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

Brattle Loop

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Seemingly nor does Amtrak... and they're setting the tone for the industry/leading the pack. This sounds like it's practically lifted from Amtrak's plan for the Intercity Trainset configuration (PDF pg 128, doc pg 126), due to replace the Northeast Corridor equipment (among others). The trainsets have been sketched as late as Feb 2022 as having exactly the same thing being specified in the MBTA RFI.
I wouldn't be surprised if they're following Amtrak's lead, given that Siemens will already be building and beta-testing these things so that the T doesn't have to do it for yet another unicorn. That said, Amtrak has a lot more reason to be looking at non-wired solutions than the T does. Outside the Corridor they're usually at the mercy of the freight railroads, and a bunch of the routes that touch the corridor would require considerable and costly upgrades to get wired (not that the freight roads would ever do it on their own), while their existing practice of locomotive swaps imposes operational and time penalties that they're trying to get rid of to speed up and increase service. The T has a lot fewer excuses for avoiding wires beyond their apparent institutional hatred for them.
 

ceo

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Kind of surprising that the Downeaster is one of the routes the diesel/catenary hybrid trainset is specced for. Are they assuming the T is going to electrify the Lowell and Haverhill lines?
 

Charlie_mta

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Kind of surprising that the Downeaster is one of the routes the diesel/catenary hybrid trainset is specced for. Are they assuming the T is going to electrify the Lowell and Haverhill lines?
Maybe they want them to be useable on that line plus the Boston/NYC line?
 

Brattle Loop

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Kind of surprising that the Downeaster is one of the routes the diesel/catenary hybrid trainset is specced for. Are they assuming the T is going to electrify the Lowell and Haverhill lines?
Maybe they want them to be useable on that line plus the Boston/NYC line?
Of the six routes planned to get the 6-car version, the Downeaster's the only one that doesn't touch the NEC. It probably doesn't make sense to get a very limited number of straight-diesel unicorn trainsets for that one route, when the planned hybrid equipment can be shared across all of those routes.
 

JeffDowntown

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Of the six routes planned to get the 6-car version, the Downeaster's the only one that doesn't touch the NEC. It probably doesn't make sense to get a very limited number of straight-diesel unicorn trainsets for that one route, when the planned hybrid equipment can be shared across all of those routes.
Wouldn't it be cool, if at some point in the life of the trainsets, the Downeaster did connect to the NEC!
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I can't tell if this is generally a step in the right, or wrong, direction. No matter what happens in the medium term, lines such as the Outer Fitchburg or Old Colony will not be electrified expeditiously -for which a mixed mode might not be the worst idea in the world. But, for service on the Providence, Fairmount, or ESJ service, especially at launch? That doesn't seem to be ideal. What I would hope would come out of this is either a Bombardier MLV that has enough batteries to cover the gaps (as the B-Unit mentioned in the RFI) or simply for the outer CR.

edit for clarity: it should be noted that this is the second RFI. The first was issued in 2020 for EMUs with specific inquiries related to BEMU feasibility.
Step in the wrong direction. Mixed-mode P-P fleets really don't pay off unless you have an unventilated tunnel or ops like Amtrak NEC that have a lot of time- and cycle-chewing engine swaps at the diverging points. Otherwise, if you've got diesels just run the routes with significant unwired sections as diesel schedules. The F40PH-3C and HSP-46 fleets are good for another 25 years; the only diesels they have that are coming up on a soonish end-of-life are the GP40MC's. So their lowest-cost option is to get their money's worth running those fleets until end-of-life. The loss of the Geeps should by all logic be offset by enough initial EMU adoption to scrape those off the roster outright, while the other diesels spread around to run Regional Rail-caliber schedules on the un-wired lines until the systemwide wire-up slowly gets backfilled. Their systemwide wire-up schedule certainly lasts long enough that we should get our money's worth out of the HSP's and the -3C rebuilds. If they suddenly find themselves wanting a dual-mode fleet fallback, it's because they don't think they're going to get enough of the system wired before the Geeps expire, don't think they'll ever get around to backfilling wiring like the outer Rockburyport lines, and want an insurance policy bought soon before the Legislature's post-2030 ('35?) ban on further diesel purchases to cover their ass because they don't ever expect complete system electrification.

