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

tysmith95

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Yes. The town was about 100x more focused on the window-dressing car amenities than the extremely narrow, nearly-shelterless non-accessible platforms being deathtraps and the track crossings being extremely dangerous and blocked all the damn time by gigantic freight trains. That's a perfect description of Ayer. Stop the world over a fight for parking spaces...continued big shrug at the game of pedestrian chicken being played across the tracks of one of the busiest rail junctions in New England.

Safe and accessible platform shouldn't be too enormous a production there. Some minor interlocking modifications for the pair of outer freight passers framing a middle 12 x 800 ft. full-high passenger island. Space is abundant inside the wye for doing both the track setup and the up-and-over access from both the station kiss-and-ride and Faulkner St. It just may take to the heat death of the universe to get the town to agree on those straightforward plans, or for the T to hold it to a construction schedule given their track record of late with renovating CR stations.
To be fair, the new parking structure is very well used on weekends and holidays for the bike path that starts in Ayer (and goes to nashua). It's not just for the commuter rail.
 

BeyondRevenue

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I was just thinking about how I'd pay for the North South Rail Link... you know, like a normal person does on a Wednesday afternoon.
Aside from debating Modern Monetary Theory, progressive taxation, or the merits of bond issues, I realized for better or worse, we live in a PayGo fiscal mindset on infrastructure. That means any project worth a squirt has to pay for itself. Thank you, Grover Norquist.
So I started thinking. The MBTA needs to build a big ol' tunnel, but if the MBTA does the tunnel right, they won't need the land on top of it, right? So, I flipped over an envelope and ran some REALLY rudimentary numbers.
The first biggie: Price per square foot in Boston. According to this article, the whacked out number on top is $3,564/sq.ft. Since that number is in the Back Bay and not sane AT ALL, I'd put my industrial land closer to a really conservative $1100/sq.ft. I've seen a lot more number closer to that so I feel pretty safe. With me so far? Good.

Using ye olde Google Maps' area calculation feature, I scared up a few random state owned properties to see what might be on the table.
Big caveat: This is assuming we get everything on the NSRL Christmas List: Systemwide electrification, new EMUs and 4 grouped tunnels from North to South -- and a bunch of other stuff F-Line will use to poke holes in whatever I posit.

First up
1: North Station Staging area.
Approximate Square feet available: 318138.55
NorthStationAirRights.png


2: Trackage south of the Gilmore bridge.
Approximate Square feet available: 254908.61
If we have the tunnels, why do we need the layover tracks? Amirite?
Gilmore_Bridge_South_Air_Rights.png


3: Trackage north of the Gilmore bridge and 'flexible' property around the Northside Yard.
Approximate Square feet available: 182022.63
Gilmore_Bridge_North_Air_Rights.png


4: Trackage and property in and around the Southhampton Yard.
Approximate Square feet available: 808554.72
Southampton_Yards_Air_Rights.png


There are many more that candidates, but I thought I'd throw these out there for you all to do your own thinking on the subject. My formula is pretty basic, Half of the Sum of available land (I set aside 50% reserved for sidewalks, roads, pipes, parks and all that juicy general infrastructure) multiplied by the price per square foot.
Soooooo.... what have we learned, Dorothy?

North Station - square feet available: 318138.55
Gilmore South - square feet available: 254908.61
Gilmore North - square feet available: 182022.63
Southhampton Yard - square feet available: 808554.72

If you've read this far, you deserve the reveal:
Total square feet available: 1563624.51
1563624.51/2 = 781812.26
781812.26/2 x 1100 = 1,719,986,961 or
1.7 Billion asking - low ball
and if each of the buildings goes up 7 stories, that property will be worth 12,039,908,727 or
12 Billion. Taxable annually.

Thoughts?

Now I'm going to eat some fatty foods and watch me some TeeVee.
 

stefal

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https://www.governmentjobs.com/careers/mbta/jobs/3173386/director-transit-oriented-development

(You have a stronger case after this fiasco: https://www.bostonherald.com/2021/0...elopment-chief-worked-remotely-from-colorado/)

In all seriousness, with some of your propositions, there's a careful balance between operations, practicality, and financials that needs a little more fine-tuning, but TOD could bring some much needed money to the state. You also need these air-rights to be in high-demand, as in being among the only remaining lots for development for the decking costs and increased structural costs to make sense.
 

