Forget about subway-like service on the Fairmount Line; another blow to Olympics plan

The Herald reports the Baker administration has stopped plans to buy "diesel multiple unit" trains that would have allowed the Fairmount Line to run at subway-like frequencies, saying now's not the time to load up on new technologies on the T.

Even aside from the promises the state has made for years to Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park residents about increasing train frequency on the line, the move is yet another problem for Boston 2024 - which had been counting on frequent DMU service on the Fairmount Line to service the tennis venue it now wants to build in Harambee Park in Dorchester, Deb Soc notes.

DMUs are passenger coaches with their own diesel engines, which can be more easily assembled into smaller trains at non-peak hours; the Patrick administration had touted them as a way to improve service on the line - and also to serve the proposed West Station stop in Allston on the Worcester Line and connect Back Bay with the South Boston convention center.

The T had planned to have DMUs in operation by 2018, under a plan developed by then state Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, who now heads up the Boston 2024 effort.



Free tagging: 


other areas did receive new

By on

other areas did receive new bumps in funding, including $35 million toward dredging the Boston Harbor. The capital budget also includes $79 million for new Red and Orange line cars and $251 million toward the Green Line extension.

Now perhaps Baker

By on

can issue an executive order stopping the continued string of the ongoing NEEDLESS public meetings and force the state to actually finish building the GLX. Oh, and demanding that Somerville pay 100% of the portions of the project (like the "necessary" community pathway and the pointless sound barriers) that have NOTHING TO DO with providing a TRANSIT service whould be a big help as well.

Considering the commuter rail

By on

Considering the commuter rail can't even run infrequent service reliably due to maintenance issues it is understandable why the governor would want to put a hold on this.

On the other hand DMU service on the Fairmount and Framingham lines would be a major quality of life and metro traffic reduction improvement.

Everyone loves Baker, but

I'm not sure what the attraction is. To me he's quickly shaping up to be something of a do-nothing, fraudulent report-issuing phony.

What kills me about the

By on

What kills me about the Fairmont line is that officials consistently act stunned that it has low ridership. Dealing with the commuter rail is awful so did they really think people in Dorchester would be excited about the concept of taking the commuter rail downtown? Fairmont line should have been rapid transit, and they could have done that. They had to build almost all the stations from scratch anyways. Biggest expense would have been a connector into the red line tunnel. And then they keep touting West Station, Boston Landing, and a rebuilt Yawkey. When will they learn residents want RAPID transit, not commuter rail.

The legislature has had a

By on

The legislature has had a commuter rail fetish since the 1990s. The good thing about these stations is that they can be converted to heavy rail transit lines without too much work. A third rail or catenary, a connection to a service depot, and the vehicles themselves is all that's needed. Both the Fairmount and Framingham lines could be connected to either the Red (@ South Station) or Orange lines (@ Back Bay Station) without too much engineering.

Commuter Rail shouldn't exist

By on

The only functional difference between the tracks that commuter rail runs on and the tracks that rapid transit runs on is the presence of electrification (or in the case of the Northeast Corridor, a difference in electrification schemes.)

Every single other hurtle to running actual rapid transit on the commuter rail network isn't technological - it's regulatory, it's organizational, it's functionally a problem of people refusing to move forward in time.

Consider Washington, DC. For all its problems (and it has many, many problems), WMATA's Metrorail remains the only rapid transit network that has embraced the fact that there is no absolute boundary between "commuter rail" and "rapid transit" that says these are different modes for different markets... at 27 miles long, the Metrorail Orange Line is more than double the length of the MBTA's Orange Line, nearly six miles longer than the "commuter" rail trip to Framingham, and yet somehow, nobody considers this an unreasonable length for a rapid transit subway... because it's not unreasonable at all, in fact, there is no prevailing reason why you couldn't plan for subways that travel over similar distances throughout all of Greater Boston, there's no arbitrary point past which we must say "this is now too long for a subway."

But suppose you do decide that there's a limit. Maybe you won't ever run trains more than 25 miles from end to end. That's fine. We still, in fact, have "commuter" rail trainsets more than capable of making longer journeys at rapid transit frequencies. Though the New York area doesn't run them effectively, both the LIRR and the MNCR exclusively use EMUs - electric multiple units - on all of their electrified railroads. The MBTA could run these trains between Boston and Providence today, and it's just a matter of electrifying other key rail lines - as has should have been done decades ago - before the same trains could run to Lowell, to Worcester, to Newburyport - and perhaps one day on to Portsmouth.

