Time to revive the Red/Blue connector, only this time without state blather

Ari Ofsevit takes a look at the state's shelved plans to extend the Blue Line 1,300 feet to Charles/MGH and explains how the state screwed up all the cost estimates by proposing ridiculous construction techniques just because they don't feel like building the thing.



Free tagging: 


Don't worry

students and recently built luxury condos are taking over Eastie, so I'd assume there will be enough big name stakeholders to throw their weight around and make it happen soon enough.

on a vaguely related note

Why no free/discounted rail-rail transfers? Works for rail-bus and bus-rail but try to transfer via a quick walk between two nearby rail stations without a monthly pass, and you're paying double fare.

Good point. They should

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Good point. They should encourage people to walk from State to DTX to make a Blue-Red transfer.

Has anyone proposed building an underground pedestrian walkway with a moving sidewalk? State to DTX is much shorter than Bowdoin to Charles, and a pedestrian tunnel is far cheaper than a two-track rail tunnel.

Call me cynical, but

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Call me cynical, but I don't think the T would be able to keep a moving walkway moving for very long. I do think more direct pedestrian connections would be a great idea in the downtown area, though... but that would still involve tunneling through very dense areas, so I'd imagine the cost might make it unfeasible.

Long walk from the Blue Line

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There's already a long walk to connect from the inbound Blue Line to the southbound Orange Line, especially with luggage. I think Bowdoin-Charles is the better option, and would also keep Cambridge passengers from having to navigate through the Park Street bottleneck if heading to the airport, which of course will also alleviate overcrowding on the SL1.

Unless Massport fixes the

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Unless Massport fixes the problems they created with the shuttle buses when they rerouted them to the Rental Car Center, I'm not taking Red to Blue to the airport. Even if I can skip the Green Line leg.

Gov't Center Construction

This came up during the Gov't Center construction and the answer was something along the lines of "the CharlieCard can't handle it." I'm not entirely sure I buy that it's impossible, but I do believe that it's something they don't want to bother with trying to fix. (Their justification, perhaps reasonable, but perhaps not, is that the number of people wishing to do this overwhelmingly have passes)

Of course, if you ask now, you'll surely get a bland response about how the "new fare system" will solve this, same as all other questions about fares these days.

That actually is a legitimate

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That actually is a legitimate excuse. One of the reasons the T is replacing the CharlieCard is that it uses a proprietary system that the T doesn't have full control of. Thus it's likely not actually a change the T can make itself.

And it's never been a high enough priority to spend the time, money, and effort on implementing - after all, where is an out-of-system transfer really practical on the T? Charles to Bowdoin is about it. There are other places where it is possible (e.g. along the E and Orange), but pointless except in the event of a service disruption (since they go to the same place). Out-of-system transfers are important in places like NYC, with multiple legacy subway systems that cross but for historical ownership reasons don't have a direct connection, but less important on the T, where we only have 4 lines and they all cross each other with direct transfers (except red and blue). The number of people using such a transfer is small enough that it likely really wasn't worth the T's time to implement with the existing CharlieCard system.

Yeah but...

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If the Charlie Card system can already handle a bus-to-bus transfer, surely the programming to add train-to-train transfers can't be rocket science?

It's not rocket science, but

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It's not rocket science, but since the existing CharlieCard system is a closed, proprietary system, the MBTA is generally prevented from making changes to it without paying the manufacturer to do so. I forget the actual arrangement, but it basically boils down to "this is what you have. If you want to change it, you have to pay us to do it for you".

This has come up in the past with proposals such as peak/off peak/premium fares (e.g. surcharges for late night service), and is not feasible with the current system, which is part of why the T is replacing it.

I agree in general

There are a few other plausible cases, E to D near Brookline Village, B/C/D along Chestnut Hill Ave, Lechmere to Kendall, etc. but agreed they're not terribly common.

I do think it comes down to priorities still, as other contemporary systems (also by Cubic) have supported OOS transfers (e.g., London). It may also legitimately not be a priority, and pass penetration is pretty high here compared to other places IIRC, but I do feel like the MBTA stopped thinking about the fare system about 3 years back and is now just saying "new system" as quick way to avoid having to address anything else new for the next X years.

