State takes complete control of Worcester Line; no more heat-related delays

State officials said they've completed their takeover of the rail line between Boston and Worcester from CSX, which means commuters on hot days will see far fewer delays due to speed restrictions that had been imposed by the freight line.

Also, sorry, troublesome trucks: With dispatching now under MBCR control, commuter-rail trains now get priority in dispatching; under CSX, if a dispatcher had to choose which train would go first, freight would always win. And:

Commuter Rail dispatchers can now communicate directly with train crews. Prior to this week, MBCR dispatchers would have to relay questions or directions through the CSX dispatchers in Selkirk, New York. This communication was not immediate and many times would delay response to unscheduled events along the line. It's now easier to turn an ‘express’ train into a 'local' or a 'local' train into an ‘express’ train.



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I actually tweeted MBCR a

I actually tweeted MBCR a couple of months back and this was their reply:

MBCR ‏@MBCR_info 24 Jun
@doctahdooley Heat restrictions are a safety precaution taken in extreme temperatures due to the potential of the track expanding.

There was an Amtrak

There was an Amtrak derailment on CSX in Florida some years back caused by a heat kink. NTSB determined that poor track maintenance by CSX contributed to the problem. CSX had to pay a lot in settlements. They became very conservative about speed restrictions for passenger trains on their tracks in hot weather after that (cheaper to slow the trains down than to better maintain the track).

Report on the Florida derailment:


Continuously-welded rail is essentially a long piece of steel, which will expand (and contract) with temperature. That will cause the rail to kink up (or break) if it is not dealt with.

In the case of heat expansion, aggressive maintenance of the ballast and sleepers is needed to hold the rail in place. On the hot days, additional inspectors are sent out to look for problems.

So it's not that it matters more to freight, my guess is that presumably CSX didn't care enough to bother with the additional maintenance and inspections, and instituted a blanket slow order instead.

CWR is largely a passenger-oriented amenity which smooths the ride and makes higher speeds possible; features which are relatively unimportant to freight.

Adam: hear any word on completion of the 2nd track through Beacon Park?

Nothing to do with it

Dispatching rights will have no impact on heat restrictions. MBCR/MBTA will still need to observe speed restrictions when it is very hot over a period of time.

There was a heat kink on the Orange line a few years back that brought service to a halt for several hours with busing around the problem while crews performed repairs. I seem to remember a problem on the Green line some years back as well.

While railroads have a "road channel" for radio communications, the MBCR had no authority to speak directly to CSX trains or crews. CSX owned the line and the MBTA was a guest on their tracks.

They needed to relay questions through management channels to get answers. Some trains also operated on company-specific frequencies as well. Now, while the MBCR may now control dispatch of the line, the order is reversed. CSX will have to relay for answers. Little changed.

Few people understand, especially the people reporting transportation issues in the newspapers (sadly) that the majority of railroads in this nation are owned outright by freight companies. Passenger trains are greatly a guest on their tracks. There are no laws or mandates that give passenger rail any priority, except on their own tracks/property. Indeed a recent major court ruling cut Amtrak off at the knees with respect to holding freight companies liable for undue and unreasonable delays to their customers.

So when you read in the papers that Amtrak screwed up and was delayed 6 hours, don't blame them. It's usually the freight railroad that owns the tracks that caused the problems. It has become convenient for the press to state this rather than do their job and get all the facts. Press deadlines to generate sensational headlines has sacrificed good journalism.

Consider the recent high-speed rail disaster in Spain that is now reporting the operator was on his cell phone. Well, yes, but he was using the company-issued cell phone talking to his dispatcher. They use GSM cell phones locked to company usage for train-to-train and train-to-dispatch communications in most European nations. Yes, he was on a phone but was doing his job to get answers to a problem. Try to find that in the USA press. Read Europe's and it becomes evident.

Until this branch was acquired, the MBTA/MBCR was a guest on CSX tracks and subject to their operations which had priority. The MBTA/MBCR is also a guest on the north side lines which are owned by PanAm Railroad (Guilford), and a segment of the Fitchburg line is operated by New England Central RR I believe.

As to dispatching... the MBCR only does a segment of the tracks in use. They handle the yards and the Worcester line now. Just north of North Station it is PanAm doing the dispatching on those tracks. On the south side outside of South Station it's actually Amtrak doing the NEC dispatch.

What's dispatching? Air Traffic Control for trains.


Just north of North Station it is PanAm doing the dispatching on those tracks.

Not sure what you're referring to. The only dispatching on MBTA lines that Pan Am does is on their mainline.

The MBTA owns all of the

The MBTA owns all of the lines on the north-side, as far north as the New Hampshire border on the Haverhill and Lowell lines, and as far west as Fitchburg on the Fitchburg Line. The MBTA also owns the Northeast Corridor from the RI border to Boston. However, just because the MBTA owns the track doesn't mean their contractor (MBCR) dispatches it. They allowed Amtrak to continue dispatching the Northeast Corridor at Amtrak's request. Amtrak offered to do it for free. They allow Pan Am to dispatch the portion of the Fitchburg, Lowell, and Haverhill lines that are shared with Pan Am's freight main.

Dispatching policies did have an impact on heat restrictions. As noted above, CSX developed a very conservative policy on heat restrictions after the Auto-Train wreck in Florida. As they no longer control the line, MBCR will probably use a more reasonable standard for when to put speed restrictions on the line.

"So when you read in the

"So when you read in the papers that Amtrak screwed up and was delayed 6 hours, don't blame them. It's usually the freight railroad that owns the tracks that caused the problems."

We're in Boston, so the vast majority Amtrak trains are on tracks owned by Amtrak or the T.