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

HenryAlan

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Im sure there will be a firestorm just by daring to say this, but I am really sick of climate change being used as the excuse or justification for every single thing. It's just gotten out of hand and totally ridiculous. Yes, reducing emissions is good for climate change as well as the neighborhoods. But advocating spending a billion dollars to do this and saying we should do it because of the miniscule benefits to emissions it'll achieve is insanity. This is not the first, second, third or fourth reason to do this and its just lockstepping with the zeitgeist and using a buzzword that gets everyone with the same ethos to support it, and without logical reason.
I don't think you are wrong in stating that the emissions argument is pushing a lesser benefit than some of the other changes we'd see from electrification. But realistically, that's what sells right now. Good salesmanship is not just knowing the best argument per logic, but also the best argument per the audience. Right now, the larges audience is more responsive to climate change based statements.
 

jklo

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Amen. It's insane that this has not been done, and more insane that it's barely even talked about in the public discourse.
Apathy/No Real Estate angle given how crazy high housing/rent must be there as it is. The report also makes no mention of the Greenway, which taking that away might be a tad problematic.
 

Riverside

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Electrifying the commuter rail is about transforming lives, lifting people out of poverty, reducing commute times (we have plenty of data to show that excessive commuting times are associated with cardiovascular and other medical disease, poor psychological health and poorer quality of life), and changing our overall urban societal structure away from the poisonous, atomized and unhealthy-in-every-possible-way modes of the mid-to-late twentieth century that we all got infected with and are trying to finally shed.
Amen.

Though @HenryAlan's point is also well-taken -- this isn't just about being right, it's about selling. I'm a little less convinced than Henry that climate change is the such a strong public motivator, but I do think it's a reasonable consideration.
 

FK4

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I don't think you are wrong in stating that the emissions argument is pushing a lesser benefit than some of the other changes we'd see from electrification. But realistically, that's what sells right now. Good salesmanship is not just knowing the best argument per logic, but also the best argument per the audience. Right now, the larges audience is more responsive to climate change based statements.
You’re right, I agree with you, but still, that line of reasoning always makes me a little bit uncomfortable… I yearn for intellectual honesty where nothing has to be “sold” under false pretenses… yet, at the same time, if you’re rigid about that and don’t have an ounce of realpolitik, you’re probably bound to lose. I guess it just strikes at the age old dilemma of how much it’s OK to compromise one’s values and beliefs if you’re able to rationalize that the end justifies the means. Hard to know. But thanks for a reality check.
 

Equilibria

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Apathy/No Real Estate angle given how crazy high housing/rent must be there as it is. The report also makes no mention of the Greenway, which taking that away might be a tad problematic.
That the City of Newton allowed Northland to happen without demanding the developer pay for an adjacent GL station was a huge missed opportunity. I think folks in Upper Falls aren't apathetic about this, FWIW, there's been a push in Newton to do this before. Needham's been the problem.

Newton should push for rail-with-trail as far as Oak Street and start turning the screws on Needham. Businesses will locate on Needham Street and not Highland Ave. (or the adjacent office parks) if the former has GL access that the Needham side lacks.
 

Equilibria

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At least on Google Maps it looks like two tracks are going to be tight enough. Rail with trail seems like a stretch.
I agree that it's tight at Oak Street, but that should be addressed with Northland. I think there's enough space back there for most of the distance.

If you need to, take part of the Chestnut St. parking spaces and move the depot a few feet.
 

donkeybutlers

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Im sure there will be a firestorm just by daring to say this, but I am really sick of climate change being used as the excuse or justification for every single thing. It's just gotten out of hand and totally ridiculous. Yes, reducing emissions is good for climate change as well as the neighborhoods. But advocating spending a billion dollars to do this and saying we should do it because of the miniscule benefits to emissions it'll achieve is insanity. This is not the first, second, third or fourth reason to do this and its just lockstepping with the zeitgeist and using a buzzword that gets everyone with the same ethos to support it, and without logical reason.

Electrifying the commuter rail is about transforming lives, lifting people out of poverty, reducing commute times (we have plenty of data to show that excessive commuting times are associated with cardiovascular and other medical disease, poor psychological health and poorer quality of life), and changing our overall urban societal structure away from the poisonous, atomized and unhealthy-in-every-possible-way modes of the mid-to-late twentieth century that we all got infected with and are trying to finally shed.