It's highly suspect. Even moreso than the BEMU flirtation is kinda/sorta suspect. The only way these would be truly useful is if they cut-and-run from most of their electrification promises.
 

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Kind of surprising that the Downeaster is one of the routes the diesel/catenary hybrid trainset is specced for. Are they assuming the T is going to electrify the Lowell and Haverhill lines?
No. Downeaster equipment is sourced out of Albany Shops with the Lake Shore Ltd. acting as equipment shuttle. So they'd be running whatever New York is running. Since New York is getting a hefty-sized hybrid fleet, that's what the Downeaster is going to chain off of. It also helps that it has commonality with the coming Northeast Regional fleet, so Southampton Yard can repair them in a pinch. It's the equipment bases and ordering scale for the equipment bases that's driving that DE assignment...not Lowell or Haverhill electrification which isn't coming until much later phases of the T's not-finalized electrification plan.
 

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I've been crayoning service patterns (always a bad sign), and have been wondering whether there would be a good location to turn northbound NSRL trains without going (far) down any of the individual branches (e.g. somewhere in the vicinity of the erstwhile BET). It would be nice to be able to run a legible and predictable service between Back Bay and North Station, and that actually gets more complicated than you might expect, depending on the extent of northside electrification, and what kind of diesel/electric split you end up with on your frequencies layer cakes.

Looking at the Reassessment Study, the portal to the Lowell Line seems to open up into an area with enough space to widen the ROW to accommodate 3 or maybe 4 tracks, using inner tracks to turn trains without blocking through-diesel and through-electric services. But I haven't been able to figure out where the incline actually starts/ends. (It also would be nice to have a transfer station at East Somerville -- both for better connections to Green Line and Somerville + Cambridge, and to enable transfers between through-running electric NSRL trains and terminating diesel service on the Lowell Line; there will hopefully some day be a nice smorgasbord of Haverhill + Lowell + New Hampshire services running pretty frequently through there.)
 

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I've been crayoning service patterns (always a bad sign), and have been wondering whether there would be a good location to turn northbound NSRL trains without going (far) down any of the individual branches (e.g. somewhere in the vicinity of the erstwhile BET). It would be nice to be able to run a legible and predictable service between Back Bay and North Station, and that actually gets more complicated than you might expect, depending on the extent of northside electrification, and what kind of diesel/electric split you end up with on your frequencies layer cakes.

Looking at the Reassessment Study, the portal to the Lowell Line seems to open up into an area with enough space to widen the ROW to accommodate 3 or maybe 4 tracks, using inner tracks to turn trains without blocking through-diesel and through-electric services. But I haven't been able to figure out where the incline actually starts/ends. (It also would be nice to have a transfer station at East Somerville -- both for better connections to Green Line and Somerville + Cambridge, and to enable transfers between through-running electric NSRL trains and terminating diesel service on the Lowell Line; there will hopefully some day be a nice smorgasbord of Haverhill + Lowell + New Hampshire services running pretty frequently through there.)
If you're turning close to the urban core, why the hell aren't you going to keep using the surface terminals for that? They aren't going anywhere. This is a solved problem.

The first turnaround point for tunnel traffic would be Route 128 in aid of the :15-or-better Urban Rail in the network core, not the literal first turnout outside the portal. That means Anderson RTC, Reading, Weston/128, and Salem-or-Peabody-or-Beverly on the northside...Westwood, Riverside, Readville-or-Dedham Corporate, and Braintree-or-Brockton-or-etc. (wherever OC capacity most permits) on the southside. There should be enough such thru-running opportunities throughout the network that you won't be short on outer transfer chances.
 
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jklo

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I think the issue is that I am skeptical that there would be demand past the Stations... or Back Bay. North Side riders who don't get synergy with BB are going to be mad.
 

Riverside

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If you're turning close to the urban core, why the hell aren't you going to keep using the surface terminals for that?
See here:
to run a legible and predictable service between Back Bay and North Station
And in particular, to provide southside commuters access to the north side of downtown and direct transfer to the Orange & Green Lines at North Station (e.g. a South Shore commuter who works at Assembly Square -- or hell, even a Franklin Line commuter who works at Assembly Square -- I'd rather have them transfer at North Station and avoid further clogging the core of the Orange Line).