Massachoicetts

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https://www.governmentjobs.com/careers/mbta/jobs/3173386/director-transit-oriented-development

(You have a stronger case after this fiasco: https://www.bostonherald.com/2021/0...elopment-chief-worked-remotely-from-colorado/)

In all seriousness, with some of your propositions, there's a careful balance between operations, practicality, and financials that needs a little more fine-tuning, but TOD could bring some much needed money to the state. You also need these air-rights to be in high-demand, as in being among the only remaining lots for development for the decking costs and increased structural costs to make sense.
127k? That seems a bit low for the position.
 

BeyondRevenue

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https://www.governmentjobs.com/careers/mbta/jobs/3173386/director-transit-oriented-development

(You have a stronger case after this fiasco: https://www.bostonherald.com/2021/0...elopment-chief-worked-remotely-from-colorado/)

In all seriousness, with some of your propositions, there's a careful balance between operations, practicality, and financials that needs a little more fine-tuning, but TOD could bring some much needed money to the state. You also need these air-rights to be in high-demand, as in being among the only remaining lots for development for the decking costs and increased structural costs to make sense.
I completely agree.

So, which campaign do I have to donate to so I can move up the list? #cynicism #Boston Politics #Dark Reality
Sadly, I don't meet the basic requirements for the gig. I have a feeling I'd think it was a poor fit also. I would not want to have a near-altruistic mission (that job) and constantly be tripped up and disheartened by random raving NIMBYs, brainless meetings, pointless paperwork, and all the imagery from Brazil or the first few minutes of Joe Versus the Volcano. I really respect the good people who can do it. I don't think I could.

Nope. I'll just square this one up and hope somebody with stronger legs or deeper pockets takes the shot.
 

JumboBuc

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I was just thinking about how I'd pay for the North South Rail Link... you know, like a normal person does on a Wednesday afternoon.
Aside from debating Modern Monetary Theory, progressive taxation, or the merits of bond issues, I realized for better or worse, we live in a PayGo fiscal mindset on infrastructure. That means any project worth a squirt has to pay for itself. Thank you, Grover Norquist.
So I started thinking. The MBTA needs to build a big ol' tunnel, but if the MBTA does the tunnel right, they won't need the land on top of it, right? So, I flipped over an envelope and ran some REALLY rudimentary numbers.
The first biggie: Price per square foot in Boston. According to this article, the whacked out number on top is $3,564/sq.ft. Since that number is in the Back Bay and not sane AT ALL, I'd put my industrial land closer to a really conservative $1100/sq.ft. I've seen a lot more number closer to that so I feel pretty safe. With me so far? Good.

Using ye olde Google Maps' area calculation feature, I scared up a few random state owned properties to see what might be on the table.
Big caveat: This is assuming we get everything on the NSRL Christmas List: Systemwide electrification, new EMUs and 4 grouped tunnels from North to South -- and a bunch of other stuff F-Line will use to poke holes in whatever I posit.

First up
1: North Station Staging area.
Approximate Square feet available: 318138.55
View attachment 15438

2: Trackage south of the Gilmore bridge.
Approximate Square feet available: 254908.61
If we have the tunnels, why do we need the layover tracks? Amirite?
View attachment 15439

3: Trackage north of the Gilmore bridge and 'flexible' property around the Northside Yard.
Approximate Square feet available: 182022.63
View attachment 15440

4: Trackage and property in and around the Southhampton Yard.
Approximate Square feet available: 808554.72
View attachment 15441

There are many more that candidates, but I thought I'd throw these out there for you all to do your own thinking on the subject. My formula is pretty basic, Half of the Sum of available land (I set aside 50% reserved for sidewalks, roads, pipes, parks and all that juicy general infrastructure) multiplied by the price per square foot.
Soooooo.... what have we learned, Dorothy?

