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

Riverside

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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.
Awesome -- this is helpful. Do you remember/are you able to lay your hands on the docs that detail this?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Awesome -- this is helpful. Do you remember/are you able to lay your hands on the docs that detail this?

p.21 of the PDF. Looks like the Fitchburg portal is far enough west that an in-yard reverse would be needed to access the layover pads (crossover at portal into yard, pull up onto the leads underneath the GLX flyovers, reverse onto your yard/shop track). That won't be any traffic constraint because they already do yardmaster-assisted reverses all-day every day on those tracks for switching and set positioning moves.
 
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Riverside

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p.21 of the PDF. Looks like the Fitchburg portal is far enough west that an in-yard reverse would be needed to access the layover pads (crossover at portal into yard, pull up onto the leads underneath the GLX flyovers, reverse onto your yard/shop track). That won't be any traffic constraint because they already do yardmaster-assisted reverses all-day every day on those tracks for switching and set positioning moves.
Yeah that’s the PDF I’d been staring at — what I’d been struggling was whether the portal bracket indicated the bellmouth, or the start point of the descent. On page 21 in particular, I figured that the end of the colored line is the start of the descent, but I had trouble cross-referencing that with the elevation diagrams later on in the doc.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Yeah that’s the PDF I’d been staring at — what I’d been struggling was whether the portal bracket indicated the bellmouth, or the start point of the descent. On page 21 in particular, I figured that the end of the colored line is the start of the descent, but I had trouble cross-referencing that with the elevation diagrams later on in the doc.
Hard to say because the drawing is pretty crude. But generally speaking on these types of maps the bracket usually indicates the incline, the solid line across indicates the bellmouth, and the terminating purple lines would indicate the track tie-ins to the existing main (whether or not there's any elevation difference on the last few feet).

Any which way, there's room to throw down a crossover outside to take deadheading traffic off the main and onto the yard lead, where any reversing they do on the Brickbottom tails to reach the layover pads happens inside yard limits. Ditto the NH Main/Eastern/Western and access to the wye + fueling pads. The means of yard access isn't spatially constrained at all.
 

Tallguy

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But diesel should be dead before I am.
Either some form of Electrification or Hydrogen is coming soon
 

Stlin

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The FY23-27 NEC capital plan (Appendix pdf) is out. Nothing new or surprising on the Amtrak front, bar improvements to Springfield Union and a new yard building at Southampton.

Notable new inclusions in MBTA territory include:
1) upgrades to the NEC substations between Providence and Boston to accommodate electric MBTA service: estimated to cost 456 million(!), Not funded, will not start construction until 2026 at the earliest. (Page 98)
2) Apparently some grant weirdness happened at Attleboro Station. Apparently, rather than simple improvements for 1.7M as contemplated in the MBTA CIP, it's now on the hook for a full redesign and reconstruction with full highs. (Page 44) if we assume the nominal schedules for the NEC hold, which is a stretch given this isn't funded yet, construction would occur during 2024-2027, which overlaps with the construction of...
3) South Attleboro, which looks like 2023-2026.
 
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Riverside

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I was going to comment on Transit Matters' Lowell Line report over in the NH Commuter Rail thread (where there's some ongoing discussion), but realized that a fair amount of my thoughts are not about NH Commuter Rail, and that's reflective of some of my overall sentiment.

I'm reminded of many of my comments on their Eastern Route report from last year, particularly my comments on electrification and my overall conclusion. I think a lot of what I said then still applies to this report:

TransitMatters is at their most effective when they lay out incremental proposals that build for the future, are readily achievable, and will have high immediate impact. (Consider the Lynn Zone 1A project, or near-hourly service to Lynn and to Brockton.)

From what I can tell, there are two primary downsides to deferred (or deprioritized) electrification:

1) Somewhat slower service due to slower acceleration
2) Less favorable emissions from the rail vehicles

However, diesel service is still perfectly compatible with almost all the other proposals and benefits outlined in this document:

1) Fare integration
2) Full high platforms
3) Double-tracking at Ipswich
4) Radically more frequent service
...

I'd like to see a workup of a potential timetable running diesel service at 30 minute headways. Too much of the report rests on the tacit assumption of electrification, which leaves it vulnerable to the misperception that none of these other benefits are possible without it.

Two further points about those downsides: first, for the majority of riders (i.e. those boarding from Beverly and south), the travel time difference is less than 10 minutes. Diesel keeps you from building all of those infills, true, but the case for those infills is much weaker than the present-and-urgent case for Fare-Integrated-Frequent-Service to Chelsea, River Works, Lynn, Salem, and Beverly. The service isn't that much slower.