We could even, in fact, run all these trains on the same tracks! Assuming the electrification schemes agree, which isn't difficult to do (since one of the electrification schemes doesn't even exist yet for the most part), there's no gauge difference or platform height difference or any other difference that prevents us from running Blue Line trains on the Providence Line right there with the Amtrak trains and the "commuter" rail. This too is a regulatory hurtle and nothing more - the only obstacle to overcome is obstinate people with no imagination and limited vision for the future.

Commuter rail shouldn't exist. It should be abolished. We're more than capable of running subways everywhere within 128 and regional trains outside of it, on the same tracks, with little to no replication of infrastructure necessary.


By on

I can see a slight benefit to distinguishing between subway and commuter rail. If the average trip length on a particular route is extra-long, passengers might appreciate having access to an onboard restroom and (slightly) more comfortable seats, as well as wi-fi and higher average speeds/less frequent stops.

As long as you can disembark

By on

As long as you can disembark and reboard at a station without passing through fare gates, and as long as headways are subway-like (5-15 minutes), not commuter-rail-like (30-60min), station-side restrooms would be sufficient. I agree with the wi-fi, however.

BART in the San Francisco is

By on

BART in the San Francisco is a regional commuter subway. They're extending it all the way to San Jose and Silicon Valley, so it is a feasible concept.


By on

and BART station bathrooms have been closed indefinitely.

Mostly true

There are platform height and width differences, for instance the blue line is significantly shorter and narrower than the red and orange lines, so you can't just pick up a train and run it on any line. That's easy to work around though, just buy trainsets for the current CR lines that fit its dimensions. A big issue is branching. The CR system is heavily branched, and the core system has only so much capacity. If you can run a train through the stem every minute (big if - that's a little bit crazy), and there are 10 branches, each one can only have a train every ten minutes. If the core can only handle one train every two minutes, that's a twenty minute headway on the branches - no longer considered rapid transit. Another, related issue is capacity at South and North stations. They can only handle so many trains per hour, same with the interlockings approaching them. South Station is at capacity during rush hour, and North is approaching it. The North-South connector would mostly solve that, but would cost some billions of dollars. I think it would be worth it because of the huge increase in ability to use the CR infrastructure, along the lines of what you are talking about.

What is "the stem"? The

By on

What is "the stem"? The commuter rail doesn't have a one-track bottleneck approaching North and South Stations. Multiple lines run in parallel and lead to multiple platforms.

Yes, but there are still

Yes, but there are still bottlenecks. The lines combine, at the narrowest it looks like about six tracks, or three double-tracked lines, approaching SS. There are nine branch ends (as currently organized, plus Amtrak plus Cape Flier plus the possible South Coast Rail.

Can't be rapid transit

By on

So often the "why not" has been posted. Probably should be a Wiki Page we can simply link.

The Fairmount line is dedicated as "heavy rail." This means the type of trains like are there now.

FRA regulations require that heavy rail (commuter trains) and light rail (like the Orange Line) must be "grade separated" and the tracks cannot be shared. When the line gets to South Bay rail yards the tracks would have to somehow be separated from all of the rest of the MBTA and Amtrak lines/tracks and switches that it weaves through. It would be a project the likes of the Big Dig. So while it sounds great on paper to simply change the kind of trains out there, it is truly cost prohibitive and a far-more cumbersome project than one might think.

Take a look at an aerial view on Google Earth and see how the Red Line passes through there now just to get to the Cabot repair shops.

Also to make it a working and profitable (sic) line, ending it at Fairmount would not be reasonable.

That said... several bridges have been raised along the Fairmount for the future potential of electrification.

DMUs are not new. They used to be called RDCs or "rail diesel cars". Look the term up on Google or similar. Also look up "Buddliner." The Budd cars were the work horse of the B&M and NY&NH RR back in the 60s. So many people seem to think DMUs are the greatest thing since sliced bread butt hey are an old technology. The true problem is that there are no US manufacturers that are making them, so like the build out of the new Red and Orange Line cars by CNR, the builder would first have to ramp up a manufacturing plant in the USA to fulfill terms of the federal Buy America Act.

At least the funds for new Red and Orange cars remain intact. Let's see if CNR delivers.


The Orange Line (and Red and Blue) are heavy rail. The Green Line is light rail. FRA regulations are still onerous, though.

There's also the role of freight.

By on

In the grand pecking order of rail function significance, freight is king and always has been.

The Franklin Line, Haverhill Line, Lowell Line and Worcester Line all have freight runs.There are even rare occasions when a freight consist out of Readville will use the Amtrak line.