North Station - square feet available: 318138.55
Gilmore South - square feet available: 254908.61
Gilmore North - square feet available: 182022.63
Southhampton Yard - square feet available: 808554.72

If you've read this far, you deserve the reveal:
Total square feet available: 1563624.51
1563624.51/2 = 781812.26
781812.26/2 x 1100 = 1,719,986,961 or
1.7 Billion asking - low ball
and if each of the buildings goes up 7 stories, that property will be worth 12,039,908,727 or
12 Billion. Taxable annually.

Thoughts?

Now I'm going to eat some fatty foods and watch me some TeeVee.
The parking lots you see north of North Station (in 1) are owned by Mass General Brigham, and the entirety of the Southampton Yard property (all of 4) is Amtrak (i.e. Federal) property.

All that leaves for State / T land are the narrow air rights stretches over the tracks (in 2 and 3) and over the North Station platforms (in 1), and the market value of those air rights is probably pretty close to $0. Access to those parcels is super awkward and restricted, and any developer would need to build a very costly deck on top of that. Maybe there's some value in the North Station platform air rights, but even there we're probably talking a total max in the nine figure area, given all the site constraints.
 
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BeyondRevenue

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127k? That seems a bit low for the position.
It is. You pay peanuts, you get squirrels.

I think most Old Guys With Money still think that they don't want to buy 'difficult' land. Like my father saying after a local gas station closed, "They'll open another one. It's the only thing that can go there! Who would pay to clean up the old tanks and all oil and gas soaked into that soil?"
Today, remediation is a fraction of the value. If I had the cash I'd buy that gas station and put up a 6-story building. Sorry, dad. Your logic doesn't play anymore.
 

BeyondRevenue

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The parking lots you see north of North Station (in 1) are owned by Mass General Brigham, and the entirety of the Southampton Yard property (all of 4) is Amtrak (i.e. Federal) property.

All that leaves for State / T land are the narrow air rights stretches over the tracks (in 2 and 3) and over the North Station platforms (in 1), and the market value of those air rights is probably pretty close to $0. Access to those parcels is super awkward and restricted, and any developer would need to build a very costly deck on top of that. Maybe there's some value in the North Station platform air rights, but even there we're probably talking a total max in the nine figure area, given all the site constraints.
I'd say you're overestimating The Difficulty and getting stuck on notions of The Worthlessness. How about $400 a square foot for the bad stuff? $300? Lets talk.
Costly decking? Worth it. Check out South Station right now! And that's over active rail! I'd also remind detractors of Copley Place, The Prudential building, The Hynes Convention Center, etc... and how much Amtrak turf they went over.

There are four giant shiny new residential towers abutting North Station that weren't there a decade ago. Based on that, I'm saying you may be underestimating what is possible.

Also, I'd think Amtrak would want to be a co-conspirator.
And again, I'm not an expert. Or a surveyor. Or a lawyer. It's the idea of the thing. There's tons more property out there beyond the quick picks here.
TOD is the Billion dollar answer.
 

Brattle Loop

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Costly decking? Worth it. Check out South Station right now! And that's over active rail!
South Station was pre-provisioned for the future construction of the tower when the platforms were raised in the '80s, so it's not the best comparison to any land/structure that has not been provisioned for decking. The North Station side in your figure 1. also has a large elevated highway ramp running through it which cannot be moved and can't be decked over without both enormous expense and making interface with the street grid and surrounding buildings effectively impossible.

I'd also remind detractors of Copley Place, The Prudential building, The Hynes Convention Center, etc... and how much Amtrak turf they went over.
The massive gash through the city visible on Google Maps along the Pike and the rail corridor still being visible except in the few spots you mention and the fact that it's taken until now for any progress to be made on filling in any more of the deck parcels (Parcel 12, I believe, near Hynes, is finally being developed) points to the significant difficulty and therefore lack of desirability in developing air rights parcels like this, and the Pike parcels are in highly desirable areas of the city. Your decking land in Figure 2 is (again) inside a loop of highway ramps, at the edge of a neighborhood between a skate park and a (hardly quiet) Boston Sand & Gravel plant, and on the other side of which there is literally surface parking lots that could be developed (if BHCC acquiesced) without any of the mess or expense of decking over an active railroad. Likewise the land in Figure 3 would be extremely difficult to connect to any of the surrounding area, because all of the other developments on the west side are at ground level but you'd have to deck over the railroad, and again because of the highway there's next to nothing else around there.