I do feel like the MBTA

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I do feel like the MBTA stopped thinking about the fare system about 3 years back and is now just saying "new system" as quick way to avoid having to address anything else new for the next X years.

Agree 100% - and honestly, who can blame them? Why would you invest money into improving something that you're already working on replacing? For something like this that isn't high priority, it's not worth it.

Back Bay to Copley would help

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Back Bay to Copley would help for a trip from say Jackson to Kenmore. D line to C line at Reservoir would help for a trip like Newton Highlands to Coolidge Corner

It's difficult to take Ari

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It's difficult to take Ari seriously with how insulting every word about MassDOT is. Maybe he'd have better luck getting someone in the DOT to listen if he weren't so rude and condescending.

I agree that the state doesn't want to build the Red-Blue Connector, and has made that obvious, but that's no excuse for things like calling MassDOT "a morass of incompetence". Many of the people who work there work very hard and do their jobs the best they can.

Finally, while this is an excellent analysis, and I completely agree that cut-and-cover would likely be a better option than a bored tunnel, I would like to see the state's justification for why they ruled it out. As an engineer I'm inclined to believe they have a reason beyond intentional sabotage, especially given that they have a LOT more information to work with than Ari does - in the form of surveys, etc. Unless, that is, Ari has also paid for a survey and associated research?

Well, that's the sort of

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Well, that's the sort of questions that the study is supposed to answer. And given that it doesn't, we really have no way to judge whether the result makes sense or not. Maybe the MassDOT engineers are working diligently to find the best alternatives to build this, or maybe they really are all completely incompetent, or maybe the DOT is intentionally sandbagging the project because they don't want to build it, but without any published information about why this was the only alternative we just don't know.

Cut & cover wasn't done

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Cut & cover wasn't done because of all the money and years of construction which already went into rebuilding Cambridge Street in 2004.

Bomb and cover then

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Cambridge street is a travesty of 1970s stupidity. A divided highway with no room for bikes, ridiculous bricky crap in the middle wasting space, and jaywalking launch pads.

Burn it with fire!

I agree

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I agree. His name calling doesn't help his point at all, just makes him look a bit like a spoiled kid who doesn't get his way so he resorts to name calling. Don't burn bridges, it's these same people that you're going to have to be nicey with to get anything you want done. Best not to piss off people, even if you don't like what they are doing. Make friends, not enemies.

Finally, while this is an excellent analysis, and I completely agree that cut-and-cover would likely be a better option than a bored tunnel, I would like to see the state's justification for why they ruled it out. As an engineer I'm inclined to believe they have a reason beyond intentional sabotage, especially given that they have a LOT more information to work with than Ari does - in the form of surveys, etc. Unless, that is, Ari has also paid for a survey and associated research?

I also agree here too. This is an arm chair discussion that really doesn't get to the root why, other than his own opinion. And like you, I agree that MassDOT has the surveys and documentation to say why they didn't want to. Sure a cut and cover would be cheaper. but from my attendance to those meetings like well over 10 years ago, I remember alot of NIMBY's on Beacon Hill didn't want any blasting or pounding at the surface in fear of foundations cracking and damaging their homes. (and about that time the city was wrapping rebuilding of Cambridge Street).

The deeper you go, the less earth will be jolted at the surface. Plus the other thing his write up does not include is the fact that the T (and many transit projects in general) will not build 'dead end' stations anymore. (whereas there's no track beyond the station for turning around or layover). The tunnel needs to be deep enough so track/tunnel can extend beyond under Charles/MGH station piling's and go UNDER the station. A cut and cover track won't do that nor will will provide the correct amount of incline to do that.

I'm a total amateur so bear with me...

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but wouldn't it make more sense to extend the Red Line which is already above ground than keep digging the Blue Line tunnel towards Charles? A few blocks of elevated train along Cambridge?

I love this idea so much--sorry to hear it's kind of a dead duck.

You are in luck

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Because until the 1960s that is how the Blue Line used to connect to the red line, as the cars were stored at Eliot Shops in Harvard Square. There used to be a portal at Joy Street with elevated tracks that connected to the red line tracks.

