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

tysmith95

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The north side lines have less ridership due to North Station being in a subpar location. A NSRL would give Lynn, Lowell, Salem, Fitchburg, Waltham, Gloucester, and many other cities direct access to South Station and Back Bay without having to transfer.
 

stick n move

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This is also why you end up getting dumb ideas on “solutions” like a greenway monorail etc... That shows a complete misunderstanding of what nsrl accomplishes.

Actually a few proposals dont even include both north and south stations. A few options have south station and haymarket, which if you think the point is only to link both north and south stations would look crazy. If you “get it” though not so much.
 
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JeffDowntown

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But no one actually does that. "The gap" baked into people's commuting behaviors and patterns. It's not a great political talking point compared to all of the other benefits.
I agree you can say it better than talking about the gap.

But the gap means that North Side commuters headed to South and West employment centers probably drive. Same for South and West commuters headed to North Side employment centers. That is what is baked in: "you can't get there from here".
 

Wash

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Hot take: I don't think that "The reason we're building NSRL is so that we can have real RUR frequencies on all the commuter rail branches" and "I'm going to walk the length of the main tunnel to show you how short it is" are conflicting messages.
 

Equilibria

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But no one actually does that. "The gap" baked into people's commuting behaviors and patterns. It's not a great political talking point compared to all of the other benefits.
The fact that all these politicians and activists remember it tells you it's memorable and saleable. The most effective argument for NSRL may not, technically, be the best.
 

North Shore

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The fact that all these politicians and activists remember it tells you it's memorable and saleable. The most effective argument for NSRL may not, technically, be the best.
This.

It may not be the selling point we need it to be, but it's the one that resonates easiest with the general public. And that's who you need to rally support with to get this thing done.
 

Arlington

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The north side lines have less ridership due to North Station being in a subpar location. A NSRL would give Lynn, Lowell, Salem, Fitchburg, Waltham, Gloucester, and many other cities direct access to South Station and Back Bay without having to transfer.
In general, the Northside is underdeveloped (precisely because the Southside has always had the better access to Providence, Worcester, and NYC) and there will always be an asymmetry.

My Northside neighbors desperately want better access to Back Bay, Ruggles-Longwood, FiDi and Seaport, but the Southside would be forgiven for not seeing the upside of being able to get a job in Malden, Melrose, or Woburn.

Even with State Street coming to Haymarket and the new towers at North Station, there's always going to be a small-time, low-rent feel to jobs at North Station because the Big Time and High Rent stuff use Amtrak access as a tie-breaker (even if it is .01% of trip making, we know that executives situate businesses based on trips executives make, not trips everyone else in the office makes).

The Northside plays the "bedroom community" role that New Jersey and Newark play in discussing new tubes under the Hudson
Employees in NJ and Employers in NYC want it, but nobody in Manhattan is saying "I need access to jobs in Newark"
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I agree you can say it better than talking about the gap.

But the gap means that North Side commuters headed to South and West employment centers probably drive. Same for South and West commuters headed to North Side employment centers. That is what is baked in: "you can't get there from here".
The "gap" talk obfuscates a lot of that, too. Because the next pivot is the pretty GIF diagram the Duke/Weld lobby used to have on their website of lines flowing through end-to-end. Fitchburg-Greenbush! Cape-Haverhill! Providence-Lowell! Needham-Rockport! The magic of the one-seat ride ends up pwning its own message because it inevitably gets pitched as end-to-end, where the endpoints are nonsensical commutes no one makes and one's arse would go numb sitting in a CR seat while crossing 495 twice. The politician-crafted klunky talking points are unable to parse that with any relevance.

In the real world, somebody commuting from South Shore is S.O.L. at getting a job in the Waltham office parks because that's the furthest/most-painful car drive on 128 from where they intersect with the highways at Braintree Split. Now...change to Red at Braintree/Quincy Ctr./JFK and you've got an easy enough commute to Porter grabbable on 6-min. Braintree Branch frequencies. But who's going to carry two paper CR schedules around? Even if Waltham gets :15 Urban Rail frequencies and a 128 superstation with biz shuttle bus circulator to all the office parks the Old Colony's tri-branch schedules are inherently horrific for staging that many legs. Let's face it, even if you fix the Dorchester pinch there's still too many mouths to feed that neither Greenbush nor Plymouth nor Middleboro is individually going to run at brisker than :30 schedules. Either move, or that commute is just never going to be practical to do car-free.