Also, I'd think Amtrak would want to be a co-conspirator.
Southampton Street Yard has the same problem in that no sane developer is going to touch that land and the deck it'll need until all of the parcels to the east on nice flat land without any pesky trains have been redeveloped. Plus you'd have to deck over the wires, so that thing's going to be real fun to integrate with the surrounding streets. Moreover, Amtrak has one job, running intercity passenger service. It's not their job to care about the state's financial chicanery when it comes to the NSRL. I think there's a non-zero chance that they just say "no, go away" and can't be bothered unless they're going to get an absolute trainload of money...which they won't until there's literally no better options because all of the surrounding parcels have been developed.

Is what you're suggesting theoretically possible? I don't know, probably. I don't think it's literally impossible to deck over most of these sites. I do wonder to what extent your proposal might have been premised by the idea that we could simply get rid of the surface stations and tracks, which fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the system even in an NSRL world. But I don't think it's remotely plausible because of all the issues that posters have highlighted.
 
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BeyondRevenue

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Very encouraging. Changing it up: If the NSRL was built, would we need two railyards in Boston? If so which one could handle all the traffic best? Asking for a friend.
 
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Brattle Loop

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Very encouraging. Changing it up: If the NSRL was built, would we need two railyards in Boston? If so which one could handle all the traffic best? Asking for a friend.
Someone else with better knowledge would need to answer the question of whether the NSRL would even make (financial) sense in a non-Regional Rail universe where the CR system was more-or-less static to today's except with a tunnel to try and answer the question of storage capacity need in that alternate timeline. (Come to think of it, that might be a good question for the Boston Alternate History thread.)

That said, in this reality, if we build the NSRL, it will be the final link in the Regional Rail transformation of the CR into a very different system than it is now (as lovingly hashed out in the prior 124 pages of this thread...and a few others). Meaning, the NSRL would be born into a world where we have far more CR trains, albeit not looking quite the same (more frequent, presumably shorter EMU consists please) and a corresponding need to store them. It's an annoyingly-recurring myth that the tunnel would obviate the need for storage yards; the service levels we're talking about would mean that even with trains running through we would still need ample storage space (and the surface terminals).

Boston Engine Terminal's not going anywhere, it's the major maintenance base and does not have any meaningful prospect of replacement elsewhere. I don't know if it's technically feasible to plan a Regional Rail system (particularly with EMUs) with just the one major maintenance facility, or if the south side will require its own maintenance facility (Readville's probably the easiest best option) even with the Grand Junction. (And a proper south side maintenance facility is an ironclad requirement for ever removing the GJ from the CR network for anyone desiring its ROW for the Green Line's Urban Ring northwest quadrant.) It's possible that a new maintenance facility will be a requirement for Regional Rail even without the NSRL, and you can put that in Readville if you want, but there may well not be enough storage space there to be the south side's primary yard.

Most of the saner proposals I've seen have focused on Widett Circle as the target site for the main south side storage yard. It's really quite ideal; it's road access to basically everything around it is pretty poor, squeezed between the existing tracks and the highway, and the industrial stuff that's there now would not be hard to relocate elsewhere. It would also be possible to pre-provision the new Widett Yard for future decking for air rights development (as opposed to the somewhat thornier task of trying to deck over trackage that hasn't been pre-provisioned).

Ultimately, storage is going to remain a need for the system. The good news is that there are decent options (unless the idiotic squabbling over Widett gets it mired in yet another flight of insanity like the Olympics debacle, shudders...)
 

