Train sputtered and died, entire Northeast Corridor now completely fried

Dead train at Mansfield

The locomotive on the 808 train out of Providence turned out to be the little engine that couldn't. Now it's sitting dead on the tracks, waiting for the 810 to arrive and sloooowly push it all the way into Boston. In the meantime, Joe shows us the scene in Mansfield, reports:

Nothing moving inbound to Boston from Mansfield. No commuter rail or Amtrak.



    Free tagging: 


    Get ready...

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    Three weeks left of MBCR. Somehow I have a feeling it's going to get worse before June 30th.


    Lack of redundancy strikes again.

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    To have a system where a commuter train breaking down can totally screw-up Acela and Amtrak regional service (and vice versa) would be laughable, but for the fact that is isn't funny.

    We need dedicated *real* (i.e., ~200 mph) high speed rail rights of way on the Inland Route. We needed them yesterday, but I'll settle for the sometime in the next 10-15 years. Acela should become the moderate speed alternative.


    We need dedicated *real* (i.e

    We need dedicated *real* (i.e., ~200 mph) high speed rail rights of way on the Inland Route. We needed them yesterday, but I'll settle for the sometime in the next 10-15 years. Acela should become the moderate speed alternative.

    Ha ha ha, I know, right? I'd like a pony, too.


    Yep, it will be a laughing matter alright.

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    I know, too. It will be particularly funny when the entire northeast corridor chokes on its own success because it becomes impossible for anyone to get anywhere in any reasonable amount of time.

    As a old friend visiting from Southern CA recently told me on his first trip back in 8 years: "What the hell has happened up here with the traffic? It is unbelievable - just like LA! It never used to be this way - when did this happen???"

    Well, just look at cities

    Well, just look at cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta if you want to see the Northeast's future. Public transportation in the Boston area has gotten steadily worse over my lifetime (on a per capita basis, and simply on an absolute basis over the last 10 years or so) and looks unlikely to improve any time soon. Unless you have some sort of concrete plan -- that's both politically and economically feasible -- to completely change the way society prioritizes transportation issues, I suggest you get used to it.

    I've said it before: we need

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    I've said it before: we need to rethink the Commuter Rail.

    There's one early-morning express train that gets from Framingham to Yawkey in 19 minutes. All the other local trains take about 45 minutes. Imagine if we had frequent express and local trains all day -- it would totally be better than driving for a lot of people.


    I've been saying this for

    I've been saying this for years with the T, as well. If it's a weekend or evening, and you don't know if you're going to be waiting five minutes or fifteen for the next bus/trolley/train, you're likely to just drive.

    Well, at least there's real

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    Well, at least there's real-time tracking now.

    And a 15 minute wait is no big deal compared to a 2 hour wait if you miss your weekend Commuter Rail train, which can easily happen if you're taking the Green Line to North Station.


    Wow you're young

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    You were born after the Red Line extension to Alewife, the Southwest Corridor, the upgrades of the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines to 6 car trains, the essentially complete rebuild of the Blue Line? I'd add the restoration of the Old Colony lines and Rhode Island commuter rail expansion along with the Fairmont Line work that's driven Commuter Rail Troll nuts, but you probably won't say they count.

    Or maybe I'm old.


    The T's service has been going downhill for the last 20-25 years.

    Feel better now?

    I came back to add

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    Commuter rail to Worcester. And of course the Silver Line, which kind of made the development of the South Boston Waterfront possible.

    But yeah, just like Atlanta. I will take Los Angeles as a compliment, as they've been building up rapid transit, real bus rapid transit, and commuter rail for decades, making Boston look truly behind the times.

    Oh, the Silver Line

    Yeah, that's a great counter-argument to the notion that Boston's public transportation sucks ass. Tear down an elevated train and replace it with bus-service, that's some real forward-looking shit right there.

    I think it's pretty telling that the T's last significant improvements were so long ago that I forgot they happened.

    On to actual service

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    Extended hours on the week-end?

    Speaking of which, I think an easy claim is that the MBTA has done more to expand service than SEPTA in Philly. That said, they have just rolled out 24 subways on the week-ends.

    Look, I'm not saying that the T is perfect. Far from it. However, it has been doing things. The argument could be made that spending capital funds on expansion rather than upkeep while changing the means of funding service was a bad combination. However, Atlanta? Seriously? I'm sorry, but that was the red flag for me.

    Oh, and 3 of the 4 subway lines have gotten new trains in the past 20 years. And that is written by a guy who rides on the other line.

    Just making points

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    So, which was the new service started by SEPTA in your lifetime?

    I also admitted that LA has done a lot for transit in their area.

    Still, the T keeps on chugging along, while surprisingly you fail to concede that they have expanded hours on week-ends, opened new lines, rebuilt stations.

    But yeah, if you discount rail and bus expansion, rebuilding stations, purchasing new rail cars, creating a brand new line (in a subway, too boot), longer week-end service, yeah, the T has done noting. Atlanta with the ability to cope with snow.

    SEPTA has always been a 24

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    SEPTA has always been a 24-hour system.

    When they cut late-night service on the subways a few years back, they added replacement bus service. And their Green Line (trolleys that have a downtown tunnel, just like ours) has always run all night.

