Grand repairs begin on critical railroad bridge

Grand Junction repairs begin

Arnold Reinhold watched workers yesterday as they began repairs to the Grand Junction bridge - the only link in the Boston area between rail lines to the north and south of the city. Inspectors shut the bridge two weeks ago, forcing the MBTA, Amtrak and CSX to send trains on a 108-mile loop through Worcester County.

Via A.P. Blake and Railroad.net. Photo posted under this Creative Commons license.

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North-South rail link?

Maybe this is a step in the right direction? It'd bypass North, South, and Back Bay stations on the Amtrak lines, but with Amtrak's service pushing further north, a nonstop Florida-Maine rail connection would be a great asset for travel in the US.

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Not going to happen

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This rail connector heads though Cambridge though many sub-standard crossings which is why they don't use it often and the train must go slow. (Though it is fun to watch a huge train in heart of Cambridge.) The cost of renovating the intersections coupled with NIMBY concerns and the limited need would make this project a no-go.

Circus train?

Sorry to ask what might be a stupid question that can be researched somewhat easily but....

Is this the same track that goes through Kendall and under the MIT brain research building and crosses Main Street there? Whenever I hear the train horn in this area (funnily enough, I've never actually seen a train make the crossing) I wonder where these trains are coming from / going to.

Would that also make it the same track that the circus train sets up shop near?

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Opportunities future and opportunities lost

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Okay, I'll beat my dead horse: I want a Boston RER, and this is one of a couple of critical links to making it possible.

Of course, the smarter thing would have been to put a couple of tracks along a certain roadway (that ironically connects two rail stations) whilst the entire city was dug-up for a decade plus, but we folded like a cheap suit on that one.

Oh, the RER

We went from the airport to a suburb and back into central Paris on that. Handy - but messy when they decide to do contstruction or have a strike ...

We also took the 200+ mph TGV train from Tours to Paris Montparnasse. We passed cars on a freeway as though they were standing still.

It was most sweet.

Can you imagine getting from Boston to NYC in 1.5 hours with intermediate stops?

I'm still holding out for the return of rail service to Montreal, though.

I'd love Montréal rail service too

The only competition is to drive yourself--and try to find parking in Montréal--or to take Le Chien Gris for just under $200. I opted for the latter when I went up there for the first time this past March.

I also wonder how long checking an entire train at the border would take in the post-9/11 era. Coming back, it took us four hours, no joke, to get across the border, almost as long as the entire rest of the trip. It takes 30-40 minutes to check one mostly-full bus and there were a whole bunch of 'em lined up in front of us. :-( (To be fair, the driver did say that he'd been doing the route for 20 years and that that was the worst he'd ever seen it.)

Several Amtrak trains --

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Several Amtrak trains -- Adirondack, Empire Service, Cascades -- traverse the US-Canada border.

Cascades

Yep, done that. Portland to Seattle, break for lunch, then reboard to get to Vancouver. Total trip time is about 7-8 hours, but the Seattle to Vancouver leg alone is of similar distance to Boston to Montreal.

Boston used to have daily service to Montreal. Daily.

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I'd have thought it'd take

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I'd have thought it'd take almost a week to get from Portland to Seattle.

Oh wait. You mean that Portland. Never mind.

Seattle to Vancouver is 141

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Seattle to Vancouver is 141 miles. Boston to Montreal is 310 miles.

Ah, so ...

It was probably the trackwork that made that part of the run take three hours. Also, numerous stops.

That's also 140 miles via I-5 ... the train route is a bit less direct.

Funny how the TGV ride I took in September was also about 140-150 miles and took at most an hour and a half with three or so stops.

I'd still rather take a train to Montreal ... even if it took 7 hours with a break in Burlington.

Adirondack

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I did that from NYC to Montreal some years back. At the boarding stations in the US, all passengers crossing the border were seated in one or two cars, those getting off at intermediate stops could sit anywhere. Upon leaving the US, the train crossed the border into Canada next to a highway port of entry, but proceeded a few miles into Canada and stopped in the middle of a corn field where officials from Canadian Border Services Agency boarded and inspected the train and everyone's documents. After about an hour, the train was cleared to proceed to Montreal. I read somewhere recently that Amtrak, VIA Rail (which handles Amtrak's maintenance, staging and ticketing, etc at Montreal's Gare Central) and the various US & Canadian federal, state and provincial authorities are currently in the planning stages of creating a "sterile" platform at Gare Central so that customs and immigration inspections can take place upon arrival at Montreal, and for similar preclearence inspections for US bound trains, similar to what is done in Vancouver. If this happens, service to Boston might be more palatable.

Or they could do what was

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Or they could do what was done in Europe (before passport checks were totally eliminated):

A few agents get on the train at the stop before the border. As the train proceeds, they walk through the train and give each passport a quick and polite examination. Then they get off at the station after the border.

Of course, this would mean they'd have to stop treating all bus and train passengers as criminals.

Vancouver Customs in the Station

We didn't do the customs stuff until we disembarked in Vancouver. They have a facility in the station. I remember the agent joking with the kids and making sure she carefully stamped their brand-new passports for extra thrill.