BeyondRevenue

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Assuming we get what we need for Regional Rail as well - everything on our Christmas list - the mission of both of the close-in yards would change. How is what I’m wondering about. We can store trains on any wide siding and those sidings can be built elsewhere, or expanded outside of the two existing more valuable yards. I’m still holding on to the original premise because it’s solid. Things can change for the better if we allow it. No property lines are written in stone. No land use or ownership is permanent. Money can make rivers run up hills. I just want RR-NSRL to happen and cost seems to be the main wall blocking our view. Ideas?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Assuming we get what we need for Regional Rail as well - everything on our Christmas list - the mission of both of the close-in yards would change. How is what I’m wondering about. We can store trains on any wide siding and those sidings can be built elsewhere, or expanded outside of the two existing more valuable yards. I’m still holding on to the original premise because it’s solid. Things can change for the better if we allow it. No property lines are written in stone. No land use or ownership is permanent. Money can make rivers run up hills. I just want RR-NSRL to happen and cost seems to be the main wall blocking our view. Ideas?
Southampton will never be going anywhere, because Amtrak has more between-runs needs. Their crews are shifted longer, and wholesale-change between runs. They restock food service between runs. They restock first-class amenities between runs on the Acela, etc. Every nth trip they pump the toilets. And if/when Gateway NYC allows more thru service north of Penn Station you're likely to see some current NYC-terminating Long Distance trains (Silver service, Carolinian, Palmetto, etc.) super-extended to Boston which means full-diner and sleeper outfittings between trips. The majority of Amtrak is always going to terminate at South Station and need a service headquarters right next door, as a result. The only exceptions that'll use NSRL are any subset of run-thru Northeast Regionals that go to Portland or Concord. They aren't interested in re-creating Southampton's facilities in the industrial park by Anderson RTC that's much more ops-brittle and harder to staff. If anything, with that post-Gateway ability to rope LD's further up the coast as load-bearing trains they'll be greedy for more SS surface slots the second the T starts making use of NSRL.

As it stands, by 2040 (when Gateway will surely be active) they already have tentative plans to expand the Southampton facility by moving the employee parking, stacking signal huts on the roof, and opening up the I-93 side for more storage tracks that burrow under the Fairmount Line embankment from the Widett Loop side. So not only is it operationally sacrosanct, it's a moving target that's on a path to upscaling.


BET is so overloaded it's not possible to outsource enough storage to other places. Yes, you will have clock-facing frequencies and thus fewer midday sets will be idle...and yes, you will have more efficient fare collection meaning train staffs don't need to be as large (but note: there are always going to be at least 2 staffers--an engineer and a lead conductor--per train no matter what). But that's going to be more than counterbalanced by the increase in sheer number of trains all across the map. You will use more staff overall by running more service, and have a deepening need to centrally coordinate shift changes and shift-change cleaning duties during the average service day. Even if other BET functions relocated to the 'burbs, there's such a dizzying level of service being run in an RUR+NSRL universe that you can't possibly downsize it. As for Widett? You may not need all 30-something layover berths in a run-thru universe, but you're still going to need quite a lot of them. One of the beauties of reserving the ground level for transit service then air-rights building whatever on stilts above it is that you can change the transit usage to suit trends. Widett's surrounded by the 3 central-most bus garages on the Yellow Line system. Whatever you don't use for ground-level train storage you could just as easily use for bus storage. One key example:

  • Albany bus garage sits on a highly-coveted parcel across the highway from Widett that's part of the neighborhood blooming around the Ink Block. Right now they can't possibly get rid of it because they need the bus capacity so badly and adoption of battery buses forces a bus operator to start keeping higher spare ratios. But if you had Widett gridded out for ground-level train storage...then you build NSRL meaning some of that storage capacity could load-spread around the system? Nothing that says you couldn't convert 1/3 of that ground-level train storage into new bus storage, which would be enough to absorb Albany garage under the Widett decks. Albany would definitely fetch top-dollar on the real estate sale, but the only way you put it in-play is if you have the pre-reserved transit storage elsewhere. You need all of Widett for that.

I get it...you see big slabs of land on Google, brain starts working overdrive, sees nothing but opportunity. Unfortunately the nuances don't exactly track from there to net quite as much opportunity on full examination. And that full examination largely explains why the land usage didn't flip way before. With North Station it's the isolation from the grid and the problematic highway ramps cutting underneath that render most of the land superfluous. With Southampton and BET it's mission-criticality (but also pretty sucky grid access). And the fact that the transit service levels we're talking about are very much a generational moving target angled towards saturation level means that mission-criticality today trends to more mission-criticality tomorrow...often enough to overspread the redistribution of storage assets that would come from run-thru service.
 