Just like when I see articles supporting smaller housing sizes — we're not doing this to reduce carbon footprints, people, we're doing because density is a good thing for many other, much more important reasons than that.

If you want to put a dent in climate change, support divesting from fossil fuels and other industries that actually are serious emissions-offenders (including that plane ticket you bought to visit your grandma). It's just tiresome and anti-intellectual to see a climate change reason tucked into literally every single design proposal for a building or infrastructure project as it if it's a major reason we should be doing this.

I also do not believe the transitmatters (I included the screenshots) report sufficiently makes the case that this is a specific risk to any part of Boston; in their favor, they did place this at the end of the 'benefits' section. I'm not saying I know better, but you can't extrapolate from WA state and Chicago to Boston without more proof here about numbers of diesel trains per minute and most importantly, citing air quality. And as for the neighborhoods where the commuter rails run, one of them is Dorchester which also has I-93, and the other is Newton, which has the Pike. Someone who actually knows these numbers might be able to provide them, but I would imagine that the emissions of an interstate highway compared to an average MBTA commuter rail line are probably about 1/1,000,000th or less.

I think a better air quality argument, if we're gonna take that tack, is that faster trains = less drivers on roads. And at this point, it's really not all about the emissions. Emissions standards for motor vehicles have changed a lot over the last twenty years, and that makes measuring any health ramifications of exposures very, very tricky to confidently determine.

I think the emissions argument misses the forest for the trees. We need to change the way we live, and that's what better public transit is all about, plain and simple. That's the benefit, first to last.

Edit - transitmatters rocks, so this should not be interpreted as any attack on their excellent work.

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climate change impacts everything and so it should in fact be factored into all design decisions. This argument is needlessly hostile to any mention of climate change. All emissions drive climate change and if trains can become even more efficient it makes a mode shift argument easier.

You are right there are other reasons to support this but there is no need for your hysterics at any mention of climate change. Electrifying the trains is a good move climate wise and there is a reason it is brought up.
 

BeyondRevenue

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Im sure there will be a firestorm just by daring to say this, but I am really sick of climate change being used as the excuse or justification for every single thing. It's just gotten out of hand and totally ridiculous. Yes, reducing emissions is good for climate change as well as the neighborhoods. But advocating spending a billion dollars to do this and saying we should do it because of the miniscule benefits to emissions it'll achieve is insanity. This is not the first, second, third or fourth reason to do this and its just lockstepping with the zeitgeist and using a buzzword that gets everyone with the same ethos to support it, and without logical reason.

Electrifying the commuter rail is about transforming lives, lifting people out of poverty, reducing commute times (we have plenty of data to show that excessive commuting times are associated with cardiovascular and other medical disease, poor psychological health and poorer quality of life), and changing our overall urban societal structure away from the poisonous, atomized and unhealthy-in-every-possible-way modes of the mid-to-late twentieth century that we all got infected with and are trying to finally shed.

Just like when I see articles supporting smaller housing sizes — we're not doing this to reduce carbon footprints, people, we're doing because density is a good thing for many other, much more important reasons than that.

If you want to put a dent in climate change, support divesting from fossil fuels and other industries that actually are serious emissions-offenders (including that plane ticket you bought to visit your grandma). It's just tiresome and anti-intellectual to see a climate change reason tucked into literally every single design proposal for a building or infrastructure project as it if it's a major reason we should be doing this.

I also do not believe the transitmatters (I included the screenshots) report sufficiently makes the case that this is a specific risk to any part of Boston; in their favor, they did place this at the end of the 'benefits' section. I'm not saying I know better, but you can't extrapolate from WA state and Chicago to Boston without more proof here about numbers of diesel trains per minute and most importantly, citing air quality. And as for the neighborhoods where the commuter rails run, one of them is Dorchester which also has I-93, and the other is Newton, which has the Pike. Someone who actually knows these numbers might be able to provide them, but I would imagine that the emissions of an interstate highway compared to an average MBTA commuter rail line are probably about 1/1,000,000th or less.

I think a better air quality argument, if we're gonna take that tack, is that faster trains = less drivers on roads. And at this point, it's really not all about the emissions. Emissions standards for motor vehicles have changed a lot over the last twenty years, and that makes measuring any health ramifications of exposures very, very tricky to confidently determine.

I think the emissions argument misses the forest for the trees. We need to change the way we live, and that's what better public transit is all about, plain and simple. That's the benefit, first to last.