Assuming you can find a ride,

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Assuming you can find a ride, Craigslist rideshare is often a good option to Montreal. It's the cheapest way to go, and also the fastest (except flying, but that's about $400 round trip).

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Cheapest, but maybe not the wisest idea

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Of course, if any of the other people in your Craigslist rideshare have any legal issues, then you're literally in the same car with them when you cross the border. Meaning their legal issues suddenly become your legal issues.

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Check passports at the stations

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The solution is to do passport control at the stations, just like an international flight.
Although in (pre-EU) Europe they had a reasonable solution which is that the agents get on the train at the last station before the border, and walk through the train checking passports as the train travels.
Presumably no one is going to board or disembark from the moving train, and there were enough people on the train for it to be worthwhile for two passport agents to spend the 30 minutes or whatever between stops checking the train. I suppose it would be possible for people to hide in the bathroom, although it seems they could figure out a way to solve that.

Boston to Montreal HSR

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You mean you'd like to be able to get to Montreal by train without having to go through New York? That would just make too much sense.

Yeah, it's absurd that we can't do that. The Boston-Montreal route has been a designated high-speed rail corridor for a long time - but obviously, nothing has come of it. At last I heard (before the fiscal issues since 2008 when I contacted the MA point person on this), New Hampshire was the stumbling block. Even though the state of NH already owned the approximately 60 miles of right of way needed for the line (a huge bonus - like being born on third base), it was dead set against spending a dime on making it usable for passenger rail, let alone high speed rail. At that time, MA, VT and QC were all on board, as was Amtrak, provided it got help on the infrastructure side (ROW acquisition, etc.) from the states.

I think it would be great not only for Boston and Montreal, but also for VT and NH (Particularly for Burlington, Waterbury, and White River Junction/Lebanon). It would also fulfill one of my other dreams - to be able to go skiing at some of the East's best resorts without having to drive (the Amtrak train from NYP to Rutland, VT (Killington) is very popular and often full on Thurs, Fri, Sun and Mon.). It would harken back to the days of the Snow Train from North Station to Bretton Woods (different route).

I never did understand why stimulus funds were not directed to this. Government funds expended on transporation infrastructure projects provide some of the best bang for the buck in terms of economic payback - particularly when the government can borrow at near 0%. Oh, well. Another lost opportunity.

Over 100 years

From the 1850s to the 1960s.

So, I guess that means that it just isn't possible in the modern era.

The other 9 designated

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The other 9 designated high-speed rail corridors don't pass through New Hampshire, and also don't exist. You can't ride a designation.

Not quite that simple.

It wasn't that they just didn't care enough to add the rails to the tunnel, it was that it was literally impossible. The large bore tunnel that would have been required would have added billions to the already expensive project and taken more years to complete. Also, the steep grades required would have presented a huge problem for locomotives - as you have to avoid the tunnels that are already there, such as the blue and red lines (that's why the big dig tunnel has a roll in it).

Furthermore, diesel engines of that size suck up quite a bit of air, and ventilating the tunnel would have been troublesome, and possibly harmful to passengers.

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It's not impossible

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And, luckily, they had foresight and left room for a future N/S rail link. So it's still possible.

You would never send diesels down there. Besides the inability to climb the grade, there's the fumes. The MBTA would simply convert to all-electric or use dual-mode locomotives as NJTransit and MetroNorth both do.

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Trust me

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There have been many discussions about this on railroad.net and ArchBoston about a N/S Rail Link. It really is not possible. Craiggles is 100% correct. The inclines are just too steep for locomotives. (Amtrak has strict guidelines on how steep grades can be for going up and going down).

Its next to impossible where it would need run. between groundwater, the big dig itself, the blue and red lines, the charles river, building foundations, and utilities.

Plus due to the track configurations on both sides. Any train using this link would need to go *Past* each station, and then back into the station because most of the portals would be far away from where the actual station would be.

N/S Rail Link is a dead horse. It would be better focusing energies on fighting NIMBY-ism in Cambridge to use Grand Junction (but even that doesn't help much since Grand Junction would only serve the Worcester Link and not the NEC (Amtrak to Providence, CT, and NYC)

Not sure we're reading the same discussions

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Both archBoston and Railroad.net feature discussions of the N/S rail link as feasible, although expensive.

Electric MU trains can climb steeper grades than locomotive-driven ones, and non-FRA-retarded-rules compliant trains can do so also, even with a locomotive.

It's very much feasible.

From railroad.net (djlong):

- Yes, it was proposed in the 1980s. Then they tried to piggy-back it on The Big Dig. Unfortunately they only got as far as digging the slurry walls further down so that in later years, you could excavate under I-93. So the slurry walls are there, but nothing else.

- Electrification was one of the 'options' when they were spitballing the costs.

- Another 'option' was Central Station, who's sole purpose appeared to be creating a link between the Blue Line and Commuter Rail (the Blue being the only line with NO CR link). That was for airport access, before the Silver Line tunnel (South Station - Seaport District) was considered.

- The MBTA said they'd save operating costs with through-running (less idle time).