Second, while it's true that electric trains would have fewer local emissions than diesel, I'd also want to see a workup of the overall net effect of frequent diesel, encompassing the subsequent direct reduction in auto emissions, and indirect reduction in auto emissions provided by increased local bus capacity. Particularly when multiplied out over the course of the years it would take to electrify the system, I think that benefit is non-trivial.

(Yes, the report advocates for an interim diesel service, but I think it understates the benefits of that service, and falls dangerously close to making the Perfect become the enemy of the Pretty Damn Good.)

To summarize: I think the report would be better served if it treated diesel as the default option, and articulated all of the benefits that can be achieved without electrification. Electrification could then be presented as an add-on, but avoiding the perception of "all-or-nothing."
I associate a number of folks at TM as being part of the "Organization before Electronics before Concrete" crowd. For example, I think they've demonstrated their success at pushing for Organization-level change in the midst of the pervasive slow zones on the subway. Just today, they published a striking chart of Orange Line slow zones plotted against various external events:
1669156997476.png


And yet this report seems to lean very heavily on the Concrete side of things, without much regard for staged improvements in the spirit of the Organization > Electronics > Concrete model.

Like the Eastern Route report, the Lowell report bakes electrification into every dimension of the proposal, and leaves the impression that electrification is required to get all of the benefits outlined. And that's simply untrue. Moreover, the specific flavor of electrification that TM proposes requires the entire line to be electrified from Day 1, and gives no consideration to a interim plan that would intermingle longer-distance diesel and within-128 electric trains. Transit Matters really impressed me in their early years with their ruthless focus on pragmatic change, which I think continues in their rapid transit advocacy, but which is increasingly absent from these Regional Rail proposals.

In a similar vein, I think New Hampshire service would have been better either excluded, or relegated to an appendix. There are so many open questions about running the MBTA to New Hampshire, and what's worse, it's a completely separate political and advocacy ecosystem; lumping it in with the Lowell report muddies the waters for very little gain.

I know I'm being negative here, but it's frustrating: advocating for Regional Rail to Lowell should be a layup, an easy win. It has so many things going forward, as they lay out on page 2:

The busiest station is Lowell (1,522 inbound riders), followed by the park-and-ride at Anderson/Woburn (1,196) and the penultimate stop at North Billerica (911). Frequent all-day service would greatly increase ridership both from the suburbs and the inner segments of the line. In particular, the dense, walkable neighborhoods surrounding West Medford and Winchester Center have high ridership potential. Better all-day service and small investments in better land use would also increase ridership at Mishawum, which only has a few dozen daily riders but has 6,900 jobs within half a mile. Only the suburban park-and-ride stations like Anderson/Woburn, would remain as peak-dominated as they are today, serving people who would otherwise drive to Downtown Boston at rush hour.

...

The line between North Station and Lowell is straight, fully double-tracked, and has a wide distance between stations, which allows for high speeds.
They understate the point about ridership, by the way -- Lowell and Anderson/Woburn are among the top 10 stations across the entire system, and North Billerica is comfortably in the top 20 (out of over 130 stations across the network). Screenshot from the 2014 Blue Book for illustration -- obviously the numbers have changed in the last decade, but not radically:

1669159360023.png


Those stations are prime targets.

And what's more: Lowell is both Boston's largest satellite and one of its closest (if we treat Worcester and Springfield as their own hubs):

1669158252730.png


Journey times today are already on par with a Green Line journey from Riverside to Haymarket. And unlike Brockton to the south, Lowell is already set up to handle terminating trains, and isn't limited by capacity constraints like the Old Colony branches are.