The surface terminals are great, but they don't solve Orange Line capacity problems and they don't close the north-south employment market divide.
The first turnaround point for tunnel traffic would be Route 128 in aid of the :15-or-better Urban Rail in the network core, not the literal first turnout outside the portal.
The thing is, you already get 15-min headways on almost every corridor through the implementation of half-hour headways to the outlying commuter rail terminals:
  • Newburyport + Rockport = every 15 min to Salem
  • Haverhill + Lowell = every 15 min to Woburn/128
  • some combination of Worcester express, Worcester local, Framingham, and Marlboro = likely every 15 min to Auburndale
  • Franklin + Foxboro = every 15 min to Dedham/128
  • Providence + Stoughton/South Coast = every 15 min to Westwood/128
  • Middleboro + Plymouth + Kingston = at least every 15 min to Quincy Center
8 tph seems like an aggressive target for capacity on the northside lines to me, but Transit Matters proposes it in their Eastern Route study, so let's roll with it. 2 tph per outlying terminal (almost certainly running diesel services into North Station Upper) means you have ~14 tph slots available across the three trunk lines (depending how much Maine + NH Amtrak service takes up):
  • 4 tph on Eastern
  • 4 tph on NH Main (probably less)
  • 6 tph on Fitchburg
Transit Matters calls for 6-8 tph on the Fairmount, which I argue is a priority for service through the NSRL. For simplicity's sake, let's match 6 Fairmount tph to 6 Waltham tph. That leaves us 8 tph (at most) of capacity on the trunk lines to handle everything else we want to through-run -- and we need to electrify out to 128 on all three trunks, while still running a majority diesel service, in order to do so.

We know southside electrification is going to come first and get farther quicker. I'd place bets on one northside trunk getting electrified around the same time -- either the Eastern Route for environmental justice or the Fitchburg for its excess capacity. Which means our caps are even lower. Being able to turn trains at East Somerville or Sullivan means that you can take advantage of the full capacity of the NSRL even without completing northside electrification.

I think in the past it's been suggested that the NSRL is far enough out in the future that within-128 electrification should be complete already by then. That's nice, but I'd prefer not to add an additional blocker to this mammoth project -- especially if it can be solved by finding space for one or two pocket turning tracks, which I'm confident would be doable faster than electrification.

And for what it's worth: that 8 tph target looks wobbly to me. If the realistic cap is actually 6 tph, and you need to add, say, Peabody service and 2 tph for Amtrak, then you're hitting limits quickly.

Having a northside turnback allows you to run more trains through the NSRL on Day 1, maximizing its value, including by providing a turn-up-and-go alternative to the Orange Line for cross-downtown travel.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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An immediate northside turnback is an awkward operational kludge. There is no reason to do something as janky as that before eating one's peas completing all electrifications to 128. It's doubly insane to do it because you think the suburban stops inside 128 are getting too much service. What are you going to the expense of building NSRL for in the first place if not to give those stops really a whole lot of service? Near subway-level service.

I think you're overthinking this to an extreme. It's not a blocker. Clogging up the mains close to the terminal district with too-quick turnbacks will probably turn out to be a bigger traffic blocker in the end than the not-a-problem you're trying to solve culling service to the inner suburban stops. You can time precision overtakes on the line between expressing outer patterns and local inner patterns by taking advantage of optimal crossover and passing track placement spread throughout the whole distance to 128. Spread the court and pick your spots. Nor must you site everything conflicts-be-damned at an outer rapid transit transfer. East Somerville is 3 stops from North Station, and is after the branch split that is the sweetest spot for routing flexibility. Why are we conflating North Station's distribution purpose with square-pegs like that??? And where are the other turnbacks going to be without blocking the mainline with reversing trains and reducing traffic throughput? Not at Sullivan, Porter, or Chelsea for sure. Those can handle all-stops thru service with optimized dwells, but have no room to take take turnouts for reversing trains. And they're so close to the terminal district that playing crossover games to taking trains in/out of service so soon effectively extends the terminal district's slow zone out inclusive of the first stops, harming service levels everywhere. There's a reason why the stop layout takes great pains to put the first local stops a solid 2+ miles outside the terminal district. If you're concerned about TPH math being wobbly, you're more concerned that this "solution" is going to make it wobblier.


