The cost of connecting North and South stations

Harvard Kennedy School researchers tried to figure out the cost of a North-South rail link, find it would be between roughly $3.8 billion for a single-tunnel, two-track layout and $5.9 billion for a higher-capacity system with two tunnels and four tracks.

Sounds like a lot, but compare to the MBTA's 2003 estimate of $9.4 billion to $15.8 billion for the work (the Harvard researchers say a key factor is the dramatic decrease in the cost of tunnel boring over the past 15 years). And moving the postal-service facility and building new tracks and platforms at South Station - the state's current official preference, won't be cheap, either.



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The cost sucks, but this

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The cost sucks, but this should be done. The two tunnel system would be ideal.


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So if we apply the Big Dig 'estimate' formula to this estimate....

3.9bil turns into 22billion.

Because we all know this state cannot complete a project on time and under budget.

Billion, with a B

Speaking of the Big Dig, IIRC, the proposal that was used to sell the Big Dig included a North-South rail link. That got dropped when they got the approval


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Corrected. Makes my snide joke even more apparently

Yeah some people say the footings and some stuff exists for a NS Rail Link already in the B-D tunnels.

The slurry walls around the

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The slurry walls around the Big Dig tunnels specifically go deep enough to also accommodate the NSRL. Essentially they took a hypothetical alignment for the NSRL and kept that space free so that the Big Dig tunnels wouldn't get in the way of the NSRL when it's built.

I think it'd be a stretch to say that there's already any infrastructure in place for the NSRL, but it was absolutely planned for and accommodated by the Big Dig.


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Its supposedly all clean back fill in there. Moving all of the utilities/infrastructure wasn't an insignificant of the Big Dig's cost/complexity along with random historical/archaeological finds, so having the slurry walls there and clean dirt to just haul out makes the tunneling as easy as can be. That is, of course, if you trust they did what they claimed to do.

Look, I don't know what you

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Look, I don't know what you have against me, but can you please stop replying to everything I post saying crap like this? If you want to actually refute something I post, please feel free to do so. I don't know everything, some information I have been told over the years may be incorrect, and I'm happy to be corrected, but I'm not making this up.

But it was definitely worth

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But it was definitely worth it and this project would be worth it too. The commuter rail needs to be expanded. No more years of studies. Just do it.

Show me the money

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I often say this about large transit projects.. show me the money.

I agree, it would be a great asset to our region.. money from the federal gov't has dried up for these projects. Not only thanks to Orange Cheeto in the white house, but because of the big dig, the fed will be hard pressed to give us any money for decades to come for large construction projects such as this.

Won't disagree

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But, I will say that the Feds are still giving us pretty much a dollar for dollar match ($1 Billion, right?) for the GLX - and even with the dumpster fire that has been they haven't pulled funding for it. I think the NSRL would be easier to get federal money for if only because it would also benefit Amtrak and their operations on the NEC.

As for larger scaled projects, a lot of the bridge/highway stuff recently has been OK (not on the same level), and as I know you know the Silver Line Gateway project is (shockingly) seeming to move along on budget/schedule. Not saying something at the magnitude of the NSRL would, too, but we seem to be getting a bit better at things. The NSRL connection has the potential to really revolutionize our regional transportation network and operations - its really needs to be done (although I myself am not sold on things like the central station).


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I know... I eat some crow when I say that this state can't have a road or transportation project on time and budget. But..

and as I know you know the Silver Line Gateway project is (shockingly) seeming to move along on budget/schedule.

I do know. But I also know SLG as forecasted in 2013 was suppose to open Fall of this year. Now it's spring.

As far as budget.. its "on budget" and a little over.. from what I am told. Generally its on budget because its how you determine what is apart of certain phases, and what got shifted around. Phase I is over budget now because Phase II items got moved to Phase I, but is it really over budget since the $ was moved around. Maybe so, maybe not.

I would say as long as the

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I would say as long as the end dollar amount (for all phases) turns out the same, its on budget - or even reasonably close (shit happens, blah blah blah). btw, love the updates on it :)

Federal Money: Uncertain and Slow

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Federal funding for the NYC-Newark Gateway project is a guide for federal funding of NSRL. And maybe a project in line ahead of the NSRL.

The Trump administration has shown little enthusiasm for funding the Gateway project (as well as the Calif. high-speed rail project), although the Congressional delegations from both states seem to be 'all in'. And the Gateway project is a lot more in the national interest than Boston's NSRL.

There may be some funding for the NSRL, but I'll wager it will be YEARS in coming.

As an indicator of 'years', the 'new' Fore River Bridge connecting Weymouth and Quincy opened yesterday, Aug. 16. When the 'old' bridge became unsafe, a 'temporary' bridge was put in. That was in 2003.

