Failed Cambridge rail line as metaphor for state inaction on MBTA financial crisis

Remember when the state bought an old CSX freight line through Cambridge and dumped some money into repairs and then announced, oopsies, it wasn't going to be running commuter trains to North Station over it after all? Cambridge Day does:

Despite being based only across the river in Boston, the administration doesn’t seem to understand mass transit or Cambridge much at all.

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Shut the Front Door.

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You've got the nicest, safest, highest-capacity, most-frequently-running T line in the whole damn region where you have to worry more about being accosted into an intellectual debate about the book you're reading, than getting beaten over the head for your iPhone.

You've got the only trackless trollies.

You've got bus lines out to wazoo.

So please, stop whining about your goddamn green line that you real estate prospectors all expected to turn east cambridge/east somerville into a goldmine.

I believe you missed the

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I believe you missed the point of this post...

  1. It is not about the Green Line extension, rather it is about rerouting some commuter rail lines through unused tracks in Cambridge, to increase capacity and access.
  2. Adam and the referenced article are focusing the money that was wasted on improving tracks that will now not be used. Quite important when thinking about the T's massive budget problems.

Not "unused tracks"; they are quite important

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The Grand Junction sees several moves a day, especially during off hours and on weekends.

Besides freight, it is the only connection between the North and South sides of the Commuter Rail system (within 30 miles of the city). That means every set on the South side has to make a regular trek across the Grand Junction in order to be serviced at BET.

Seems to me the real problem here is an outdated

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transportation planning and environmental review process. Is it really necessary for the T to have to secure "mother may I" permission from Cambridge to upgrade service on tracks that they presently own and - more importantly - are already used in daily service?

While having a commuter rail station in Kendall Square - or grade-separating the Grand Junction/Mass Avenue crossing - are ideas that might be worthy of study, it shouldn't be necessary to hold an otherwise benefical project hostage while those ideas are being reviewed. Upgrade the track to 40 mph service, which can be done for relatively short money, and start running trains - then you can "polish the apple" with the extras.

Spending basic money to get

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Spending basic money to get quick trains running is not the MBTA (or American) way.

Instead, we spend 20 years trying to come up with the money to spend a billion dollars on fancy glass stations.

What were the $1.6 million in

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What were the $1.6 million in repairs they did on the Grand Junction line?

It's certainly not close to ready for passenger service. For starters, the speed limit is something like 10 mph, and trains have to stop at every crossing to wait for road traffic to stop. (Yet the #1 bus also has to stop at the crossing -- yay for northern efficiency.)

It does make sense for the T to own it even for its current use, since most traffic is empty Commuter Rail moves.

People actually live in East Cambridge already

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Hard to believe, I know, but lots of people already live in East Cambridge and will continue to do so regardless of any "real estate prospectors". Service on the green line between Government Center and Lechmere is absolutely appalling. It is routine to stand on the platform at Government Center as train after train dumps its passengers so that it can turn around and take people out to Newton and Brookline. If you're very, very lucky, one in six or seven trains will go to North Station (jammed, of course), sometimes followed by one going to Lechmere with standing room only if you can get on at all(and often preceded by one going to Lechmere, so that all the North Station suburban commuters cram onto it as well.)

Somewhat off topic but...

The T's #1 project should be

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The T's #1 project should be making the existing Green Line suck less.

This would be way more useful and cost-effective than extending it to Somerville, or building Commuter Rail to New Bedford, or connecting the two Silver Lines, or building more stops on the Fairmount Line.

If there weren't so many late trains because of the non-transit-priority traffic lights and ridiculous fare collection system, they wouldn't have to do so many unplanned short-turns of Lechmere trains to get back on schedule.

As I've stated in previous posts, the best short term solution

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to the current Green Line issues, and one that can be quickly implemented for very short money and requires no extra capital investment, is to eliminate the current "out and back" scheduling of trains (i.e. car/train starting at Riverside must always return to Riverside).

Instead, run all eastbound service to Lechmere and then send the westbound trains out to the next destination up on the board. Example - Eastbound train comes in to Lechmere from Riverside at 10:02. Schedule shows that next westbound train out of Lechmere is supposed to go to BC at 10:05 - send train that came in from Riverside out to BC.