What changes with NSRL is a double-whammy. You'll have the run-thru slots to chop a couple seats off that multi-transfer train + subway + shuttle bus trip. It'll even make it easier to take your own local bus to the 495-land CR station instead of Pn'R-ing because not having to do the Red Line interlude makes another bus leg tolerable. But more than that, the doubling of terminal district capacity with the upstairs/downstairs filet is what lifts the frequency cap from having to make do with an Old Colony that splits the tri-branches :30/:30/:30. They can be packed denser...running headlight-to-taillight on a double-track main such that you can elbow-grease the Brockton, Weymouth/Abington, Hingham, etc. inner-halves to :15 on top and never again have to carry the paper schedule even for the half-hour chunking. And the multidude of gained frequencies means you also don't have to care much whether the given train you board is fileted to tunnel run-thru or surface-terminus, much less whether it's running thru to the particular South Shore branch you ride. Count 'em up...how many opportunities en route do have to hop on/off at one platform to correct the destination? It'll be like taking an any-Red Line train and doing the Broadway/Andrew hop from a Braintree to an Ashmont or vice versa to set your destination...something commuters do unconsciously all the time. Only with this RUR-revolutionized...then NSRL-revolutionized Purple Line...you're making the same unconscious hop only with multitudes of possible destination signs to pick from. So even the multi-seat trips are a whole lot easier, as they require way less huffing and puffing between platform levels to chart a course.


^That^ all is the brain-exploding promise to the average commuter. No paper schedules because the system throughput is so much higher (i.e. why not to confuse tunnel as replacement for surface terminals when the service ceiling is achieved by playing both off each other). Set-it/forget-it transfers on a single platform hop as byproduct of the frequency and variety of frequencies, instead of having to exert physical energy to hit a transfer. Linked trips that do away with time-chewing middle transfer legs so that there's more bandwidth for outer transfer legs, and net higher car-free mode shares (i.e. it is not about promoting the one-seat at all, but by lowering the bandwidth of linked trips so practical options are exponentially greater). And in turn that keeps the options diverse while the actual ops of the tunnel is not going to equally represent "everywhere to everywhere" like the simplistic Duke/Weld website said. Tunnel pairs have to be tolerably schedule-balanced, prioritized to the highest-priority trunk pairings, and given consistent enough churn on the highest-priority trunk pairs that niche or alt pairings simply aren't going to have many turns at one-seat frequencies (and will be directed to the surface when they don't meet certain basic balancing-act standards). Rather, sheer escalation in frequencies of every kind + 'right enough' regular churn of max-priority thru-slot rotations serves up destination variety of the whole smorgasboard of the system with similar 'brainless' one-hop ease as making the Ashmont/Braintree hop that's second-nature at a Broadway or Andrew. Including when it's a hop between a regularly-repeating trunk slot and a niche slot. Niche slots can even include otherwise marginal prospects like "Lowell/Nashua via Salem St. & Tewksbury on the Wildcat Branch and Lowell Branch instead of North Billerica" or "Attleboro via Norwood/Walpole and Foxboro on the Franklin Line + Framingham Secondary instead of Providence Line" every hour at peak, 90 minutes off-peak...stuff that would be waaaaaaay too marginal as one-seat alt patterns but where the higher-caliber service blender of the supersized system provides the farebox recovery via enabling such easy/brainless one-hop transfers.

It's all rooted very thoroughly in "It's the frequencies, stupid!" leading into "Frequency creates new mobility". Benefits of run-thru are explainable at their most dynamic, speaking directly to the individual voter's own commute by running through that pipe. "Gap"-centric talk doesn't have any record of success doing the same...because it doesn't explain where behavior changes or is conditioned to change because things got way easier for the commuter. Instead the pols end up backfilling it with abstract theatre like "everywhere-to-everywhere" in some flat-world overrating of the one-seat, where you already know there aren't infinite enough combinations of one-seats to change ease-of-commute behavior for a wide enough spread of destinations (see also: the SEPTA fallacy, as if an all-world shitty frequency run-thru system is what we aspire to). But level the bandwidth sucked up by linked trips in addition to facilitating a nice core slate of high-demand one-seats? Fuck yeah, that's revolutionary in a way anyone actually trying to make a trip within daily allotment of time & energy can immediately grasp.