    Kind of

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    Yeah, I was trying to be cute with that one. Buses replaced the subway. To be honest, I didn't know about the trolleys. Still, no expansion of the system since the 50s(?)

    I don't even know why I brought up SEPTA. The crap about Atlanta got me so I wasn't even seeing straight.


    If we still lived in the Stone Mountain/Tucker area, we would now actually have public transit at least as good as we have now in Boston (with a bus running right past the entry road to our former neighborhood, taking us to a nearby train station (that didn't exist 16 years ago). ;-}

    "Well, just look at cities

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    "Well, just look at cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta if you want to see the Northeast's future."

    At least those cities are warm.

    Amtrak only has 19 round

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    Amtrak only has 19 round trips between Boston and New York on weekends, and 11 on weekdays. That's nowhere near capacity for a two-track line, even when you add in the commuter services.

    One constraint is the Connecticut marina NIMBYs, who restrict the number of train slots across the drawbridges.

    In Europe or Japan, a city pair like this would have trains at least every 15 minutes, not every hour or two.



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    Well, I also see a corridor that is getting used for multiple services, serving multiple populations and needs. Since corridors are extremely expensive to create, and have such enormous consequence in terms of land use, it seems worthwhile to try and get more than one use out of them. The NEC is remarkable for the number of different commuter agencies that share tracks with Amtrak as well as industrial freight. An inland route of some sort might be better for travel time because it would be more direct, but it's not necessary just to avoid breakdowns.

    Instead, I think the increase in traffic and need for redundancy is a call for an additional track or two, wherever possible, to be added to the existing Providence line. And for MBTA to be using modern, more reliable equipment. Preferably equipment that is more compatible at mixing with high speed trains.

    There's only two tracks in

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    There's only two tracks in that area.

    It would be nice if they could get creative and bypass the blockage using the other track, but that gets tricky if the crossovers are far apart and there's traffic coming the other way.


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    2 tracks here

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    As anon pointed out, this section only has two tracks. There is some kind of on-going effort to design and build a third track through at least some of the two-tracked areas south of Readville, at least, but I don't know what the status is.

    And to further elaborate on what anon said, even assuming you have the crossovers, the reduction from two tracks to one track is much, much more dire than the reduction from three tracks to two. At least, with two tracks, you can have bidirectional travel, even though you may have to forgo local/express passing patterns. But you can still push a train through in each direction every few minutes. When you are down to a single track you lose bidirectional travel: not only do you have to wait for the train to clear a block, you have to wait for it to clear EVERY block in the single-tracking portion, before you can switch direction of travel. This could easily take a line that supports 3 minute headways and push it up to 30 minute headways (or worse, if the dispatcher decides that your train just has to wait while the other direction goes).

    For example, if you've ever been in one of those old retrofitted tunnels that can only allow a single lane of cars at a time, then you know a little bit about how annoying this is.

    In a world without constraints, a fully-flexible corridor sharing intercity and commuter services should ideally be four-tracked -- at least -- in order to have freedom to implement all kinds of useful service patterns as well as redundancy. For example, CA HSR has been debating this kind of corridor along the Bay Area Peninsula for a number of years, where there is space for four tracks but the NIMBYs claim that they don't want it, etc etc.


    Mixed Use on the NEC

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    This is all true, but my point was that we can never have bona fide HSR on the existing NEC Spine precisely because of those different uses (I know that you know this - I mention it for others' benefit). Incidentally, the (HSR only) Inland Route should also follow existing publicly owned rights of way (e.g., the Interstates) to significantly reduce ROW acquisition costs. If we don't build it from scratch, we're never going to get real HSR.

    The areas on the existing corridor at which a third track can be added are pretty limited. Of course, the area of this problem today happens to be one of them, but that notwithstanding, adding a third track on much of the corridor would, in my opinion, be not enough bang for the buck (note that I am speaking of the NEC corridor at large, not just the area between here and Providence, which is, of course, in reasonably good shape and the only place North of NYC where Acela hits its max 150mph speed).

    Lastly, on your other point, of course we need better (electric) trainsets - and the rule should be that every commuter rail upgrade or addition must carry electrification with it.

    I predict that Boston-NYC HSR

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    I predict that Boston-NYC HSR on a new route is not happening in any of our lifetimes.

    I'd rather they work on incremental improvements that would speed up Acelas *and* Regionals, such as increasing the speeds on the Hell Gate Line.

    I wasn't talking about the T.

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    I was referencing the fact not one of the true HSR examples cited above is in the United States despite having one of the busiest rail corridors in the world (which is what the NEC is).

    Eight highway lanes worth of

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    Eight highway lanes worth of cross-section could easily be more like five to seven tracks instead, depending on width of highway and whether there's a utility easement included.

    But really, trains are so 19th century as Mark said. That's why we ride bicycles.


    Subsidized 3:1

    Subsidized 3 tax dollars:1 passenger fare dollar, just like car travel is now.

    It would be a better deal than highways and airports are, on a per passenger mile traveled basis.

    Why the hell do you think the Swiss run such amazing railways, eh? Because they are frugal!