If done correctly, this also has the additional benefit of reducing the westbound headway to people going between Lechmere and Copley to 2 minutes per train during rush hour.

To properly work, you'd need only two additional trains per line - or eight trains (16 cars) total. Give that the T presently has about 40 additional serviceable cars sitting idle, this shouldn't be an insurmountable hurdle for them.

With respect, the skill set required to accomplish

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this scheduling should be no more difficult than the majority of the "juggling acts" the Green Line dispatchers perform every day when they short turn eastbound trains that are bunching together.

If you have a scanner and the time, try punching in 470.6375 (Green Line frequency) and monitor it during a couple of morning or afternoon rush hours. It may give you some insight into how haphazard the current Green Line scheduling system really is.

Been there, done that, got the "T" shirt.

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I suppose I was being pessimistic because I agree with you on all accounts.

I don't use my scanner enough. What's your best scanner story? Here's mine:

I turn to 430.6375 about 6pm on a Friday. The portable is in the middle of reading the riot act to all of his subordinates over the open radio. Yeesh.

Upon further thought, you're right about the talent - it is there. It isn't used properly, which directly ties into what you're saying.

I think the whole Boston College-Park Street proposal for this current rating perfectly displays our shared frustration:

-Fresh idea is brought to the table.
-Fresh idea is implemented and scheduled.
-Thousands of schedule cards are printed.
-Sponsor of fresh ideas retires three days before the rating.
-Everyone else says "fuck it."
-Fresh idea is nixed.
-Thousands of schedule cards are reprinted.
-The more things change, the more they stay the same.

One of my favorite "heard on the scanner" moments involving the

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Green Line was one night about two years ago. In the midst of multiple problems, including a switch failure at North Station and disabled trains on both the BC and Cleveland Circle lines - which resulted in BC short turns at Park Street and Cleveland Circle short turns at Government Center, the dispatcher was hit with multiple queries from drivers regarding thier scheduled relief breaks.

By the thrd or fourth such request, the dispatcher got so fed up that he announced over the air : Attention all units. I realize some of you have been working without your regular relief break. But listen up - we're dealing with some serious EMERGENICES here and we don't have time to honor those requests. Please bear with us and have patience.

Been there, done that, got the "T" shirt.

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I suppose I was being pessimistic because I agree with you on all accounts.

I don't use my scanner enough. What's your best scanner story? Here's mine:

I turn to 430.6375 about 6pm on a Friday. The portable is in the middle of reading the riot act to all of his subordinates over the open radio. Yeesh.

Upon further thought, you're right about the talent - it is there. It isn't used properly, which directly ties into what you're saying.

I think the whole Boston College-Park Street proposal for this current rating perfectly displays our shared frustration:

-Fresh idea is brought to the table.
-Fresh idea is implemented and scheduled.
-Thousands of schedule cards are printed.
-Sponsor of fresh ideas retires three days before the rating.
-Everyone else says "fuck it."
-Fresh idea is nixed.
-Thousands of schedule cards are reprinted.
-The more things change, the more they stay the same.

its not exactly a fresh idea

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its not exactly a fresh idea to turn one line at Park St., they did it for 88 years from 1897 to 1985.

At least in that case (Arborway Line)

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they still provided enough cars to maintain an adequate headway - even in the dark sketchy service days of the early 1980s. The BC proposal is just a thinly veiled attempt to reduce the number of cars they need to keep in service and, thue, their labor costs.

Somebody within MBTA operations needs convincing that there is indeed life (and riders) beyond Park Street.

The BC to Park St. proposal

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The BC to Park St. proposal would have kept the number of cars and operators the same, but would have given them more time to make a round trip so they weren't always running late.

If they're always running late, then why do they

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sitll persist in holding westbound BC trains at Park Street for "headway adjustments" during rush hour? And just how does terminating even more trains at Park Street help people who have to go beyond Park Street (or currently get BC service at Government Center).