Edit - transitmatters rocks, so this should not be interpreted as any attack on their excellent work.

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Edu-tainment time! A fun video on how your carbon footprint is comparative bull.
 

The EGE

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ROW is 80 feet or better from Cook Junction to Webster Street; it pinches down to 60 at the Hunnewell Street bridge, and is somewhat narrow (mostly 50) south of there. Rail with trail as far as Needham Heights should be no problem; Needham Heights to Needham Junction might need some creativity for a trail. (Standard ROW width for 2 GL tracks is about 35 feet, but it can pinch as narrow as 28.)

There's a number of ROW incursions, most minor and/or easy to solve. The old depot at Upper Falls would need to be moved slightly, since it was (unsurprisingly) built well within the ROW.
 

FK4

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climate change impacts everything and so it should in fact be factored into all design decisions. This argument is needlessly hostile to any mention of climate change. All emissions drive climate change and if trains can become even more efficient it makes a mode shift argument easier.

You are right there are other reasons to support this but there is no need for your hysterics at any mention of climate change. Electrifying the trains is a good move climate wise and there is a reason it is brought up.
Donkeybutlers, I enjoy your posts, and don’t mean this personally but there is no other way than to point out that this is the very definition of intellectual laziness, which is what I was decrying in the first place. Decisions need to be bolstered by reasons, and those reasons need to be justified by the twin constraints of resources and logic. Like all complex processes, climate change is nonetheless primarily caused by—and will be primarily reduced by—a handful of major offending causes. Simply baking in vague and poorly supported claims about climate change to every single project flies in the face of rational decision making—in any sphere. When you get admitted to a hospital, the physicians focus on the major and acute problems, for the same reason: yes, you could order every patient a head to toe, comprehensive work up that they might, in theory, benefit from. Unfortunately, we live in the world of reality which means that resources are finite, not infinite. Whether or not my argument is correct or, as you put it, “hysterics“, for daring to ask for some actual information based on science before throwing out lockstep-inducing keywords, the information that would actually answer that question is information that is in fact measurable… and perhaps even available somewhere. If you can find me some numbers that actually show what the specific emissions are by MBTA commuter rail and then compare that with numbers for home, automotive, and other causes of emissions in the greater Boston area, that would actually establish some data points instead of conjecture. I don’t have these numbers, but I think any rational person could deduce that the emissions of MBTA commuter rails probably represent a vanishingly small proportion of overall emissions in the greater Boston region. And, if that is the case, I would argue that it’s even mentioning climate change benefits in a conversation about commuter rail electrication that is “hysterics”, not the other way around. If electrification will improve air quality or reduce emissions by 5%, I think we all would agree that that is a significant number, worthy of mention. Even 0.05% — significant. But what if it’s 0.00000000001%? Or ten orders of magnitude less? At a certain point, the number becomes too small to be defensible, no matter how important the cause.
 

Brattle Loop

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And, if that is the case, I would argue that it’s even mentioning climate change benefits in a conversation about commuter rail electrication that is “hysterics”, not the other way around. If electrification will improve air quality or reduce emissions by 5%, I think we all would agree that that is a significant number, worthy of mention. Even 0.05% — significant. But what if it’s 0.00000000001%? Or ten orders of magnitude less? At a certain point, the number becomes too small to be defensible, no matter how important the cause.
Makes me wish I had some numbers to help out answering this question. (Someone must, right? I feel like if anyone does it might be F-Line to Dudley, if he's lurking.)

I agree entirely that decision-making and advocacy should be based on data and rational arguments supported by facts (the intellectual honesty you mentioned before). That said, as someone who has spent (perhaps too much) time in the world of politics and PR, I also agree with HenryAlan's comments on the "salesmanship" aspect. Climate change is a popular buzzword because it's a topic of public concern and interest. It costs TransitMatters essentially nothing to emphasize the environmental benefits even if they are small in absolute terms, because that's something that people who are interested in climate, rather than transit, can easily latch on to. It's disingenuous to a degree (albeit not deceptive as such) but instrumentally useful to help coalition-building by tying what is ultimately a transit project into a more-salient public issue, and, I think importantly, one where there is a general understanding among climate-conscious that dealing with climate change is not going to be cheap. Some of it could be as simple as thinking "people might be more willing for environmental benefits rather than transit" and using that to the project's advantage. (Logic and politics...don't always get along, unfortunately.)
 