From what I can tell, the Framingham Secondary will still be used for freight as it was mentioned in the DOT press release. The main advantage for DOT is dispatch control is now in its hands, like the Worcester line deal.

As for the related 2024 angle, this could be a signal from Baker that he lacks confidence in the viability of that dog and pony show and isn't about to factor it into any long range decisions.

This has been the situation. Politicians don't want to come out against Jockfest 2024 early on, as it's like mom and apple pie, but they will readily damn it with faint praise.

As for the last election, it was another example of the backhanded alliance between neo cons and purity progressives that has kept the GOP in the game here for a few decades.

The faux progressives keep tail wagging non viable candidates. Then they have little snits when the broader unwashed voting public fails to appreciate their superior discernment.

It's basically yuppie liberalism in all its failing glory.

FRA compliant DMUs are

By on

FRA compliant DMUs are offered by Nippon-Sharyo, they have a final assembly plant in Illinois. The first cars of this type of just started revenue service in Toronto on the new Union Express Service.

The funds for the Red/Orange order have been reduced for now. The option for 58 additional Red Line cars, which were approved as part of the original contract, are back to being option cars. It's back to just 74 Red Line cars officially on order for now instead of 132. There is a reasonable chance they will still pick up the option eventually, but it looks like they don't want to commit the funds to it yet.

Can't build ridership when the train is constantly cancelled

By on

It's a circular argument: low ridership on the Fairmount line = constantly cancelled trains, because if there's a problem anywhere in the system (the logic at the info booth at South Station goes) they are obliged to cancel trains on the line with the lowest ridership. But when no one can rely on the Fairmount train ... how do you build ridership?

I've been given many answers to this question at the information desk or when calling MBTA CR customer service. I was once told "it's the community's fault for not talking up the new stations when they opened." I've been told by one person answering the customer service line "I find the commuter rail totally frustrating. I wish I didn't have to ride it."

And the worst one: "Yeah, we're probably going to shut down the Fairmount line. It's not worth it." (These are all direct quotes.)

Not worth it to whom? Not worth it to the for-profit company to serve the most underserved neighborhoods in the city? Not worth it to actually make the effort to follow through on what was promised these neighborhoods?

Will he [Charlie] ever learn?

By on

No! he will never learn...
and our fate is not his concern

He will drive forever to the streets of Boston

He's the man who never will learn.

OK, speaking of old...

I remember the old Buddliners, rode them all the time. I also remember when they were unpowered and towed with diesel engines. When they were scrapped, all I heard was 'obsolete, asbestos', shit like that.
OK, clean them up, strip them. Now you have a stainless steel shell. Repower them by replacing the old GM 6-71 (am I right here?) with a new diesel, new interiors, etc and run them as MU or single. Granted, they'd be a lot heavier than 'state of the art' but the payback time would be decades, not years.
I dunno, I considered it a missed opportunity.
Would it have worked?

The Federal Railway

By on

The Federal Railway Administration says no.

The problem with getting DMUs in the US are the stringent FRA crash and operations standards which are overly zealous compared to those in Europe and Asia.

And yet they can't reliably

By on

And yet they can't reliably implement anti-crash tech like that "positive train control" that was in the news a few weeks back.


By on

They can't implement things they have no money to pay for. When their budget gets cut over and over again, there are things that don't get done.

A number of the old Buddliners

By on

were converted to push-pull cars in the 1980s. When it came time to deal with the remaining ones, the MBTA decided it wasn't cost effective to convert them.

As the MBTA began purchasing more single level coaches in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they decided the converted Budds were 'surplus of requirements" (how dare they actually have additional equipment beyond their minimum needs) and sold them off to Virginia Railway Express.


These little things form the backbone of train transit in Germany. But giving the MBTA the ability to be more flexible with the ways it can provide service? Crazy talk.

Century-old technology is also obsolete

By on

And while the motive is crap, I ultimately am happy to see the end of the DMU scheme before it began.

It was a sideshow and a distraction from what ought to be the real goals of the MBTA with regards to the commuter rail: complete electrification, and total replacement of its current fleet with EMUs.

EMUS? No way!

By on

Those things are too costly to import from Australia. And too small. Better go with the OSTRICH

It's new for the MBTA, though

By on

It's new for the MBTA, though, which is probably what he's thinking. I don't agree with the decision myself, but there's a certain logic to "If the MBTA can't even keep the trains they're used to running reliably doing so, how the f*ck are they going to deal with new and unfamiliar train tech?"