But "elevated" anything is a dirty word in Boston.. so it will never pass. A tunnel is the way to go.

Not elevated tracks

Those were surface level tracks that led onto the Longfellow Bridge, where the Blue Line cars could be switched onto the Red Line tracks and coupled to a Red Line train for towing to the Eliot shops. This connection became unnecessary once the Blue Line was extended in the early 1950s to Orient Heights yard.

That is correct, they were

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That is correct, they were surface tracks that were originally used by streetcars. The Blue Line cars were only moved from the portal to the connection on the bridge late at night, after regular service hours, as it was impractical to move them in mixed traffic during regular service hours.
Although a lot of historic photos are out there of Boston transit vehicles, I don't think I have ever seen a photo of this move being made, as night time photography was more of a challane in the 1924-52 time period than it would be in later years.
The rapid transit cars were usually towed by a work car during the move. When the Blue Line was converted from streetcar to rapid transit in 1924, a small storage and repair area was located in the tunnel east of Maverick for the rapid transit cars. The cars were only towed to the Red Line shops in Cambridge when they required more substantial repair work (like changing out wheels) that couldn't be done in the tunnel storage area. The tunnel storage area is now part of the present day active tunnel between Maverick and Airport.


There are two ways to accomplish your suggestion, and both of them are bad.

The first is the RL splits after Charles with a spur going to govt center. This drastically reduces the number of rl trains that can go through downtown, the very section of track where capacity is needed the most. Think about south bound trains: every other one, or every third one, would split from the main track to reach GC. On the other side of things, such a set up would be useful to BL passengers who wanted to go only north. Those who want to go south on the red line would have to transfer twice, once to the red line spur and again from a north bound train to a south bound train, which is not any improvement from the current situation. (And getting back has the same imbalance).

The other possibility is completely rerouting the entire red line through downtown. Elevated.

Three Thoughts

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1. Yes, Ari could use a dose of 'charm school' (or an editor) in his writing. But he's pushed the narrative forward, and that's more important.
2. Extending the existing 'Joy Street' tunnel and using it for an underground pedestrian walkway with a moving sidewalk seems like an idea worth further exploration. (The MBTA is a quirky system compared to, say, Washington and San Francisco, that were built in 'one-shot'. This would be another quirk.)
3. Re the Charlie Card: What's done is done. But when a government agency purchases only software object code, but not the source code, it's usually a long-term mistake. The MBTA is not at all unique in this regard.

Yeah but

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1. Yes, Ari could use a dose of 'charm school' (or an editor) in his writing. But he's pushed the narrative forward, and that's more important.

But his narrative gets lost when he starts name calling. As a business professional, if I see any of that garbage anywhere in an email or something that gets sent to me, I immediately stop reading and delete the email. It's unprofessional. Most professionals do this. No one likes to be called names. Its not worth my time to wade thru being called names or whatever to get vital information I would want to read.

Like I said above, if he wants to be taken seriously, he needs to play nicey with folks over at MassDOT otherwise they will just ignore him. And trust me on this one, you don't want to be ignored by state officials when you have an agenda to push. You will get a very cold shoulder if they don't like you.

And he's said this before.. except last time it was for an elevated structure. Here's his post from 2 years ago.


Which makes me take this entire post for a grain of salt. Writing about the same topic again. Like a dog tied to a tree in the back yard that barks at everything.. they do just because they can and hope someone else will listen .


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If you don't like my writing, feel free to start your own blog. I'd suggest Wordpress over blogspot, but didn't know that many years back.


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I never said I didn't like your writing. I'm just picking it apart. And I do think you need to learn some tact and some charm.

And some of us have other interests besides transit, and have lives and such where we don't have time to spend hours thinking and writing columns about projects that will never go anywhere. While it's nice to dream, some of us would rather spend our time nurturing other things in their life.. things that actually may happen with some effort. But thanks for your suggestion, it's been taken under advisement.

