If Frontline, or maybe Michael Bay, pondered why the T couldn't run 24/7 even if it had the money

This is the trailer for a video about the T late at night. Transit nerds will dig it; but so will regular riders who want to know what really happens in those tunnels. The complete video follows, complete with a tour of an abandoned tunnel still prepared for use as a fallout shelter and the unique problems T workers have with college students and people who fall on the tracks:



Free tagging: 


    Other systems

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    So how do other transit systems run so late, if it's impossible?

    Most urban rail rapid transit

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    Most urban rail rapid transit systems don't run late, New York is the exception, not the rule, and they have a lot of four-track main lines to work with.

    24-hour systems are New York, Chicago (Red and Blue Lines only), The PATCO line from Philadelphia to Camden, and the driverless metro in Copenhagen.

    Urban rail systems in Shanghai, London, Beijing, Seoul, Moscow, Tokyo, Madrid, Paris, etc, etc do not operate 24-hour service. They operate bus service. The reason the MBTA doesn't run 24-hour bus service is a much more simple one: no money

    There are hardly any that do

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    There are hardly any that do run later. New York can run all night because it has many extra parallel tracks due to its history of multiple competing transit companies building parallel systems in the early days.

    NY subway

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    While there were three competing systems at one point in Manhattan, on any given line all of the tracks were operated by the same entity.

    Also, the NY subway has plenty of two-track operation (like the MBTA), especially outside Manhattan.

    What the redundancy of lines on parallel avenues does allow is the closure of those two-track lines late nights or weekends for maintenance work, because there is usually service nearby. So while it is true that the NY subway runs 24/7, some lines are cut back late at night, and combined with closures because of maintenance, riding home late night can often take much longer than during the day.

    Late Night Busses Instead. Seriously, it's that simple.

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    As amazing as it is that we have such devoted transit workers, maintenance is no excuse for not providing at alternative BUS service along subway routes on street level after hours. I wish they had focused more on the history of the T (which offered 24hour bus alternative service until the 70s) and the budget concerns that are the REAL problem.


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    I think what people want is 24/2. Or, maybe 20/2.

    friday and saturday

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    is enough. If I knew I could go out, drink, and get home safe without having to FIGHT for a cab I'd be happy.

    Alas! Why did we pave over

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    Alas! Why did we pave over all of our downtown surface trackage? During the early days of the subway (1897-1923) there was still an extensive (albeit, a little redundant in places) network of surface tracks in Downtown Boston. Having a two-track subway system that closed each night wasn't that big of a deal as the so-called "Night Cars" could just head down Cambridge, Leverett, Washington, or Congress Streets to reach the far flung points on the system. Oh well...

    Needless to say, what Boston really needs is 7-day all-night service. It's a shame that in the late 1850s one could catch a late night horsecar to get home, but not in 2012! Yes, it is more expensive to operate such a service every night; that's why you reduce costs by using buses instead of trains. Furthermore you would attract late night workers who are a more stable ridership base than college kids and other folks heading out to the bar or nightclub. Higher and more stable ridership means you are consistently carrying more people per trip and lowers the net cost/passenger. That is what killed the 2001-2005 era Night Owl.
    And learn from the blunders of Night Owl. Create routes that better reflect late night travel patterns. After all, how may people are riding to/from Riverside or Braintree at 2:30am?

    The night cars were replaced

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    The night cars were replaced by buses and the night owl buses ended in 1960 because of low ridership and high costs.

    We have had 50+ years without overnight transit for overnight third-shift patterns to evolve so they begin when service is still running and end when service has resumed (10 PM to 6 AM, 11 PM to 7 AM, etc). How many people are working 5-day shifts that actually begin after 1 AM and/or end before 5:30? Of those that exist, I think there is a greater demand for transit in the 4:30-5:00 AM time vs. the true overnight. The MBTA does run some early bus service that starts at 4:30 AM., and they have some runs at 3:30 AM to get people to jobs at the airport.



    Suppose we applied the "high costs, low use" rationale

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    that T management loves to dust off as their stock excuse for not providing late night/early morning service to the local highway network.

    Can you imagine the uproar if MassDOT proposed shutting down all but one of the harbor crossings between 11 pm and 6 am and attempted to justify it on the basis that the taxes and fees collected by the traffic using the roads between those times don't justify the costs of operating all four separate facilities 24/7.

    Or perhaps something like shutting down I-93 between Somerville and Woburn between midnight and 5 am to minimize wear on the bridges and pavement, and stating that the traffic doesn't need to use the highway, but can use Route 28 instead?

    If anybody seriously proposed or supported such measures, they would most likely be greeted by angry crowds brandishing pitchforks and torches. Yet, when it comes to providing a public transportation system that is equally as important as the highway infrastructure, our leaders continue to routinely acccept identical measures and excuses from MBTA management.

    24/7 service is possible, but ...

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    I noticed that Davey, in one portion of the video, basically hinted that it was possible to run 24/7 service, but that it would require a lot of infrastructure investment. Chicago runs Blue and Red 24/7 in double-tracked tunnels. With extra work it's possible, but we don't have the resources or want to spend them that way, it seems. A night owl bus service that's operated sensibly would probably be the best compromise.