If the problem is maintaining headway, then perhaps they should take some of those 40 or so serviceable streetcars that are sitting idle (and were bought and paid for with capital money that we are now paying debt service towards) and put them to good use. Instead, the current management at the T would rather give people less service and try to package it as an improvement instead of actually providing an efficient transportation service.

And it's also further proof that the current "out and back" scheduling system for Green Line trains is seriously outmoded and needs to be completely revised.

And you don't live in Somerville or Medford or Dorchester

Look at a map sometime.

Somerville is one of the most densely populated rail corridors in the US ... except there is no rail there.

You also refer to one other project that *you* could do without that is intended to address the lack of rapid transit in another corridor with high population and no trains.At least you get to wait too long for a train that EXISTS. Try waiting a long time for a bus that has been cut back to nothing and is too full to stop - or having that bus service cut altogether.

Maybe they should save money by cutting your green line branch and giving you two buses an hour ending at 7pm?

Those of us who live in areas that are underserved are already sick and tired of being thrown on the bus so people like you can throw us under the bus again and again and again.

Very well put Swirly

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I will also add one benefit of GLX that most people fail to point out - it will give people a one seat (or standing) ride into much of Downtown Boston without having to transfer from bus to train. This is also one of the principal reasons why the 39 bus, no matter how many "improvements" the T tries to make to the service, will never be a proper replacement for streetcars.

And for those of you reading this who still aren't convinced of the importance of a "one seat" ride to attract passengers, consider the case of the Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin. In 1959, their connection to the Chicago Loop (via the CTA EL) was eliminated to accommodate new highway construction and replaced with a bus connection. As a result of this change, their daily ridership immediately dropped by almost 70% and they closed up shop about a year later.

I guess the Blue Line is a

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I guess the Blue Line is a massive failure too. Until 1924, local streetcar lines from East Boston, Chelsea, and Revere had one seat service through to downtown. After 1924, everybody had to change at Maverick when the street car subway under the harbor was converted to high platform rapid transit

Blue Line change was not

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Blue Line change was not temporary, to this day people from Chelsea need to change at Maverick, when they had a one seat ride into the subway before 1924. Same is true for local East Boston neighborhoods that are beyond walking distance to the Blue Line stations opened in the 50s. In 1923, you could board a trolley on Meridian St., Lexington St., or Bennington St. and ride it through to Boston. Since 1924, you change at Maverick.

You seemed to have missed my

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You seemed to have missed my point.

Yes, Somerville deserves transit investment. But I'm not convinced the Green Line will make things better. And for a billion dollars, you could do a lot to improve bus service, in ways that would make it far better than the Green Line will ever be.

As a Somerville commuter, I'd much rather have a reliable bus connecting to a reliable Green Line, than a Green Line branch that's always late because of delays at the other end of the line in Brighton.

GLX will be "D" branch

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The main extension is going to bring the "D" line to Medford (someday). That will be completely grade separated from end to end and won't be affected by the mess in Brighton.

Also it will bring increased service to (new) Lechmere. Though that could be done today.

Again ..

You make it abundantly obvious that you do not live in the areas that are now "served" by buses in Somerville and Medford but are within a mile of the already existing right of way for the green line extension.

There is no way to make the bus service better because buses don't fit on a lot of the roads, the grades on several of the hills are not something buses can manage, and more buses would just get stuck in the traffic that exists and won't be going away soon. Furthermore, there is no direct route to get to the highways through much of Somerville, and that means hour long bus rides like my coworker had and that no amount of extra buses would change.

That's the clue you lack. This is one of the most heavily populated corridors in North America and one that has been promised rapid transit for FORTY YEARS! Meanwhile, any other corridor with half the density and so bloody close in to any functional city has gotten rapid transit service. That is because bus service short of the exclusive lane and boarding station model is NOT POSSIBLY EFFICIENT for such a close in, densely populated area. The house I own in Portland is in an area about half the density of Somerville and it is getting a rapid transit to downtown within a half mile in a couple of months and a trolley line two blocks away within three years.

That's what happens when people actually look at maps, plan ahead, and git er done!