BostonBoy

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Mr. F line. Building over the Pike and South Station has been so difficult. Would the idea of an having an authority similar to MassPort charged with building a deck from Back Bay to the Expressway make sense? instead of all the tax giveaways, the Agency could then sell or lease the parcels. The agency could also develop the passenger corridor created to connect the Seaport and South Boston to the Back Bay. What do you think?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Mr. F line. Building over the Pike and South Station has been so difficult. Would the idea of an having an authority similar to MassPort charged with building a deck from Back Bay to the Expressway make sense? instead of all the tax giveaways, the Agency could then sell or lease the parcels. The agency could also develop the passenger corridor created to connect the Seaport and South Boston to the Back Bay. What do you think?
Oh, it's certainly a bureaucratic ailment and not a matter of will. The agencies currently overseeing those 50-year-unbuilt air rights parcels clearly have no clue how to manage real estate development, and show it time and again. As for 'who' should be in charge, I'm not sure that's answerable because it's a lot of parties who have to hold hands any which way and their lacking coordination hurts it any which way. A possible avenue for finding the right authority would be to deep-dive into the South Station air rights trust set up over 35 years ago. It took awhile, but when that tower was ready to sprout all the arrangements were handled quietly and efficiently unlike the Turnpike Authority/MassDOT leadership that's chewed up and spit out countless proposals in the Back Bay. No doubt the SS trust got something right on the skids-greasing part that the MTA/MassDOT have gotten perennially wrong...and there should be some applicable lessons to glean from that experience (as well as experience in other cities that have executed complex air rights deals with good results).
 

NSRL

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Could they use a rack railway to increase the grade of the portals? This would shorten the tunnels and perhaps allow consolidation of portals. The decreased tunneling costs might make up for the need for new equipment. The grade wouldn’t be as steep as a mountain railway. It would be steeper than what is allowed by friction based rail.
 

Brattle Loop

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Could they use a rack railway to increase the grade of the portals? This would shorten the tunnels and perhaps allow consolidation of portals. The decreased tunneling costs might make up for the need for new equipment. The grade wouldn’t be as steep as a mountain railway. It would be steeper than what is allowed by friction based rail.
I have no idea whether such an idea is workable at all from an engineering standpoint. (Though I'm curious if there are any hybrid rack and normal railways.) It's absolutely infeasible from a political-financial standpoint. There's no way the NSRL gets built without substantial federal assistance, and there's no way that the feds are going to fund a tunnel that Amtrak can't use, and they're not going to agree to force Amtrak to buy specific compatible equipment, and MA has no means to force them to.
 

BostonBoy

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I noticed this conversation included decking over yards and stations to reap revenue so I guess this question is appropriate for this thread. I'm not sure of ownership, but I believe The Cabot facility for the Red Line is owned by the T. What about relocating the facility to the old South Braintree Yard and sell the land in South Boston? Who needs to deck over a yard when you can just move out? Also, I don't know the covenants on the So Braintree Yard but I'm sure somebody out there does.
 

The EGE

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I noticed this conversation included decking over yards and stations to reap revenue so I guess this question is appropriate for this thread. I'm not sure of ownership, but I believe The Cabot facility for the Red Line is owned by the T. What about relocating the facility to the old South Braintree Yard and sell the land in South Boston? Who needs to deck over a yard when you can just move out? Also, I don't know the covenants on the So Braintree Yard but I'm sure somebody out there does.
Do you mean the former yard that's now 95% covered with a shopping center? The handful of remaining tracks, still in freight use, would not be nearly enough space to replace Cabot.

I have no idea whether such an idea is workable at all from an engineering standpoint. (Though I'm curious if there are any hybrid rack and normal railways.) It's absolutely infeasible from a political-financial standpoint. There's no way the NSRL gets built without substantial federal assistance, and there's no way that the feds are going to fund a tunnel that Amtrak can't use, and they're not going to agree to force Amtrak to buy specific compatible equipment, and MA has no means to force them to.
Absolutely infeasible. Between the need to switch modes at the portal and the limited speeds, throughput would go down to a level that could not justify the cost. Never mind the need to buy extremely customized equipment.
 

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