    I'm a little bit tired of the references to 1897. It's not the 19th century anymore. Most of our subway was constructed after that anyhow, and we don't even use the Tremont Street tunnel anymore.

    They compared 1898 to 2011 but neglected to really mention that the system was handling higher loads in 1911 than it does today.


    The total: 3600 cars passed through Park Street station that day. 30 second headways at peak hours. Totally unthinkable today. Yes, some of that is due to use of signalling, but a lot of it is due to complacency. Notice that while loops end at about 1am, there are trolleys running through all night.

    Finally, one guy was talked about how excavating a cemetery was "shocking" for the time. Right. I just happened to walk by a colonial cemetery in Brighton last week and took a picture of a plaque there. The 1764 colonial cemetery was so sacred that only something as important as the widening of an "old cattle trail" (Market Street) could justify the removal of 140 bodies. In 1871.

    The Tremont St. subway from

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    The Tremont St. subway from Boylston at Charles to Government Center eastbound, and from Haymarket to Boylston at Charles westbound is from 1897 and 1898 and still in use.

    It is true that a lot more service was run through it at one time, but that was with no signals, and was basically a constant conga line of slow moving streetcars.

    It was already considered a problem by 1918, and is documented in the Beeler report


    Signals were installed and multi-car traisn operated to reduce the delays in the trolley subway.

    Right, I was thinking of the

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    Right, I was thinking of the portion beyond Boylston. The stretch from Boylston to Scollay is also from 1897. In any case, my main point there was that most of the subways were constructed in the 20th century.

    That report is very interesting. I'm going to have to spend some more time reading it. It seems to be recommending that Park St not be used as a terminal and to route all cars through on one line, and to spread out transfers. Or better yet, convert to rapid transit.

    It says that people didn't like the articulated cars back then. Probably because they had a strong chance of derailment.

    We may not have a "conga-line" of streetcars going through, but they are still pretty slow moving.

    I used to live in the red

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    I used to live in the red brick apartments right next to that cemetary in the 80's. Good neighbors, nary a peep out of them.

    Cool Film

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    Transit nerd here, so, yeah, I dug the film. Actually, considering the small window they work in, and some of the logistics problems, it's fairly amazing that as much gets done as does get done, IMHO.


    Question for the transit nerds.

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    So why did the T decide not to double track anything?

    And why did they decide not to use interchangeable vehicles, at least for the red, blue and orange lines?

    And yes, the night crews for the MBTA deserve mad props from all of us.

    I can't speak for

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    I can't speak for compatibility between cars on what are now the Red and Orange lines, but the Blue line started out as a streetcar line, just like the 1897 subway. Only later was it converted to heavy rail rapid transit. Hence the much smaller cars on the Blue line.

    I don't know whether four-track express-local service was ever considered for the Cambridge-Dorchester line (now the Red line). It certainly was not a new concept, since New York's 1904 IRT line was fully four-tracked.

    By interchangeable vehicles

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    By interchangeable vehicles do you mean running one type of train designed for one line on another? I think it may have to do something with the platform heights of the different lines not being uniform among other things.

    And yes, the night crews for the MBTA deserve mad props from all of us.

    As does anyone who works a night owl shift. There have been rare times where I had to work and overnight shift. Only 2 or 3 nights but it does take a toll. I don't know how people do it constantly.

    You mean quadruple track

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    One of the guys misspoke and called it "one track system" vs a "two track system", but that makes no sense at all for a rapid transit line: double-tracking is what we have - one in each direction. Davey referred to it correctly later on.

    And there's a pretty simple reason why we don't have quad tracking here. It requires more room. Manhattan avenues are extremely wide, the subways were constructed using cut-and-cover and had lots of space to work with. Think about where the Red and Orange lines go: Summer Street, the Washington Street tunnel, the Longfellow Bridge, Mass Ave tunnel, the old elevated. Not very wide.

    While it is certainly nice to have extra tracks for use during maintenance, the Chicago Red and Blue tunnels downtown are only double tracked like ours, and they run 24/7. So it is possible to do, even in America.

    The Red line was built from the beginning to handle cars much larger than found on the elevated or Tremont St subway. So it's always been different. The Orange and Blue lines could technically inter-operate, but I'm not sure if it's ever been done. Anything running on the Blue line needs to be able to switch from third rail to overhead line at Airport.

    It's also more ridership.

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    It's also more ridership. Manhattan alone has twice the population of all of Boston. Heck, New York had the current population of Boston by about 1860. When we throw in the millions living in the outer burroughs and the millions more living in Jersey, the Hudson Valley, Connecticut, and Long Island who commute into the city you've got far more need for subway in New York than Boston. Boston also remains much more car friendly than New York. Driving into Downtown Boston is easy and pretty hassle free. Whereas driving in Manhattan can be a chore, especially for drivers who aren't terribly confident.

    Driving into Boston is so easy...

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    ...we only had to spend $22 billion to fix it.

    But yes, Manhattan is also very long and then there's the outer boroughs too. That makes express service much more desirable. (As Suldog pointed out).

    Simple Answer

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    This is just my guess, but I assume three or four tracks were never seriously considered here because the total mileage of the system, and mileage from terminal stations, is much less than in New York. Being able to run express trains probably made more sense for New York.