Second...the Orange Line is the one subway line most likely to see some load reductions from NSRL, because the BBY-NS pair are such prominent ridership drivers. But you also have to factor in that the load dumps onto other lines (esp. Red) are going to flat-out demand other builds like Green-Seaport and the Urban Ring to keep balance. Transformational doesn't even begin to describe what thru-running is going to do. It's not a one-and-done project by a longshot; it creates many dependencies to other modes on the load-spreading side. A lot of your Green Line reconfig ideas are going to have to go on the table because of the ridership shape-shift from NSRL thru-running.
 
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Riverside

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@F-Line to Dudley I've been mulling a more detailed reply but I may sleep on it for a day or two. I'm not talking about culling service, but I'm trying to operate from a phased-build framework that doesn't punt the NSRL until the perfect day when we have full 128 electrification (a day which may never come, or which may require NSRL to be built first, chicken-and-egg style). You may well be right that I'm overthinking this, but I also have thought about it quite a lot and don't think it's as simple as you like to present it here. I think the NSRL stands a better chance of getting built, and getting built sooner, if we don't need to have all the northside branches absorbing its traffic on Day 1.

I appreciate the input about slowing down throughput with crossovers; that seems like something that can be addressed with appropriate siting, which I wouldn't mind hashing out here. I don't care too much about the rapid transit transfers at the turnback site -- East Somerville looks like it has real estate, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts, as always.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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@F-Line to Dudley I've been mulling a more detailed reply but I may sleep on it for a day or two. I'm not talking about culling service, but I'm trying to operate from a phased-build framework that doesn't punt the NSRL until the perfect day when we have full 128 electrification (a day which may never come, or which may require NSRL to be built first, chicken-and-egg style). You may well be right that I'm overthinking this, but I also have thought about it quite a lot and don't think it's as simple as you like to present it here. I think the NSRL stands a better chance of getting built, and getting built sooner, if we don't need to have all the northside branches absorbing its traffic on Day 1.
How many decades do you envision it taking to get Route 128 electrified systemwide??? Look...if you can't forge some sort of political consensus on electrifying the first 10-12 miles of each mainline within a couple decades, you sure as hell are not going to have the wherewithal to forge a political consensus on building NSRL from-scratch from un-tanked re-study to design to build. They aren't decoupled chicken-and-egg like you're portraying. We must walk and chew gum at the same time if NSRL is to exist at all. It can't happen any other way. TransitMatters believes this so strongly that it puts it bold text right in the Regional Rail mission statement: Regional Rail first, NSRL as added gear. Not discrete project sequences...but a cresting wave. Frankly, if we have the political will to build NSRL within our lifetimes we have the political will to finish electrifying all of the mains to 495 before it opens. Electrifying ten miles out to 128 is a silly-low bar.

Don't let this keep you up at night. If you expect them to have that much trouble finishing electrification to 128, there ain't ever going to be any NSRL to worry about. Full-stop. NSRL does not and never will exist without the will to see through full Regional Rail execution throughout the region...whether or not we're still tidying up loose ends on that when the first TBM gets turned downtown. The tide will never rise enough to see it through if the basic-most bread-and-butter is going to be that fraught. I would not waste the energy gaming out contingencies; the project is as good as dead if a 10-mile span of wire-ups is going to cause that much angst.

I appreciate the input about slowing down throughput with crossovers; that seems like something that can be addressed with appropriate siting, which I wouldn't mind hashing out here. I don't care too much about the rapid transit transfers at the turnback site -- East Somerville looks like it has real estate, but that's neither here nor there.
Where's the appropriate siting going to be for these ultra short-turns? Most of the northside mains are pretty built up in the innermost 'burbs. Lowell certainly is everywhere on the shared GLX corridor. It's pretty much...the vast expanse of Anderson RTC where you have first easy spatial opportunity to graft on an extra turnout platform. Eastern Route...not until Salem Station via the Peabody Branch turnout because every inbound stop is abutter-constrained. Western Route...nowhere on the Orange Line overlap and probably nowhere south of the Reading pocket track. Fitchburg...not alongside GLX at Union, not at Porter, limited choices in Belmont/Waltham, and if you can't do inner turnbacks on the other north mains why bother making an exception here. At the very least it is almost certainly not a scheme you can fortuitously find places to roll out on every one of the mains. If you want equal distribution of these ultra-short turns, it's going to be an ungangly kludgefest.