Consider the fact that buses get cut time after time to preserve service for the train lines. I'd be happy if the 325/326 were preserved and your transit line was cut to give me better service too. Oh, I don't think it would be a problem if they put a mere fraction of that savings into a bus or two for you that runs once in a while in random circles around the area, and then cut those buses to make my life more convenient.

That's what your argument boils down to.

Once again you miss my

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Once again you miss my point.

Bang for buck. Low-hanging fruit.

Adding traffic light priority to the Green Line B, C, and E would be such a cheap and quick project that it would have *no effect* on the extension to Somerville.

And it would save a whole lot of time for hundreds of thousands of people every day. Not to mention saving a whole lot of labor costs for the T, which could avoid cuts elsewhere.

It doesn't have to be an us-versus-them situation.

Many of the stops on the B,

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Many of the stops on the B, C, and E line are near-side platform stops. The stop is before the traffic light and the roadway crossing. Priority signals work best with far-side stops (the platform being located after the light and crossing). It would not be as easy as some people think to install traffic light priority on the surface Green Line given how many of the major intersections are where there are Green Line stops, and how many of those stops are on the near-side of the crossing, making the priority signal useless.

An example: at Coolidge Corner, the Green Line stop in both directions is located before the intersection. The Green Line cars sit there unloading/loading passengers before they can proceed. It is unreasonable to expect the light for the intersection to hold green for the streetcars while they are sitting at the stop loading/unloading passengers. If the platforms were on the far-side of the platform, then it would be reasonable for the light to hold an extended green until the streetcar had crossed the intersection and came to a stop for passengers. But think how difficult it would be to completely rearrange the platforms at Coolidge Corner to make them far-side platforms.

You can have near-side priority

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The way it works is that the trolley driver stops short of the detector at the platform. Then, when ready to go, the driver moves the car up into position, and triggers it (or they accept some kind of internal signalling device into the trolley). Light either holds green, or shortens the red phase. But yes, it would be best if they did split far-side platforms.

Real railroads solved this problem with grade crossings, why can't we?

The Green Line is not a

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The Green Line is not a railroad, it's a streetcar

I'm confused...

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Exactly what kind of threat was that? "Hey you, guy that's not running for Governor but will most likely be working for the 2nd term of the Obama Administration, whom we cling to like grim death, you better watch out or we won't vote for you again..."

I'm not up on the odds-on favorite for the establishment party's nomination, but chances are the illumo-cognoscenti of the peoples republik could probably be expected to support an Alan Khazei or even a Bob Massie before Worcester's favorite (car-crashin', cellphonin' con-men) son. This ain't the south shore or metrowest (or really anywhere along 495, oddly enough) where you fear a defection of da peeples from the establishment to the arms of fitness drink-hawking GOPers of Massachusetts. Patrick doesn't seem to be all that concerned with his legacy (as he lets the MBTA crash and burn with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and rubbing his bruised buttocks from his gas tax attempt of a couple years back), so I have no clue what kind of leverage anyone in the Bay State has with him (unless you happen to be helping the Big O fill in seats for the second term).

buh?

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what was that again?

Like I said...

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..I'm confused. Actually I'm more ranting on the MBTA budget crisis and the Governor's lack of motion on it, than the commuter rail going through East Cambridge. The point was a threat from the voters of Cambridge against a Democratic Governor who isn't running for re-election is a bit of an empty one. Do you really think the people of Cambridge will go vote for Charlie Baker or someone similar?

As far as arguments about the Green Line, hey, once Lynn (better yet Salem) gets the Blue Line I'll take Somerville's complaints seriously. As far as a commuter train rumbling through East Cambridge...maybe they could dig a big tunnel....

..and anoder ting...

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These would be the same tracks in East Cambridge that 60 tanker cars in a mile long train will be passing through with 1.8 million gallons of pure ethanol two times a week on their way over to Revere via Chelsea? Somehow I think folks may need to worry about more than noise or a bit of a wait as the train goes by.

The green line where it runs

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The green line where it runs underground (Park, Boylston, Arlington, Copley etc) should be torn-up, the tracks removed and the stations connected by a moving underground sidewalk,... like the people movers you see in some airports. That would make everyone's travel faster. And the trolleys should run only outside the tunnels.