- This would also relieve subway congestion. For example, if you were coming from Lowell and wanting to go to a job in the Financial District, you wouldn't need the Green/Orange and Red Line connection.

- There were 4 portals way outside Boston because of the long inclines required to get deep enough to get under North and South Stations. On the South side, there was one for the Worcester Line and one for the NEC (linking up somewhere around Back Bay). On the North side, there was one portal on the Fitchburg line out past the BEC, and the other was in Somerville, I think (yes, the tunnel would go under the Charles River).

- They thought they could do it for $1B-$2B back in 1989 or so.

Finally, a recent report indicates that all of these folks seem to think that the NSRL is feasible (and should be built):

Gov. Michael S. Dukakis
Rep. Stephen F. Lynch
Rep. Martin T. Meehan
Robert B. O’Brien
Fmr. Rep. John A. Businger
Rep. Anne M. Paulsen
Rep. Mary E. Grant
Rep. Robert A. DeLeo
Sen. Steven A. Tolman
Sen. John A. Hart, Jr.
Cathy Douglas Stone
Capt. Jeffrey W. Monroe
Pat Moscaritolo
Ross Capon
James McCaffrey
Molly McKay
Jim RePass
Richard Arena
Wayne E. Davis
François - L. Nivaud
Jim Stone
Peter G. Christie
Patrick T. Lyons
D. Herbert Lipson
Daniel E. Scully, Jr.
James J. Fiorentini
Robert Crowley LeBlanc
Joseph J. Bevilacqua
Deborah A. Belanger
Sally L. Cerasuolo-O’Rorke
Robert G. Bradford
Tracey E. McGrail
Steve DiFillippo
Ken MacLean
Joe Dart
Chuck Raso
Peter J. Griffin
Dan Lauzon
Kip Bergstrom
Everett Stuart
Art Canter
Ed Perry
Brad Bellows

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since I'm getting all of my questions answered today...

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Why would Grand Junction service only the "Worcester Link"? Other than electrification issues, why couldn't an inter-city train arriving from points south into South Station then leave SS, take the Worcester/Framingham tracks out to Grand Junction and proceed to points north?

Turning radius

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Due to geometry, there's two options: going around a creaky, slow, extremely tight loop track in Beacon Park; or, pulling past and changing ends.

The former is probably too dangerous for regular revenue service. The latter is slow and obnoxious. Okay for equipment moves (you can watch it happening from the back of BU's campus from time to time), not so okay for scheduled service.

As far as I know, it's too tight to put up any kind of Y there, which is why there hasn't been any kind of NS/SS shuttle going that way either.

But I'd love to be proven wrong...

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Exactly

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But maybe a bit more spruced up, so it's not quite so dark. You know, maybe some hanging flowering plants running along the sides? Or, create a mammoth viaduct and shoot it straight through the city!

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Boston Bypass

Yes ... we could get a North to South link by building rail out over the water. Floating stations, served by shuttles (or transparent underwater tunnels) for intermediate downtown and Airport stops ...

Or, maybe, floating segments ala hood canal or ... JUST IMAGINE!

Might as well dream because Boston blew it years ago and it ain't going to be fixed in my lifetime.

What about North Station

Forget about the N-S link -- I just want them to make a Commuter Rail to Subway link! Can anyone explain why after numerous renovations you still must leave the commuter rail station, walk outside UNCOVERED for 50 yards, and enter the North Station subway station. They couldn't figure out how to make that a covered walkway or, god forbid, an INSIDE hallway?

I'm always amazed and annoyed when my train pulls into North Station and 90% of the riders walk out the side door of the Garden, onto a narrow exterior stip of sidewalk (often in the rain), and back into North Station to take the subway. It's like the planners never expected people to want to transfer from North Station the train station to North Station the subway station.

N Station inside N Station

Such a connection was promised to be a part of whatever building goes up on causeway st where the old garden was. But don't get me started about that....

Blame Jeremy Jacobs

whose company owns both the current TD Garden and the empty lot in front where the Old Boston Garden was. The current subway entrance is designed to come up into the first floor of whatever someday gets developed on that lot.

The T eventually got tired of waiting for this development to happen, and built the North Station commuter rail lobby extension in the other direction (north towards the Charles River).

For the rail geeks - few/no 108 mile detour

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Apparently CSX, MBTA and Amtrak have entered into agreements to service each other's trains where possible so they don't have to make the 108 mile detour while the bridge is out. Don't have any definitive source of this other than a fellow rail geek - who claims to be in the know, but it probably makes sense in this situation.

Already happened

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There already has been at least one 108 mile detour.

Second track?

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What became of that second track? I presume that a two track ROW there would make this thing much better suited for passenger rail. Is there still enough room for two tracks?

It was removed

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The second berth is still there (just go to the BU Bridge and look at it from above). I believe it was removed when they constructed the Pike viaduct, to make some room on the Boston side between Beacon Park and the bridge. Also, why maintain track that's not needed?

It's not necessary, there's a turnout on the Cambridge side and it will be a long, long time before this bridge ever sees enough service that this short stretch of single-track will become a problem (especially considering all of the other problems which are higher priority). If the Urban Ring ever gets built, then it will be dealt with.

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