The most feasible way of cutting a run right after the tunnel without gunking up the works with a kludgefest...is, sorry to say, to just kick everybody off at NS Under or SS Under and deadhead to the yard after checking off your BBY<>SS<>NS boxes. Which is a silly waste of tunnel capacity, but...hey, it's operationally non-invasive where the alternative kludges generally are not.
 

fattony

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Would anyone care to comment on the implications of passing Question 1 on NSRL timeline? Like, what fraction of the $1.2-2 Billion per year might reasonably be directed to electrification and NSRL and what does that translate to in real world outcomes?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Would anyone care to comment on the implications of passing Question 1 on NSRL timeline? Like, what fraction of the $1.2-2 Billion per year might reasonably be directed to electrification and NSRL and what does that translate to in real world outcomes?
It absolutely should help fund some of the Regional Rail rollout like initial (non-BEMU sandbagged) electrification. That's a continuous-thrust effort that will need a year-in/year-out funding source over decades to thrash through. NSRL...not so much. The actual build is going to be such a huge one-time expense that it'll need to be subject to specific bonding initiatives similar to what funded major components of the Big Dig, and probably a play for percentage of federal funds. But that doesn't mean we can't proceed immediately with another study revision that un-fucks Baker's most recent NSRL sandbagging effort, and commit some funding starts to initial design once a Final Alt. routing is locked down.

Figure also (re: my previous post) that momentum for NSRL is intractably linked with momentum for Regional Rail. If we're actively implementing high-frequency EMU service with all its requisite wire-ups, that's going to pressure the advocacy for NSRL. Like TransitMatters says...it's a continuous thrust that starts with Regional Rail and ends with NSRL. Dedicating some sort of annual funding stream to the Regional Rail rollout puts us closer momentum-wise to acting on NSRL, while the opposite--stalling out on Regional Rail--all but ensures we never ever take up NSRL.
 

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Don't let this keep you up at night. If you expect them to have that much trouble finishing electrification to 128, there ain't ever going to be any NSRL to worry about. Full-stop. NSRL does not and never will exist without the will to see through full Regional Rail execution throughout the region...whether or not we're still tidying up loose ends on that when the first TBM gets turned downtown. The tide will never rise enough to see it through if the basic-most bread-and-butter is going to be that fraught. I would not waste the energy gaming out contingencies; the project is as good as dead if a 10-mile span of wire-ups is going to cause that much angst.
Yeah, I mean this is sorta my point. I am pessimistic about the NSRL getting built, even under the best of circumstances. I'm also pessimistic about electrification happening beyond Fairmount and South Coast Rail; it's the kind of systemic multi-phase capital project that our system is most hostile toward.

The other factor I see here relates to your point about the intertwined momentum for Electrified Regional Rail and the NSRL:
Figure also (re: my previous post) that momentum for NSRL is intractably linked with momentum for Regional Rail. If we're actively implementing high-frequency EMU service with all its requisite wire-ups, that's going to pressure the advocacy for NSRL. Like TransitMatters says...it's a continuous thrust that starts with Regional Rail and ends with NSRL. Dedicating some sort of annual funding stream to the Regional Rail rollout puts us closer momentum-wise to acting on NSRL, while the opposite--stalling out on Regional Rail--all but ensures we never ever take up NSRL.
I agree with the logic of this strategy, but I think there is a strong possibility that we will achieve high-freq layered Regional Rail to sufficiently satisfy public demand without completing electrification. Like I described above, 30-min from the current outlying terminals already gets us to 15-min freqs within 128 on most corridors. I see a real possibility that mid-high freq diesel service will be seen as "good enough" to blunt momentum in support for $5 million per mile + $50+ million in rolling stock.
Where's the appropriate siting going to be for these ultra short-turns?
This was my original question... I was asking whether such a location might exist. And in fact I proposed an answer: the Lowell Line, before it joins the GLX corridor because, as you rightly note, there's no room once you get there. And the most I've heard you comment on that suggestion is that the slowdown of moving through switches between a pair of central turning tracks and outer through-running tracks will be too disruptive to headway maintenance, which seems reasonable enough as an initial objection, but also something that potentially could be solved with clever engineering. I get that you're not interested in discussing that possibility, and that's fine.

