Red Line goes kablooie, commuters' rides get all screwy

Red Line riders abandoning all hope. Photo by David Weininger.

A Red Line train heading towards Alewife took note of the time and decided rush hour was as good as any to up and die.

With nothing else to do, Jeremy Newman composed an Ode to the MBTA:

Crowded, stuffy, rates-a-hikin;
Bodies crammed; often late.
Sweat-a-drippin, whats that smell?
Cruel twist of public fate.

Kris Kream was more prosaic:

Hey MBTA it’s hot as hell on the platform with well over 300 people waiting! Can we get a train please. It’s rush hour!

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Comments

Why do we still put up with this?

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I was there at Kendall heading inbound. The outbound platform was disturbingly crowded, then an inbound train that was also disturbingly crowded dumped everyone off. Took several minutes and countless announcements by the operator to get people out, and by the time an inbound train came (they were running about every 10 mins) for me to squeeze onto, the disabled outbound was still unable to get everyone behind the yellow line.

Then guess what kiddies? The sardine can of a green line train that finally picked us hot (why does the T run the heat down there in August?) and miserable commuters up at Park died itself at Haymarket!

So I dashed to the delightfully less crowded orange line just in time, only to encounter tourists who don't understand the rules of the subway!

And then at North Station, in their infinite wisdom the T had decided to assign a train of all flats to a rush hour train on the second busiest line in the system!

Usually I'm quick to jump to the T's defense, but days like today I really wonder why I keep shelling out $300 a month ($100 increase from 2 years ago) and don't just start driving.

EDIT: And malfunctioning crossing gates in Chelsea. Stop and protect at them.

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I don't understand. You're

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I don't understand. You're saying the outbound train was disabled in such a way that they could move it, but needed to get everyone off? Except the platform was too crowded for everyone to get off, so they couldn't close the doors? And they tried and failed for more than 10 minutes to get people to move?

In that case, the obvious solution is to prop open the fare gates and tell people they have to start leaving the station, since nobody's going anywhere until there's more space on the platform.

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I don't know what was wrong

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I don't know what was wrong with the train. I just know that it pulled into the station, then the operator announced it was going out of service. I dunno what they did after that because my inbound train finally came. But as long as I could see it they were still struggling to get people off of it.

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Things like:

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Things like:

  • Let people off before trying to get on.
  • Don't stand at the top of the stairs/escalators.
  • Move all the way into the train.
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Actually, it's not the

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Actually, it's not the tourists that violate these rules but the everyday riders.

The simplest answer is that

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The simplest answer is that we voted for politicians who ordered unprofitable commuter rail extensions to the suburbs they represent and then stopped subsidizing the T from sales tax receipts.

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Not only does the T still

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Not only does the T still have a dedicated portion of the sales tax, they also get more than in the past because of the 5% -> 6.25% increase of 2009.

My mistake. I was conflating

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My mistake. I was conflating the fact that the growth of sales tax receipts started underperforming inflation in the 2000s with no longer receiving them at all.

Around 2000 the commonwealth also transferred $3.3bn in debt onto the T's books, which certainly didn't help.

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The T still gets sales tax

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The T still gets sales tax revenue, but that revenue has been on a steady decline for years now, while operating expenses have risen.

And I for one appreciate having the commuter rail come to me out in the suburbs. That's the point of it. It allows me to be one less car clogging up route 1.

Finally, transit isn't supposed to be profitable! With the possible exception of Hong Kong's MTR, which is profitable from real estate revenue, no transit system anywhere turns a profit. It's a public service, just like roads, schools, public safety, etc. that everyone pays for and everyone benefits from.

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A side note

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Finally, transit isn't supposed to be profitable! With the possible exception of Hong Kong's MTR, which is profitable from real estate revenue, no transit system anywhere turns a profit

Not really true. Off the top of my head, Hong Kong, Singapore and all eight (3 public, 5 private) agencies serving Tokyo are operationally profitable. That's before real estate. The benefit of control of real estate means that it ensures the stations are used efficiently and appropriately.

For example, here in the United States, we spend a few billion on a train line (overspending, I might add) and then surround the stations with massive parking lot deserts, or create very low density zoning regimes that result in terrible places to walk. The result is low ridership and hemorrhaging of money. On top of that, our government massively subsidizes freeways, while forcing people to pay for transit tickets. As a result, the incentives are tilted far away from the transit system, and it becomes pathologically broken. Under those circumstances, anyone who has a choice avoids riding it, and anyone who is competent doesn't want to work there.

By contrast, in Asia, those agencies build up dense urban neighborhoods around almost all of the stations, taking full advantage of the resource. It's not only convenient to use transit there, it's intended to be the best way to get around. As a result, the huge fixed investment in railroad infrastructure gets used constantly, all day, in all directions. And the agencies in charge are operated efficiently and competently, without all the waste that characterizes American transit. And that's why they are able to generate revenue above operating costs.

So it's not "impossible" for transit to be profitable, when placed into the proper context. But so long as it has to compete with government subsidized freeways, where free parking is required by law at destinations, and the stations exist within walking/transit-unfriendly land use regimes, the familiar downward spiral will continue.

This is not to say that becoming profitable should be the goal of American transit, but let's not sell it short. Many of the problems are self-caused.

The problem isn't that the

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The problem isn't that the Commuter Rail exists.

