-South connector.
Re: North-South Rail Link

The main benefits of this project would be, as you say, to unburden the subway and better distribute commuters downtown (which is why a station around State St. is essential), to provide operational flexibility and, ideally, to provide frequent service on what would in effect be another subway line within the city (say Allston-Chelsea). That is the way commuter rail (S-bahn) functions in big German cities. All in all, a wonderful thing, but hardly justified.

Re: North-South Rail Link

Or, for a possibly more familiar example, the RER system in metropolitan Paris. London has the north-south Thameslink and I believe they are planning an east-west Crossrail.

NYC could get this for free by amalgamating New Jersey Transit with Long Island Rail Road, since both terminate at Penn Station. I wonder why they haven't done so.
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Re: North-South Rail Link

^Incompatibility of power supplies (and state governments), I believe.
Re: North-South Rail Link

Why isn?t Amtrak more involved? Don?t they benefit from this link too (even more than local commuters)?
Maybe the MBTA is not pushing hard for this project, because it is a potential lost on the revenue stream; not as many people changing trains and paying fares at each change???
Re: North-South Rail Link

Amtrak hardly has the money to create Moynihan Station, let alone construct a multi billion dollar tunnel. Also the MBTA would be the primary user which would then mean that the MBTA would have to lease the tunnel.
Re: North-South Rail Link

The traditional idea of the NS rail link covering one mile should be abandoned as too expensive and impractical. A link in the form of an urban ring makes a lot more sense. An elevated line (could be commuter rail in the median of 128 is one idea. Chicago has something like this. it would help suburb to suburb commuting, intercity travel, and make the NS connection.
Re: North-South Rail Link

RT-128 Rail would be a great idea for suburb to suburb commute

However, it doesn't help with the "Amtrak Gap" as after your N-S RT-128 link is in place -- trains would then have to be either Boston-bound Trains or else Bypass Trains

The only way around is if you were to make the Anderson Region Transportation Station near to both I-95/Rt-128 and I-93 in Woburn as the main Amtrak station for Boston with a high speed rail shuttle connecting to North Station

No -- I think that the N-S rail link which is really for Amtrak {there being very few pure N-S commuter trips} has to connect to at least one existing Amtrak station in Boston or else build a new Amtrak station as part of the inner quasi-circumferential Urban Loop project -- and ultimately connecting to all the subway lines -- possibly next to the new Harvard

No -- I think all the proposed N-S links are pipe dreams ? they feel good ? but they are unable to stand the real light of careful analysis

Re: North-South Rail Link

Route 128 commuter rail would have ridership approaching zero. Even though most of the 128 interchanges are major activity nodes, there are very few businesses within an easy walk of any of them (assuming that's where commuter rail stations would be located), and almost no residences. With almost no trips having the possibility of walk access on at least one end, this appears to be a transit service with no market.

As far as actually improving people's ability to travel I see suburb to suburb commuting (and Amtrak service from north of Boston to south of Boston, for that matter) coming in a very distant second to improved MBTA commuter rail distribution throughout the CBD as the key benefit of NSRL.