Ironically, though, you may have ended up at an answer to my question anyway:
The most feasible way of cutting a run right after the tunnel without gunking up the works with a kludgefest...is, sorry to say, to just kick everybody off at NS Under or SS Under and deadhead to the yard after checking off your BBY<>SS<>NS boxes. Which is a silly waste of tunnel capacity, but...hey, it's operationally non-invasive where the alternative kludges generally are not.
I haven't been able to tell by looking at the Reassessment Study: what kind of access will the northside portals have to the BET? Because, yes -- deadheading from North Station to BET would mean that you could through-run all Providence, South Coast, and Fairmount Line trains into the heart of downtown on Day 1, and would provide an alternative to taking the Orange Line, and would mean that you could present a compelling case for the NSRL without having to wait for Belmont and Winchester and Dedham to stop complaining about wires going up in their towns.

So, the question I have: what kind of access will the northside portals have to the BET (without needing to do a mainline-blocking reverse move)?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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This was my original question... I was asking whether such a location might exist. And in fact I proposed an answer: the Lowell Line, before it joins the GLX corridor because, as you rightly note, there's no room once you get there. And the most I've heard you comment on that suggestion is that the slowdown of moving through switches between a pair of central turning tracks and outer through-running tracks will be too disruptive to headway maintenance, which seems reasonable enough as an initial objection, but also something that potentially could be solved with clever engineering. I get that you're not interested in discussing that possibility, and that's fine.
There isn't room at East Somerville to do up full 800 ft. platforms. You're in the grill of the Keolis Maintenance-of-Way yard at the north tip, and high up on the steep-sloped embankment at the south tip where widening said embankment would require land-taking from private abutters. And said platform would be pretty far from the headhouse entrance to East Somerville, which is already a somewhat inconveniently far walk for the GLX platform.

But my point is...that's a pretty mediocre solution for ONE line. You aren't implementing innermost short-turn-a-thons systematically without finding similar-or-better station sitings on EVERY line to spread the traffic load. They don't exist on even a majority of the mains. The only equal-opportunity places you have for inner turns are, functionally, the 128-sited stops. Which means you're electrifying at least to 128. But I don't think electrifying to 128 is nearly as hard a political battle as you're making it out to be.

I haven't been able to tell by looking at the Reassessment Study: what kind of access will the northside portals have to the BET? Because, yes -- deadheading from North Station to BET would mean that you could through-run all Providence, South Coast, and Fairmount Line trains into the heart of downtown on Day 1, and would provide an alternative to taking the Orange Line, and would mean that you could present a compelling case for the NSRL without having to wait for Belmont and Winchester and Dedham to stop complaining about wires going up in their towns.

So, the question I have: what kind of access will the northside portals have to the BET (without needing to do a mainline-blocking reverse move)?
They'd take the Fitchburg portal, with a new crossover installed outside. That gives access to the layover yard (and keep in mind the Fitchburg main is currently scheduled to be realigned south to add a couple more layover berths). Shop access would come from a reverse move inside the layover yard. Wye and fueling pad (for dual-mode locos) access would come from a crossover outside the Lowell/Eastern/Western portal. Expect some heavy reconfiguration of the SE corner inside-yard switch layout to square full access from the sharper angles of portal trajectories.

Southside you'd have to pull into Amtrak Southampton Yard off the OC portal and reverse in the yard to access Widett Circle. Would require a diamond crossing of the Fairmount main tracks if any train storage is going to be built in the 'bowl', but that shouldn't be a big deal if majority of Fairmount traffic is now going to be tunnel-routed. Amtrak already frequently does that move today when it's turning around Northeast Regionals and Lake Shore Ltd.'s on the loop.
 
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