It's that the T recently spent way more than they should have to reactivate the Greenbush Line, and then ridership was way below what was predicted.

The T *should* figure out how to run a lot more trains for less money. Instead they spend way too much on construction of just a few new lines, and then don't have money to actually run the trains.

Unprofitable extensions? How

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Unprofitable extensions? How profitable has the 128 expansion been? How much revenue will the Rt 2 expansion bring? How about the Big Dig? How profitable was the widening of 93 south of Boston?

Probably not the answer you

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Probably not the answer you're looking for but "profitable" in the sense of productivity. I remember during the planning stage of the big dig one of the arguments in favor of the project stated, and I forget the number, but it was stated how much money in lost productivity was caused by people stuck in traffic jams and the effect it had on the economy.
To cite and example: you're stranded in traffic and in front of you is a Walmart truck. All that time the truck is stranded in traffic that's time that merchandise isn't in stores generating revenue for the store and tax revenue for the state. So yeah, while these highway projects may not generate a profit for the state or highway department, they do have an effect on our economy.

herald

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Hello, it's the Herald's comments section calling, we want our troll back.

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Oh please, Menino was the

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Oh please, Menino was the mayor who bent over every time he saw a tourist dollar, and Walsh seems unfortunately cut from the same cloth. Yes, tourists contribute to "the economy", but not everyone works in the hospitality and entertainment industry -- we do have other industries in Boston. Tourism is the tail, not the dog.

Incorrect. Out of town

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Incorrect. Out of town dollars are the most important aspect for a prosperous city.

That

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is ridiculous.

I have no problem at all with

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I have no problem at all with tourists. In fact I'm usually very nice to them, and if I see someone confused by the green line, I sometimes even offer to help them figure out how to get where they're going.

I do, however, have a problem with people who don't understand how to politely use the subway at rush hour. And in this case they happened to be tourists. But that's no excuse. When I visit another city, I pay attention to my surroundings, and try to stay out of grumpy commuters' ways. It's not that hard. If you need to stop and look at a map, step to the side. If you're confused whether you just came up the correct staircase, step to the side. And I hope the keep right, let others off before pushing on, etc. apply elsewhere too, and shouldn't be foreign to anyone - especially not if they pay attention to their surroundings.

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Heat

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>(why does the T run the heat down there in August?)

That's not the heat. That's called summer + train exhaust.

There is no exhaust. These

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There is no exhaust. These are electric trains.

And yes, it is summer, but in case you haven't noticed, it's been quite cool outside most of this summer. Even on days where it is <70° outside, it easily feels 20 degrees warmer in Park, and you can feel the hot air blasting you to the point that you're drenched in sweat just standing there.

Feels to me like the heat's running.

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It is exhaust, of a sort

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The downside of having train air conditioning is that the HVAC systems blast the hot air into the surroundings, namely, the stations. AC systems are heat exchangers, they take heat from one space and spit it out into another space. In a building, that exhaust is sent outdoors, but on a train... well, the tunnels weren't designed for air conditioned trains.

In modern systems you can have stations that are sealed off from the tunnels by platform screen doors, but that would be extremely difficult to retrofit here, not to mention you'd probably have to redo the ventilation system for the tunnels.

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One thing the T got right

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One thing the T got right with the Alewife extension was ventilation. Those stations are reasonably comfortable much of the summer, when Park Street is a sweltering mess even when it's cool outside.

Exhaust

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OK, so it's not exhaust in the form that you would discuss in a car, in the form of gases produced by combustion. What it is is the heat released from the AC units (as noted by Matthew), from the electric train motors, and from the brakes.

How much heat do you think 6 electric motors pushing a 600,000 lb train generate? Now how hot do the brakes get when hauling that 600,000 lbs from 45 mph down to a stop at each station? Feel how warm the power brick on your laptop is. Note that it's probably drawing about 80 watts. The train is drawing roughly 300 kilowatts *per car*, or about 4,000 times as much.

I understand how air

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I understand how air conditioners work, and the amount of power trains consume.

And yes, the tunnels do get very hot from heat off the trains.

I just note that even when there are no trains in the station, you can still feel hot air getting blasted as if the heat's been left on. At least that's certainly what it feels like to me.

And it's still not exhaust.

Exhaust

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I already acknowledged it's not exhaust. You continue feeling it getting blasted because it's 100 degrees in there, so any moving air just feels like a hair dryer.

Note: I don't think T stations actually have heat (don't quote me on this). The trains ARE the heat in the winter.

The Olympics will fix all these problems

Because we can't just lift the outrageous debt burden from the T and fix things for any other reason, you see.

And that is a promise - until Massive Egostadium goes over budget for obscure reasons, Martha gives the contractors a pass on the missing money, and the T improvements disappear due to the overrun. Then there will be road shut downs and shuttle buses, and State Senator Stanley Sphincter and his Central/Western/Southern Mass will make sure that the MBTA gets the bill for that.

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I was on the train behind the

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I was on the train behind the train that died (at least, that's what I understood from our driver) and she just kept saying, "They have to get everyone off that train, it's too hot," but it wasn't clear if she meant the a/c was malfunctioning, or whether some actually locomotive part had overheated. We moved along reasonably quickly after we picked up a bunch of folks at Kendall, but we waited a long time at Charles for the train to empty out and move on. Nobody who got on at Kendall seemed to know what the problem was, but everyone was hot and grumpy (and understandably so).

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