Now I have a suggestion for you. As great as your passion is, imagine if you focused your energy on projects that need the support and activism, rather than writing about dead horse projects. Imagine what would happen.. Passion is a good thing. Focusing Passion on useless items is not. Focus on the useful things instead. More will happen, and you'll be taken seriously.

speaking of charm school

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Someone woke up on the arrogant and pretentious side of the bed this morning, belittling someone's passion projects as useless wastes of time. You're free to live your life the way you want cybah, do you really need to spend 2 paragraphs trashing someone who is actually trying to contribute and telling them how to live their life?

As great as your take-down was, imagine if you focused your energy on things that need to be taken down, rather than trashing someone anonymously on the internet.

"some of us have interests besides transit"
No one cares what you are or are not interested in. This article is about transit. If you don't like transit, don't read it.

"some of us have lives where we do nothing to contribute to society, we spend no time thinking about issues in our world, and generally expect everyone else to solve everything for us"
Oh sorry, I just edited that one to clarify what you were really saying.

I think you're the one who needs to get a life.

Tools of rhetoric may be mystifying

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This ain't my first rodeo.

As you've mentioned, I've written about this before. I happened to dig up some more documents and look in to the costs and methodology and realize how bogus it was (an alternatives analysis should have, well, alternatives). However, I decided to take a different approach here than the first time, mainly due to the status of this project.

For instance, when I first wrote about Allston, I wrote about it from a "looking outside the box" perspective. The kernel of that idea is now being considered as a major alternative to the state's that's-how-we've-always-done-it approach.

With the T's late night service, I took a different approach. First, in wrote about the "secret" early morning buses they don't publicize and barely note on schedules. Within an hour or two I had a nastygram from someone at the T (Well, something supposedly sent to them, that they forwarded to me; I'm pretty sure they sent it to themselves to mask their intentions. I really should post that letter some time.) which was set up well for the already-conceived follow-up posted soon thereafter, which has been iterated in to a potential for 24/7 bus service in Boston for the first time in more than half a century.

I've written before about what certainly appears to be gross incompetence at the T (and I'd back this up by saying most other transit agencies have in-house staff which run procurement (Chicago, for example, uses a long-range in-house contractor); they don't farm it all out piecemeal). And I've used ad hominem as a device, mainly when someone runs amok with misusing data. I sort of take it to a logical extreme. (Long and short of it: it only works if the person really is wrong.)

In this case, I believe that MassDOT's agenda is most certainly to inflate the numbers to the extent that the project is too expensive to build. There is no way in a logical universe that a 1300' tunnel extension would cost $750 million (or, by their calculations, the cut-and-cover version would cost $900 million). Utility relocation ain't cheap, but it ain't that expensive either. And this is emblematic of a larger issue: projects MassDOT wants to build move forward whether they are merited or not. Did 128 really need another lane south of Route 9? The cost of that project was only 3.5 times the original cost. But since MassDOT (read: MassHighway) wanted to build that in the first place, the original cost was low enough to go forward. If they hadn't wanted to build it, they certainly could have come up with a scheme to inflate the cost higher and then apologetically told motorists to deal with the congestion.

So here's the deal. I won't humblebrag about it: I've had more success at getting things done with transportation in Boston than most. (Coming soon: a bus lane on the North Washington Bridge. Didn't even make the blog; I just showed up at a meeting with several friends and we nicely badgered the DOT types who hadn't even considered whether this was possible.)

At play here are the concepts of ethos, pathos and logos as methods of persuasion, and that they have to be used in that order for maximum effect. Ethos establishes authority. While an outsider, I've had some success in establishing some authority with the page I've been writing for—well, let's just say a for a long time. Am I a thorn in some people's side? Sure. But a constructive thorn, mostly. Pathos is going after the audience's emotions. Here, the audience is less MassDOT (which has made its intentions plainly clear, as I argue here) and more the general public. So what may be perceived as petulancy is rather a method to connect with the audience. The layman who hasn't read the dry reports may not realize how outlandish $750 million is for a project extending a quarter mile (I've linked to several cases which point out how ridiculous this is). It is to try to connect with this audience that I seek to discredit MassDOT. But then comes logos. This is the meat of the argument. Having established ethos and pathos, I am able to present the logical information in a way that cements the thesis—that MassDOT has no idea what they're doing—while (hopefully) being engaging as it is informative.