We unfortunately may have to wait until the "gap" generation of politicians and their copycats are all dead before we can impart the frequency-rooted talking points sans interference. Especially since mere retirement and civic obsolescence is proving to be no deterrent from Duke/Salvucci et al. continuing to pollute the NSRL word salad with that dead-end liner.
 
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JeffDowntown

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I don't disagree that the big win is frequency. I was responding to the "gap" argument because of the incorrect and stupid polito comments about the actual size of the gap.

But I think there is an even bigger win that frequency (or one that needs to run in parallel): connectivity. It is about the quality of the network, and its ability to take you directly or one connection from almost any A to B. One big problem here in Boston is that we are trained to NOT think about efficient networks. Both out road network and our transit network are designed for lots of indirect connections (four (or five) transit lines all converging downtown, no ring connection; major gaps in radial highways out of the city requiring lots of dogleg connections; bus routes based on connecting the "squares", etc.).

We need to educate Bostonians that direct connections matter, and that time efficient transit needs direct connections and an efficient network.
 

Java King

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But that's just an incidental benefit of NSRL. The main one is connecting the two networks. It creates a new subway with 4 branches north and 5 south. I get nuts when people use the "traveler going from NYC to Portland with luggage" argument. Thats .01 percent of the potential.
Maybe the subway idea is the way to sell it to the masses. I watched the technically-challenged Twitch video too. I kept thinking that Senator Markey should be talking about other systems like Munich that have connected their rail stations with a tunnel. The Munich S-Bahn Rail tunnel is indistinguishable from the U-Bahn Subway Network. Check out the map HERE at this link. It becomes the spine of their whole transit network. In fact, so much so that they are building a second parallel tunnel! All the services on the map from Ostbahnhof to Hauptbahnof are S-Bahn regional trains, but it acts like part of the subway. I didn't even realize it was a different "service" until I really reviewed the map. It's so integrated with the U-Bahn subway trains, it acts like just another line. That's they way I envision the NSRL. For your typical tourist visiting Boston, it's so integrated to the T-Green, Blue, Orange, and Red lines, that nobody even realizes it's also a regional service.
 
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StillInTheHood

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Ultimately, yes, it will be great when NSRL permits our system to look more like Munich’s. And of course the people who post on this board “get it” in a much deeper sense than is conveyed in politicians’ silly soundbites about the one mile gap. Maybe that will help sell it?

But to F-Line’s point, the keys are frequency and connectivity, not the end-to-end through running of every individual train. The North/South imbalance isn’t “just” a factor of North Station’s location being slightly less convenient … South Station serves a larger population base (in no small part because it serves the most populous Western suburb corridor) and it is also the focus of the vast majority of longer-distance service and always will be. That’s just geography and arithmetic. The extensions of South Coast Rail and to Buzzard’s Bay, etc., figure to increase, not decrease this disparity. Ultimately, I’d like to see service extended to Nashua/Manchester and Portsmouth, but who knows when NH will get on board (pun intended). And if you think longer-term, with a “crazy transit pitches” hat on, looking for further places to reach when technologies enable trains to be faster, there are more possibilities to the south than to the north. But you know what? It doesn’t matter.

Because whether north OR south, it does not make sense to run every train to the end of a line on a commuter rail system with a 40+ mile reach. In a system with high frequency, it is a more efficient use of resources to short turn some trains then to have them ride half-empty to a remote destination, especially during a rush hour crush. Munich does this, of course, as does London, as does every large system. Closer to home, there are people who do a daily commute between LIRR and NJ Transit, where there are NO through trains … sure, it’s a bit awkward, but it’s a million times easier to change between frequent running services within a station, even a large station, than it is to add a third subway leg or to try to manage around poor CORE frequency. On an every day basis, the Oyster Bay Line on the LIRR and the Raritan Valley Line on the NJ Transit (and several other lines) don’t usually even go into the tunnel to NY Penn, but that’s perfectly OK because it’s a simple cross-platform transfer to frequent trains that do. Frequency and connectivity make it all work. Practically speaking, you can afford GREATER frequency in the core if you focus on efficient changes and don’t waste too many resources at the ends of the net.