By on

Another Kochpuppet trying to murder the pieces of government that serve working people, citing "budget". Then he'll cut the foodstamps people need because they can't find a job within reasonable distance of the only housing they can afford. And blame the poor.

Can we have a recall election now?

Because Deval with better

By on

Because Deval with better with secret slush funds, no accountability of any government managers, and lopsided budgets propped up with smoke and mirrors?

Baker won because he was and is a boringly cold but usually competent manager.


By on

Baker won because Coakley.

He won because of progressive purity crap. period.

By on

Back before yuppies decided to be 'liberal', we'd have primaries and if our fave didn't get the pick, we'd still close ranks and get the party in there.

Nowadays it's all about purity narcissism. Coakley may have been impure but she at least has a pulse.

I looked up the voting data and it is telling.,_2014

If you scroll down to "results", you'll see that Coakley lost by 40,000 or so votes. But vanity candidate Falchuk got 78,000 plus votes and there were 28,000 plus ballots where the Governor's slate was left blank.

I'd argue that most of those votes were asshole progressive protest votes over purity snits.

The GOP still has enough discipline to do that old school rank closing thing and that's why they have managed to hang on to the semi castrated Governors office in this supposedly liberal state for most of the yuppie era.

It's enough to make you weep once more for the passing of Tip O'Neill. And the funny part of it all is that DeLeo is still king of the hill.

Coakley was NOT the favored candidate....

... of the state's Democratic political organization -- and (as with Shannon O'Brien and Scott Harshbarger) -- the guys (like DeLeo) were actually pulling their punches in supporting Coakley (and were more or less rooting for Baker -- as the candidate who most likely be willing to cut deals with them)

Sorry Charlie

By on

Now is the time for injecting innovation into the t. The fact that the t thinks digital signs with arrival times is "new tech" is so utterly ridiculous. The current state of the t has cost Millions of dollars in lost tax revenues, a severe blow to the working folks who couldn't get to their jobs and therefor couldn't get paid, and set our reputation as a well run state down the tubes.
I bought a house near middleboro because it had t service including weekends. Guess what - the t temporarily stopped weekend service due to construction, then with no notice cancelled weekend service all together - no bus replacement just completely cancelled the service. The regular service is often late. So dreams of commuting to work on public transit were not realistic. So the money spent on providing unreliable service is a waste.
The transit system should get MORE attention and money than the BIG DIG! And be treated as the next step in bringing massachusetts into the 21st century. We are competing with industry and tech on a global scale and if anyone in mass thinks we have a modern transit system just look at what is going in in china and japan. The new greenway and tunnel is gridlock during rush hour precisely because people who shoulda coulda woulda taken the t to work decided it is not worth the risk of broken down trains, delays, severely overcrowded trains. invest more money in Public transit ! [email protected] the Olympics already sick of all the time and effort going into Olympics when it should be going into fixing and improving our immediate needs.

The fact that the T is

By on

WASTING MONEY with the arrival time signs at all is utterly ridiculous. If the T wants to improve service, they should be investing in purchainsg, operating, and maintaining enough equipment so they can run a service that's frequent and reliable enough so that passengers do not have to concern themselves with the question "how many minutes until the next train".

As a daily T rider

I find the arrival time signs invaluable. As far as I can tell, you do NOT depend on the T for your regular transportation needs. In any event, many (foreign) places with frequent and reliable service nonetheless provide arrival info.

MUs are cool, but...

they are not some kind of magic bullet. It is possible today to provide rapid transit level service on the Fairmont line using current equipment. DMUs will not suddenly give the MBTA an ability to run 6 trains an hour. Either they can schedule that or they can't, but the equipment doesn't determine ability.

If I were in charge, I'd make sure the scheduling for RT frequencies can be achieved before buying new trains that require different maintenance protocols, different spare parts, etc., but do nothing to improve train management.

DMUs would run much faster on

By on

DMUs would run much faster on a line with frequent stops, since they have much better acceleration and braking than loco-hauled trains. A faster trip means less labor costs, and more trips per day from the same equipment. They'd also have far lower fuel and employee costs per train (no more hauling around 6 cars with only 1 open, with 3 conductors doing who knows what).

That's what allows for frequent service which is affordable to run.

Also, a sensible DMU order would be far more reliable. The T's locomotives break down every 5000 miles on average.

The best thing the T would do is to buy proven mass-produced European DMUs. This would require applying for a waiver from the federal government, but California is doing it.

DMUs didn't have to be an

By on

DMUs didn't have to be an expansion. They should have been a replacement for existing vehicles. Instead they ordered more of the same with the Rotems and new locos.