The Lowell Line, maybe more so than any other line, could be transformative and truly make the Regional Rail concept sing, without even requiring electrification, and potentially be both the least expensive and the most bang-for-buck. It doesn't require 100mph track speeds, and it doesn't require going three rounds with the legislature in Concord. We could easily see transformation via a laser focus solely on:
  1. Fixing the fare equity problem
  2. Fixing and raising the platforms
  3. Fixing the pedestrian access at Anderson and Mishawum
  4. Running the trains more often
Item 1 is an Organization problem. Items 2 and 3 are Concrete, but are focused and limited in scope. Item 4 is probably a combination of all three types, but probably can see meaningful progress by Organization-level work alone. To Transit Matters' credit, they talk about all of these items, and rightly so. I just hope going forward we can focus in on the pragmatic changes that we know will have immediate high impact.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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The big problem is that they seem to think a lot of the "Concrete" doesn't exist in their cost estimates. 100 MPH requires Class 6 track; a Class 6 uprate is pretty damn expensive. 100 MPH requires grade crossing upgrades way above and beyond the baseline that's currently there (especially when the West Medford pair are 30 MPH restricted and a general layout mess). 100 MPH between local-spaced stops requires a performance class of EMU's higher than that typically used in world Commuter Rail service and most definitely higher-class than the ones that were bid to the T. 100 MPH requires a different signal layout across the corridor, requires higher-speed turnouts, requires more precise grading for cant efficiency on curves (so the ride isn't such a barf-bag at the higher speeds). Where are those premium-tier costs accounted for? Nowhere.

Where in the electrification costs are the clearance mods required to run wires over Plate F freights? On an overhead bridge -plenty corridor like Lowell where the clearance exemption is federally protected, all 17 of those feet need to be cleared by the 31-inch AREMA clearance envelope for 25 kV electrification...and that means lots of trackbed undercuts and probably a few bridge raisings. Where is that accounted for in the $90M electrification estimate? Nowhere. It wasn't on the Haverhill Line report either; they just pretended that the very-real clearances weren't real. It's going to cost quite a bit to electrify Lowell. Is it a worth it price...absolutely! I don't think it'll be a crippling burden in the slightest. But the Rail Vision slotted the clearance-route corridors after the non-clearance (Eastern Route, etc.) corridors for a reason; clearances are not zero-cost.

Finally...basic track work. In the Lowell report they footnote an outright exclusion of the costs for double-tracking, signalization, and basic ROW repair in New Hampshire. That's all stuff that's fully accounted for in the NHDOT studies. Are we going to acknowledge that those studies exist or not? Even if the aim of the report is to lobby Massachusetts lawmakers, selling the upside on reaching Nashua and Manchester requires some acknowledgement that there's Concrete to ply in accomplishing that goal. Hell...just getting from Bleachery Interlocking next to Lowell Station to the border is going to probably be in the maximal 7- to minimal 8-figures in Concrete money that's thus far unaccounted for.


The cost estimates are reliant on an assumption that Concrete they ask for isn't a drag, when it is. Why then do the reports ask for such above-and-beyonds? If track class isn't supposed to cost anything, why aren't the reports staking themselves to baselines within what the pre-existing Class 4/79 MPH track can wring out of EMU performance? Why isn't it a world-stock EMU for the commuter service class, with performance specs contoured by some of the vehicle makes that were actually bid to the T? Why the pretend world that grade crossings are pure frictionless environments instead of real-world restrictions? Why so many superfluous infill stations, and judgements rendered-upon-high for this new station but not that publicly-demanded one? If the goal is to demonstrate value-for-money in every category on the bucket list, why is there no mind being paid to what tiers of Concrete bring the most bang-for-buck.

Like...an already fast schedule like Lowell should absolutely rake with stock EMU's inside the existing track class, with some token effort towards easing the West Medford crossing restriction. It's probably one of the highest-ROI conversions on the system in terms of pure pound-for-pound schedule performance. Why, when the clearances are clearly going to exert some gravity on the overall electrification costs, are they not running with a baseline of the actual minimum-most Concrete? And then justifying from there what the above-and-beyonds of 100 MPH add to the ridership topline for their cost? It's not like the minimum-Concrete baseline is bad in any way, shape, or form. Lowell in 45 minutes is a cinch with vanilla EMU's plied to the existing corridor; there's so much good already in there. Why shackle it to the unreasonable asks of 100 MPH through frictionless regs and take such pains to hide the costs? Isn't the #1 goal here supposed to be real on-the-ground policy action taken up immediately? If so, then you have to show us the realest policy action, topline and bottom.
 
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Riverside

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And not to harp on this, but I mentioned yesterday that it’s just shockingly depressing to note the situation with the mini-highs at Mishawum. I can’t remember the particulars of the situation at the still-closed Winchester Center station, but I remember thinking that it was also rather depressing, and either way the fact that it continues to be closed (and, more to the point, was allowed to deteriorate to such a state) should continue to shock us, even if we have become inured to it of late.

As discussed upthread, I'm pessimistic about the prospects for electrification on a good day; how can we be talking about 100mph electrified track when the T and the Commonwealth have demonstrated an astounding willingness to let existing infrastructure rot?