My concern in the discussion amongst NSRL advocates is still that there is too little attention given to yards, maintenance facilities, and additional stub platforms at intermediate stations for efficient turns and recovery in the event of equipment problems. I think when people see a system like Munich’s, it’s easy for the casual observer to be struck with the end-to-end spiderweb without seeing all of the many “in between bits” of infrastructure required to make it all work. In the real world, when I commuted on the Munich S-Bahn daily, I often had to change at Ostbahnhof, even though the lines on the map suggested I wouldn’t need to. (Short turns are less necessary on the shorter U-Bahn lines, which, as you note, are otherwise seamlessly integrated). In F-Line’s terms, trains aren’t all going to run from Needham to Rockport or Lowell to Fall River. In the medium term, even if NSRL is funded, we’ll be dealing with even more compromises to “pure” through routes. THAT’S OKAY. It won’t prevent NSRL from being a game changer for metro Boston, far huger than the politicians or Joe Public realize.

To reframe my earlier statement that helped flame a bit of a ruckus, if we don’t like the idea of expanding South Station (at least a bit), we will need to invest in some other “central core” layover/turn infrastructure beyond the tunnel itself. Frankly, we don’t have nearly the capacity we need for expansion at most of the end-of-line yards, either, never mind the maintenance facilities. That doesn’t mean these bits need to be gold plated. That doesn’t mean that we are “providing ammo” to the naysayers or the people who lack vision – it means we are being realistic and ensuring we won’t be dismissed immediately by engineers who understand that the elegant simplicity of our vision necessarily entails some operational complexity. If describing "end to end" routes makes for an easier sell, that's OK, it's a lot better than "it's just one mile," but it, too, is a simplification.
 

Java King

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StillInTheHood, I won't quote your whole post, but wonderfully stated! I also don't think trains running end-to-end is the goal or even desired. Maybe all current South Station trains terminate at North Station, and all current North Station trains terminate at South Station? That would make the NSRL core have the frequency of a subway line, but not impact operations as much. Or as you stated, there is a turn-back or maintenance facility somewhere just north of the city as a South-Side ending point and the same thing just south of the city for the North-Side ending point. Then regional trains, Amtrak, and others could be through-routed via the tunnel.
 

JeffDowntown

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StillInTheHood, I won't quote your whole post, but wonderfully stated! I also don't think trains running end-to-end is the goal or even desired. Maybe all current South Station trains terminate at North Station, and all current North Station trains terminate at South Station? That would make the NSRL core have the frequency of a subway line, but not impact operations as much. Or as you stated, there is a turn-back or maintenance facility somewhere just north of the city as a South-Side ending point and the same thing just south of the city for the North-Side ending point. Then regional trains, Amtrak, and others could be through-routed via the tunnel.
I think we will want through running a bit further out than just the two major terminuses. I think major transfer points like Back Bay; Ruggles; Forest Hills; JFK; Porter; Sullivan... will want some thru running service.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I think we will want through running a bit further out than just the two major terminuses. I think major transfer points like Back Bay; Ruggles; Forest Hills; JFK; Porter; Sullivan... will want some thru running service.
Yeah...straight-up turning in the tunnel is a hideous waste of capacity. The literal only service that will be dumping last passengers at a tunnel stop is the Downeaster (probably by this point Bangor-extended as a distinct service from Portland run-thru Northeast Regionals). And that's only because Southampton Yard is AMTK home base, so it'll be first/last-offs at South Station Under as most ops-obvious means of hitting the unified umbrella yard for everything AMTK.