BeyondRevenue

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Ugly truths are a product no one wants to buy.
Climate change is real. Sprawl made climate change worse. Individually we each own a chunk of that liability. Ugly. This means we have to either consider our culpability in continuing down the path to ruin... or not. One way means we change how we live and how we spend our money. The other way is denial - entering into a murder-suicide pact with Mother Nature - or in the nasty middle with requisite mental gymnastics of denial through magical thinking where it 'really isn't that bad'. Unfortunately, the people in charge are apparently ignorant, feckless, complacent, closet fatalists or worst of all, cheap. Or solid in the murder-suicide column.

To sell TOD, sensible light rail projects, RR-NSRL or generally, any future forward thinking, you have to couch project discussions in moral imperatives to get traction. We've been Luntzed. Rhetoric wins. If we're lucky we can light a fire under the right asses and save ourselves from living in a hellscape.

On the upside, there has never been a better time to float muni bonds for all of the projects that need to be done. Interest rates are low, our rating is great, and the payoff is safe.
 

Balerion

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If you can find me some numbers that actually show what the specific emissions are by MBTA commuter rail and then compare that with numbers for home, automotive, and other causes of emissions in the greater Boston area, that would actually establish some data points instead of conjecture.
Transportation emissions are the single largest source of carbon emissions in the US, so investments that increase the mode-share of rail travel and incentivize land use policy to produce more transit-oriented jobs and housing and more walkable environments that would further reduce the mode-share of cars and increase the mode-share of rail, bikes, and walking would be beneficial developments.



I agree that this is not the primary reason to electrify the MBTA system, but it seems perfectly reasonable to add this to the multitude of reasons to do it.
 

Brattle Loop

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Transportation emissions are the single largest source of carbon emissions in the US, so investments that increase the mode-share of rail travel and incentivize land use policy to produce more transit-oriented jobs and housing and more walkable environments that would further reduce the mode-share of cars and increase the mode-share of rail, bikes, and walking would be beneficial developments.



I agree that this is not the primary reason to electrify the MBTA system, but it seems perfectly reasonable to add this to the multitude of reasons to do it.
Quite reasonable. The earlier discussion was more about the "hyping" of the direct environmental/emissions benefits of electrification (which are considerably smaller than the indirect benefits, especially if electrification is part of a larger program of changes aiming at boosting transit use over less efficient methods, which the Regional Rail plan is). That's more to do with the choice of language and emphasis, which is inherently political because we're talking about advocacy, which must be tailored to the audience and the moment. I don't think anyone here is arguing that it's not a good thing to do, or that there aren't very good reasons, so much as the best reasons from a transit standpoint aren't necessarily the best ones to focus on for an advocacy effort because politics does not (entirely) run on facts and logic.
 
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FK4

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Transportation emissions are the single largest source of carbon emissions in the US, so investments that increase the mode-share of rail travel and incentivize land use policy to produce more transit-oriented jobs and housing and more walkable environments that would further reduce the mode-share of cars and increase the mode-share of rail, bikes, and walking would be beneficial developments.



I agree that this is not the primary reason to electrify the MBTA system, but it seems perfectly reasonable to add this to the multitude of reasons to do it.
Again, not to beat a dead horse, but this is a pie chart for national emissions by sector. This is basically 100% irrelevant, assuming precision and data matter at all anymore. The question isn’t whether or not the transportation sector is a major offender — of course it is — but rather, what’s the 1) absolute emissions and 2) relative emissions versus other transportation modes (car, truck, bus, bikers who eat too many beans etc) *and in boston* since yes the actual region matters quite a bit: especially if you’re gonna start making claims that trains are major emitters since some cities have a lot more diesel trains running through them than Boston.

@BrattleLoop, agree with all.

No more out of me on this topic. But can we electrify the goddam rails already?
 

Brattle Loop

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But can we electrify the goddam rails already?
Wait, we can do it through the rails and not with all those overhead wires? :ROFLMAO:

Sorry, couldn't resist that one. In all seriousness, though, it's time we electrified, I absolutely agree this should be a high priority.
 

Charlie_mta

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Wait, we can do it through the rails and not with all those overhead wires? :ROFLMAO:

Sorry, couldn't resist that one. In all seriousness, though, it's time we electrified, I absolutely agree this should be a high priority.
Waaay back in the day, Washington DC did have trolley cars in its central area powered through an electrified underground rail. This was done because they didn't want the visual pollution of overhead wires around the significant national buildings and park areas,.
 

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