I don't say this to dismiss any sort of long-term planning -- we absolutely should be able to do both. But it would be nice to see the Regional Rail advocacy incorporate a Slow Zone Tracker-style focus on the absolutely insane closures and rebuilds that are happening across the system right now: Winchester Center, Lynn (!!), South Attleboro, and Mishawum (if you want).

In fact, looking to confirm that list of closures has sent me down a rabbit hole. For one, MBTA.com seems to think everything is hunky-dory at Winchester Center:

1669163077575.png


There are "no" alerts on the Lowell Line, despite two stations being temporarily closed:

1669163259547.png


Lynn's closure is at least noted on the Newburyport/Rockport Line's page:

1669163475807.png


But the timetable doesn't include the shuttle bus times for this indefinite closure (which remains without a timetable for completion), instead relegating them to a separate document, even though the short-term bussing on the Rockport branch is included in the main schedule:

1669163700335.png


(One might note that Lynn alone has about 33% of the ridership of all Rockport branch stops combined.)

And let's see about South Attleboro...

I'll skip the screenshots for this one, but it's similar to Lynn -- removed from schedule but included on alerts. That project, unlike Lynn, is now at 100% design, but still has no targeted completion date listed:

1669163910170.png


Lynn is probably the most astounding and egregious of these, but my point is that there's a jarring contrast between the current state and the tone of the Transit Matters report. I think any serious advocacy for Regional Rail needs to also include accountability for these rebuild projects -- like I said, with something like the Slow Zone Tracker.

Because, for real: Lynn's closure alone is absolutely insane.
 

Riverside

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Like...an already fast schedule like Lowell should absolutely rake with stock EMU's inside the existing track class, with some token effort towards easing the West Medford crossing restriction. It's probably one of the highest-ROI conversions on the system in terms of pure pound-for-pound schedule performance. Why, when the clearances are clearly going to exert some gravity on the overall electrification costs, are they not running with a baseline of the actual minimum-most Concrete? And then justifying from there what the above-and-beyonds of 100 MPH add to the ridership topline for their cost? It's not like the minimum-Concrete baseline is bad in any way, shape, or form. Lowell in 45 minutes is a cinch with vanilla EMU's plied to the existing corridor; there's so much good already in there. Why shackle it to the unreasonable asks of 100 MPH through frictionless regs and take such pains to hide the costs? Isn't the #1 goal here supposed to be real on-the-ground policy action taken up immediately? If so, then you have to show us the realest policy action, topline and bottom.
Yes, exactly. Whether electric or diesel, Lowell should be a lay-up. 100mph and a New Hampshire extension are distractions, diluting the vision of the report, and the focus of any advocacy.
 

Tallguy

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I guess I will address points made here and on the other thread.
The costs mentioned in the report specifically note that they are for Lowell-Boston right below the total
It is 25.5 miles to Lowell. The suggested schedule would require, assuming 70 sec stop/start penalty for each of the nine stops, an a average speed of 73 mph. Dropping the average to 70 mph would add 1.3 min. While Euro-spec EMUs would offer higher top end speed, it is the quicker acceleration that is more important.
It is, I would say, not the route that cries out the most for electrification, as TM has said on many occasions. But it is nearly 2023. To electrify the entire system by 2035 requires action now. TM is the only reason we are even talking RR in the public sphere now
Do they offer high goals? Yes. If we get 85% of what TM has proposed we will be in decent shape to face the post fossil fuel future and continue our economic success.
 

TrolleybusFoaming

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I don't say this to dismiss any sort of long-term planning -- we absolutely should be able to do both. But it would be nice to see the Regional Rail advocacy incorporate a Slow Zone Tracker-style focus on the absolutely insane closures and rebuilds that are happening across the system right now: Winchester Center, Lynn (!!), South Attleboro, and Mishawum (if you want).
Don't worry guys, we reopened the Suffolk Downs bridge!
 

DominusNovus

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Not relevant to the current conversations, but one going on in the CR to NH thread:
For the entire Commuter Rail system, whats the portion of stations that currently have high platforms?
What is the typical cost to upgrade a single station from low to high? I know TransitMatters is saying $250 mil to upgrade the stations on the Lowell line alone.
 