Given what kind of dizzying service blender we're talking the actual short-turn destinations will run the gamut. But general organizing principle on run-thrus would be "495-to-128", in terms of effective schedule-balancing. Anderson RTC, Waltham/128, and Salem/Peabody would be the primary cut-out spots on the north for full(ish)-length run-thrus from the south, with Salem/Peabody having the extant yard at North St. and Anderson + Waltham having surrounding space for them. North-to-south...looser mix of rote-128 turning (Westwood, Riverside, Dedham Corporate) and high-demand 'tweeners' with available yard space (Framingham, Walpole/Foxboro, Brockton). But that's just the general organizing principle. One-offs can turn on-platform just about anywhere there's not enormously high congestion, so in a blended universe where a lot of misfit-length parts have to be pounded into schedule lengths that make for nice even-churn tunnel slots they'll choose throttles wherever it's most appropriate. And that probably means a 'primary' 128 turnback, a secondary 'tweener' turnback, and a small remainder of ad-hocs turned on-platform for the ill-fitting parts...turning choices by time of day all shaped heavily by demand and ever-changing to shift with trends. But on strength of the frequencies you won't really have to double-check paper schedules to tell the difference between a rote-128 and a 'tweener' turnback, because "brainless" hop-off/hop-in same-platform transfers will be carrying so much higher share of the load for linked trips. The S-Bahn examples that are most relevant really don't have any rigid set of turnbacks carved in stone...just the same general organizing principle order of wayfinding augmented by ad-hoc short-turning for ops.

And, yes, the surface terminals will still be very busy. The long-distance runs like Concord-Boston, RIDOT super-extendeds past Providence, Hyannis, and South Coast Rail (esp. if the Fall River Branch does representative slate to Newport) are simply too-long to pair-match. Some, like the Cape, aren't going to be fully-electrified for a long time if ever because traffic densities don't merit. Surge slots above-and-beyond the regular orderly churn of pair matching are going to swarm the terminals at rush. When pairs mismatch on needed capacity/train length it's going to make more sense to cut runs at the surface rather than split the difference running too-short/sardine-packed on one side and too-long/empty on the other when there's no happy medium available. And some of the low-margin alt routes (described in last post) won't rate for tunnel slots on their own routing unorthodoxy, but find their utilization sucking up hop-off/hop-on transfers on the inner stops. Plus Amtrak's voracious growth appetite is practically unbounded, with intercity ops still needing the between-runs yard deadhead for shift changes...so HSR, Regionals, Inlands, and LD's are going to be encamping on a wider-than-ever swath of SS surface platforms by 2040. Run-thrus for them will just be the handful of Virginia-style super-extended Regionals to Portland and Concord, plus the intra-Maine differentiated Downeaster running to SS Under solely for the home-yard hegemony @ Southampton.

But in reality the very meaning of the word "terminal" is going to be diminished. When you've got the service blender allowing hop-off/hop-on options between various interlined patterns and between interlined vs. non-interlined patterns...SS, NS, and BBY aren't going to be the centers of the universe anymore. If the Providence Line is running thru to Anderson and the (in-district local) Lowell/Nashua Line is terminating at Westwood you can switch from a Nashua-terminating/originating train to a Providence/T.F. Green-terminating/originating train at Winchester Ctr. or Ruggles if that floats your boat. That's where the Red Line analogy for correcting your Ashmont vs. Braintree destination comes in handy...you can literally do the linked trip at any stop that so happens to appear on any two matching schedules, no capital-T "Terminal" required. Which should in turn drastically reduce the overcrowding at SS by load-spreading the linked-trip possibilities all around the system. After all, the NSRL lower levels of SS Under, NS Under, and will-they/won't-they Central Station are going to be claustrophobic as hell and somewhat time-consuming escalator rides to surface or rapid-transit transfers. So the diffuse redistribution of linked-trip transfers is an RUR/S-Bahn "feature" you really need to have implemented service-side in order for circulation to work within the limitations of those deep caverns.

It's not much different from radial rapid transit builds reducing the singular over-reliance on the Big 4 downtown transfer stops as primary means of saving the MBTA Subway from choking on its own overload. Blend a supersized Purple Line in a way that linked-trip transfers can happen nearly anywhere two schedules happen to meet and we redefine the meaning of the term "terminal" in a way that actually keeps our CBD terminals functional through several more generations of demand increases.
 