Now, would I go in to a meeting and call MassDOT's engineers morons to their faces? Probably not. (Well, actually, I might, in this case.) But that is a very, very different audience, one which requires a very different ethos and pathos (even if the underlying logic remains the same). Since I don't see any meetings on the horizon, the main point here is to continue to point out how ridiculous these cost estimates are, and to have something to point to should this discussion come back in to the fore in the future.

Now, to get to the engineering question: an alternative analysis at this stage should not reject something as impossible (cut-and-cover tunneling) without any explanation, especially if the cost is similar. Yet that is exactly what is done. The only alternatives here are whether to build an intermediate station: it was assumed that the cost—which, as I've pointed out, is more expensive than much more complex projects in cities like New York and San Francisco—was reasonable. I call BS: any engineer worth their salt would see how ridiculous such a cost estimate is. I'm not saying I have the same set of data as whoever wrote this report—I certainly don't—but the preponderance of evidence certainly points to a skewed set of priorities. If the report said "cut-and-cover tunneling would result in the relocation of multiple critical steam/water/life science lines and the cost to relocate them along is x" then I'd see their point. But I've seen far too often MassDOT (and other agencies) setting an agenda and then writing a less-than-truthful report to support said agenda. I believe this to be the case here, too.

You didn't seem to realize

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You didn't seem to realize that simply extending the existing tunnel west would require westbond trains to negotiate a 3 m.p.h. loop for most of its legnth with space restrictions so tight that a wheelchair could not be evacuated in an emergency. Don't you think any engineer worth their salt might see that as a major issue?

The connection between the

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The connection between the active Blue Line tracks under Bowdoin Sq. and the tunnel towards Joy St. (still used to park trains) is well into the turn around loop, not in the center of the loop as drawn. So westbound trains would have to move very slowly into the tight loop to get to the tunnel connection. The loop is so tight that if a train had to be evacuated in an emergency, it would be difficult for someone in a wheelchair to move from car to car. Back in the late 1970s/early 1980s when the Blue Line extension to Charles was being seriously considered for the first time, that wasn't a major concern (they even used to let passengers ride around the loop at one time). By the time MassDOT was doing the more recent Red/Blue study such a situation was no longer considered acceptable. Avoiding any use of the old loop to continue westbound was probably a major consideration in the decision to propose a new tunnel going underneath the loop alignment.

You can see from this 1921

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You can see from this 1921 map:

that going westbound trains (or trolleys at the time the map was produced) have to go well into the loop before being able to head westbound. In the eastbound direction, trains can come into Bowdoin without moving through much of the loop at all.

Good point, and thanks for the info

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But wouldn't it still be cheaper to add a new WB track cutting across the middle of the loop, than to dig a new, deeper tunnel under everything else? It seems like this issue would have to be addressed one way or another in either configuration.

If they want to maintain

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If they want to maintain service during construction, you need to go under and not through the loop (like when New York built their new South Ferry terminal). The location of coulmne supports east of Government Center and the geometry of the curve from State just before the present cross-over location, makes it impractical to put in a full double-crossover there to maintain service.
The old tunnel also starts to head towrd the surface west of Bowdoin (as it was an incline to the old portal), so you have to start going down anyway to extend west.

Bowdoin is closed on the

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Bowdoin is closed on the weekends already, isn't it? Doesn't seem like a high priority for preserving service during construction. If they can justify shutting down Gov Ceter for years, which is actually a huge stop with a transfer, a tiny spur stop that's already not run full hours should be fine?


To my knowledge, the T has continued opening Bowdoin full-time after Government Center reopened.

You need the loop at Bowdoin

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You need the loop at Bowdoin to maintain high-frequency rush-hour service on the Blue Line period (not just to Bowdoin station). The existing cross-back at Government Center can not handle a rush-hour frequency and the tunnel geometry makes it difficult to change it so it could.

Train Tunnel?

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Go anywhere in Europe where they have these same issues, and they typically start with a pedestrian tunnel.

Don't ever change Uhub commentators.

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An article about major subway construction quickly turns into dozens of people looking for a subway transfer. Who says discourse is dead?