Tallguy

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Total. Wilmington, N Billerica, Wedgemere, Mishawam,the Woburn infill, W Medford, Tufts . I think they are not counting Winchester as it is in process
 

The EGE

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Currently, 52/142 stations (including temporary and indefinite closures) have more-or-less full-length high level platforms:

  • South Station
  • Back Bay (except Worcester Line)
  • Ruggles
  • Forest Hills
  • 23 Old Colony/Greenbush stations (including Plymouth)
  • 6 Fairmount Line stations
  • 4 Providence/Stoughton Line stations
  • 2 Worcester Line stations
  • North Station
  • 3 Fitchburg Line stations
  • Anderson RTC
  • 3 Haverhill Line stations (all under 800 ft length though)
  • 5 N/R Line stations
Back Bay would need a high-level for the Worcester Line; Lawrence, Malden Center, and Oak Grove would need reasonable platform extensions. Of the remaining 90 stations, 58 have mini-highs, and 32 are not accessible.

Projects currently under construction will add 7 new stations with full-high platforms (6x SCR plus Pawtucket/Central Falls), add them at two non-accessible stations (Natick Center and Winchester Center), and add replace two mini-highs/short highs with full highs (South Attleboro and Worcester). One station (North Wilmington) is planned to get a mini-high in 2023. That puts us at 63 full-highs, 57 mini-highs, and 29 not accessible by about 2024.

Projects in various stages of planning include 7 Worcester Line stations, Attleboro, Belmont and Waverley, and River Works. Double tracking on the Franklin Line will force changes to Walpole and Windsor Gardens.

The going rate seems to be a (ridiculous) 20 million or so for a pretty basic station like Chelsea. A number of stations will be pretty easy, though a few may need up-and-overs:
  • Fairmount
  • Canton Center
  • Foxboro
  • Framingham
  • Needham Line stations (though they should be converted to rapid transit)
  • West Concord, Lincoln, Brandeis/Roberts
  • West Medford, North Billerica
  • Wyoming Hill through Reading
  • most of the N/R Line branches

The trickier stations fall into a couple different categories.
  • Freight routes: this includes Grafton-Ashland, Fitchburg-Ayer, Ballardvale-Haverhill, and some portions of the Lowell and Franklin lines. In some cases, you can get away with restricted freight speeds (like Winchester Center will be). A few, like Shirley and post-layover-move-Bradford, have enough room for passenger platforms to be on turnouts. Some, like North Leominster and Haverhill, are going to be incredibly expensive to modify.
  • Northeast Corridor stations: Ideally, you want 3-4 tracks at every station so that Amtrak can pass MBTA trains. Attleboro and Readville (a desirable transfer point if Franklin trains go via Fairmount) do, but Canton Junction, Sharon, and Mansfield don't. Worse, South Attleboro and P/CF are being (re)built currently with only 2 tracks.
  • Tricky geometry. Several stations (Beverly and Swampscott among them) have historic station buildings very close to the tracks. Others like Stoughton, Concord, and Gloucester have curves and/or grade crossings that make normal platforms difficult. Constrained locations with vertical circulation like the upper platform at Readville, Porter, and Grafton will be among the nastiest.
 

Alon

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Unlurking to make the very narrow point that $20 million/station is not that bad (especially if you net out design costs at $2-7m/station - the designs are not standardized); it's not much of a premium over Berlin, for example. New turnouts aren't needed for running track to Lowell, but if they were, the projections for the NH expansion we were looking at when we wrote the proof of concept had pretty reasonable installation costs, comparable to Class I or European costs (something like $200,000 apiece for the speeds required in terminal zones, before recent inflation); this isn't the Metro-North amateur hour. The T is surprisingly good at small things like these, and then chokes on anything bigger, like GLX or SCR. That's what happens when the design review team is undersize and Baker won't let the T raise salaries to hire more people.

(Going back to lurking, but I might blog about it - meme-weeding the notion of FRA track classes might actually be interesting to a broader audience.)
 

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I'm currently in Brisbane/Gold Coast Australia attending a conference. There was a presentation on Cross River Rail that I attended this afternoon, and there was a brief mention about the Boston North-South Rail link. Brisbane is hosting the Olympics in 2032. As I sat through the Cross River Rail presentation, I just couldn't help but be sad for Boston. I just wish we had the political and business forces like Queensland in Australia. We took the train from Brisbane Central Station down to the Gold Coast, and it was ELECTRIC, quiet, smooth, comfortable, and FAST. My only negative was that there was not level boarding, and we had quite few large suitcases that were kind of a pain to move from the platform into the train. The tap on...........tap off system worked great.
 

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