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Arlington

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^ Yes, your single seat ride from the Northside would terminate and turn back either at
  • Boston Landing, Ruggles or South Bay or
  • somewhere near 128 on the Southside (the DMU 2024 termini)
Your Southside single seat ride would extend to either
  • Alewife, Malden, or Lynn
  • somewhere near 128 on the Northside (Fitchburg @ Waltham infill, Lowell @ Anderson, Reading @ Quanapowitt infill)
 

jlichyen

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But in reality the very meaning of the word "terminal" is going to be diminished. When you've got the service blender allowing hop-off/hop-on options between various interlined patterns and between interlined vs. non-interlined patterns...SS, NS, and BBY aren't going to be the centers of the universe anymore. If the Providence Line is running thru to Anderson and the (in-district local) Lowell/Nashua Line is terminating at Westwood you can switch from a Nashua-terminating/originating train to a Providence/T.F. Green-terminating/originating train at Winchester Ctr. or Ruggles if that floats your boat. That's where the Red Line analogy for correcting your Ashmont vs. Braintree destination comes in handy...you can literally do the linked trip at any stop that so happens to appear on any two matching schedules, no capital-T "Terminal" required. Which should in turn drastically reduce the overcrowding at SS by load-spreading the linked-trip possibilities all around the system. After all, the NSRL lower levels of SS Under, NS Under, and will-they/won't-they Central Station are going to be claustrophobic as hell and somewhat time-consuming escalator rides to surface or rapid-transit transfers. So the diffuse redistribution of linked-trip transfers is an RUR/S-Bahn "feature" you really need to have implemented service-side in order for circulation to work within the limitations of those deep caverns.
To speak slightly tangentially based on this point, a key aspect of making this work is rigorous adherence to a standardized schedule with clear local/express/super-express(?) differentiation, and open-source (or easily accessible) published schedule data. I'm more familiar with Tokyo-area rail service, where it's possible and not uncommon to travel from one side of the region to the other making two or three transfers across as many private rail companies. This is possible because the trains come often enough (10~15 minute frequency), the schedules are standardized, and OTP is sacrosanct. You can search your route on Google Maps or a local app, and it will tell you the fastest route having seamlessly integrated the schedule data.

I believe this info is already implemented in Google Maps for the MBTA and Amtrak, but it only becomes particularly useful when you can input your planned routing and know it's available within 20~30 minutes, and that you can trust that your trains will be on-time so that transferring at whatever mid-point is a reasonable assumption to make.
 

bakgwailo

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To speak slightly tangentially based on this point, a key aspect of making this work is rigorous adherence to a standardized schedule with clear local/express/super-express(?) differentiation, and open-source (or easily accessible) published schedule data. I'm more familiar with Tokyo-area rail service, where it's possible and not uncommon to travel from one side of the region to the other making two or three transfers across as many private rail companies. This is possible because the trains come often enough (10~15 minute frequency), the schedules are standardized, and OTP is sacrosanct. You can search your route on Google Maps or a local app, and it will tell you the fastest route having seamlessly integrated the schedule data.

I believe this info is already implemented in Google Maps for the MBTA and Amtrak, but it only becomes particularly useful when you can input your planned routing and know it's available within 20~30 minutes, and that you can trust that your trains will be on-time so that transferring at whatever mid-point is a reasonable assumption to make.
Yeah, Tokyo's system(s) are something else, pretty much seemless between the two subway operators, and into JR (Japan Rail) which basically feels like a subway service anyways. At the micro (city) level it all flows nicely, and they have a pretty intuitive number system for stops and transfers that really makes the language barrier moot. Going up into the Macro level (JR/intercity), it is also as seamless. Last time we did a JR monthly pass, and used that to go between multiple cities via various Shinkansen lines, most of which required at least one transfer that, even with all of our luggage was easy and added little time to the trip (most had 5-10 minute waits, either same platform or just enough time to get to the right one). Totally different world/level of transportation.
 

JeffDowntown

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Yeah, Tokyo's system(s) are something else, pretty much seemless between the two subway operators, and into JR (Japan Rail) which basically feels like a subway service anyways. At the micro (city) level it all flows nicely, and they have a pretty intuitive number system for stops and transfers that really makes the language barrier moot. Going up into the Macro level (JR/intercity), it is also as seamless. Last time we did a JR monthly pass, and used that to go between multiple cities via various Shinkansen lines, most of which required at least one transfer that, even with all of our luggage was easy and added little time to the trip (most had 5-10 minute waits, either same platform or just enough time to get to the right one). Totally different world/level of transportation.
Another example is regional rail that works really well is in the Netherlands, around Amsterdam and Rotterdam. I think the aspect that most impressed me is the schedule coordination, particularly on the stoptreinen (local "sprinters"). At stops where there were logical high capacity transfers, trains on the different lines would arrive at the same time, across the platform from each other for a zero lost time transfer! That is world class.
 

StillInTheHood

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The engineers will definitely need to think hard about how to facilitate more easy, cross-platform transfers at points further removed from the tunnel - that is, not at North Station or South Station (or Central Station if that ends up being part of the build).

One of the challenges we have is that our mass transit lines converge in a very narrow physical area and the tunnel we want to build is, as the politicians remind us, actually pretty short. If you think about the Euro regional rail systems that we'd like to emulate, like Munich, Paris, or even London's ThamesLink, they have an advantage of multiple change points. A veteran Munich commuter who needs to change S-Bahn lines knows better than to plan his/her change at Marienplatz or Hauptbahnhof because those stations tend to be very, very busy - you only get off there if you are exiting there or need to change to the U-Bahn or Long-Distance rail there. But since the various S-Bahn lines overlap for most of the 10 stations in the tunnel, the embark/disembark process between them has a chance to spread itself pretty naturally. It also frankly helps that Munich's commercial core is more spread out than ours, which is even more true for London, etc.

What clearly WON'T work is a system that presumes that all or most of the changes happen in the tunnel, i.e., at "South Station Under." There will always be a huge number of commuters disembarking at South Station to walk to their workplace or change to the Red/Silver lines or buses and long distance trains, and a large number of people also getting on. Ditto at North Station. You'd rather not add to that everyone needing to switch from one commuter line to another. If too much of the activity is concentrated in the tunnel and the system is remotely as successful as we all hope it will be, it will create a conga-line of unacceptable dwell times and vulnerability to a cascade of delays, even if we are successful in getting the single-level coaches that TransitMatters pines for. As F-Line notes, I don't think it would be a good use of tunnel capacity to turn northside trains at South Station and vice versa, and it might also create a platform engineering nightmare ... you'd need multiple underground stub-ends. I like F-Line's idea of 495-to-95 routings in both directions as this would really help the balance, but of course this will require some additional, smaller-scale infrastructure investments at several stations. And, of course, we'll still need to make ample use of the surface platforms at both South and North Stations just to physically separate some of the disembarkation and embarkation. That makes for a less convenient change than a cross-platform shuffle but would keep some delay-causing clutter out of the tunnel.

The big win, of course, comes from much improved frequency and simplicity of travel between stations like JFK and Chelsea or Porter and West Station, etc., and the ease to reach these sorts of core destinations from more distant points. The ability to get from Fitchburg to Hingham and between similar further-flung destinations without too much trouble is a "nice to have" side benefit, but won't drive the ridership or the economics. I think the benefit of frequency at more remote stations (think Forge Park or Rockport) is slightly oversold ... sure, it will be enormously beneficial to have more trains and more regularly timed trains and a longer service window, but would we ever be able to justify more than one an hour off-peak? Providence and Worcester may have the ridership, but that won't be true for every line. It's true that we want to limit the degree to which people have to think about and look up schedules, but it's not a big hardship to require some schedule awareness at bedroom communities near the end of a line. Even on the Munich S-Bahn, where the takt time is 20 minutes through most of the day, my neighbors and I all knew that the trains left at 08, 28, and 48 past the hour ... we didn't want to waste 18 unnecessary minutes on the platform if we could help it. The bigger point was, we didn't have to think about coordinating schedules on the other end, in the core of the network, where frequencies were much greater - rarely were we headed between one remote S-bahn end and another. Commuters can work around schedules to some extent - what infuriates current would-be MBTA riders and sends them running to their cars are huge gaps between trains ("if I miss the 5:30 the next one isn't until 7:25"), early service termination ("if we aren't done in time for me to make the 10:05, I'm screwed) and, most of all, limited and awkward connectivity ("to get from West Hingham to my office in the Back Bay, I've got to change to the Red and then to the Orange or Green). It'll never run quite like the subway in Scituate, but it could get awfully close at Chelsea and Lansdowne, and that will change the entire way people experience the T.
 

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