I Beg To Differ — The Big Dig Was Not "Worth It"

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There's no denying some improvements were valuable; particularly the extension of the Turnpike to the airport; but for the money invested, it hasn't made a big difference in overall traffic conditions. During rush hour, driving through the O'Neil tunnel doesn't seem any faster than it was years ago on the old elevated Central Artery. At least back then, you were outdoors with interesting views of Boston, instead of creeping along inside filthy, decrepit tunnels.

Because so much money was spent on this one project, nothing was done to untangle the numerous other highway bottlenecks around the area — it doesn't matter how big the Big Dig is, the roads leading out of it can't handle the traffic demand, so everything comes to a standstill.

It's important to remember, the original project included critical mass transit improvements, specifically intended to mitigate the additional traffic the Big Dig would support:

  • Red Line connection to Blue Line at Charles/MGH
  • Blue Line extension to Lynn and Salem
  • Green Line extension to Medford
  • Silver Line as rapid-transit instead of slow-moving busses
  • North/South rail connector and other extensions to Commuter Rail

All of the above were eliminated, and all of the money was spent on very elaborate and expensive highways for motor vehicles. Who can say overall traffic in the Boston area is any better now than it was before the Big Dig? Not only were the transit improvements that could have taken many cars off the road never built, the existing system hasn't been maintained to provide adequate, reliable service.

If half the money spent on the Big Dig was invested in rapid-transit, it would be a much more pleasant commute today for everyone. That's why I feel it wasn't "worth it".

It would be worse now

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If it hadn't been done - the elevated needed to be repaired/replaced, and the traffic on it was already bad. Think of today's volumes on it. Plus, the Big Dig opened up the entire greenway, and really allowed for development there and the seaport to happen, and has lead to much, much higher property values (and thus increased property taxes). The Big Dig was necessary to do - as are the transit projects you listed. Its not a one or the other thing when it comes to what needs to be done. Don't forget that all of the 695/etc highway money was (thank god) diverted into public transit at least.

Adora--I mean, agreed

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on many points. They should have added more lanes to the tunnel, included NSRL, and be closer to budget. And also should have found a way to add tolls.

No. Only the GLX was to be done as mitigation.

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Along with water shuttles that were stopped long ago because no one rode them. The rest is your personal wish list, which keeps getting longer every year. People from Lynn have been insisting for decades that they were promised the bl, but it is a fiction. Pretending that the man owes you is fun.

Please check your facts on

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Please check your facts on the transit mitigation.

The NSRL and Blue Line to Lynn were not part of the commitment.

The current Silver Lines meet the agreement -- there was no commitment to rail. In addition, some other projects did get built, like the Greenbush, Newburyport, and TF Green Commuter Rail, 6-car Blue Line trains and stations, a new Orange Line signal system, and several hundred new buses.

The uncompleted projects are the Red-Blue connector (since dropped), and Green Line Extension (first phase is under construction).

Note that the bl to Lynn fable has grown to include Salem

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in the last few years. Again, the list keeps growing. The Silver Line was always to be a bus in a tunnel, because otherwise you would have to build yet another tunnel under the harbor to get trains to Logan. Buses are used so they can take the Ted. There was talk of a tunnel from Washington street under down-town which would allow buses to go from Dudley to Logan, which never panned out. But some guys come down with a case of the vapors of an indignity of (gasp) a bus in a tunnel. So you just pretend it was promised to be trains but we got ripped off.

Similarly, the NSRL has had ardent fans over the decades. Very popular with guys who dig tunnels and those who have train sets in their basement. During the Bush Administration it got swept up in the entire No Blood for Oil narrative and people were swearing that if you built it then everyone on the eastern seaboard would take Amtrak everywhere, and Peace and Love would spread the world because we wouldn't need to invade Middle Eastern countries anymore. While that was a lot to put on one tunnel it sadly fell through but when the Big Dig ballooned to $20+B it was scrapped. But no one ever claimed it was promised as mitigation until you stumbled by with you wish list, 20 years after the fact.

Silver Line Was Billed As "Rapid-Transit" — Bus-Rapid-Transit

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The Silver Line was hailed as a Bus-Rapid-Transit service to whisk passengers from South Station to the airport. It was also intended to provide comparable or better service along Washington Street than the old elevated Orange Line it replaced. The final design and implementation of both segments was so impractical and unpleasant to use, it's failed to fulfill the promise of removing many vehicles from the road.

The plan for a Silver Line Phase-3 tunnel under downtown was ill-conceived and somewhat pointless. The clamor for a "One-Seat-Ride from Dudley to the Airport" seemed to be coming more from the "consultants" who would profit from the wildly expensive project. Instead of coming up with a less ambitious terminal, nothing at all was built, so the Silver Line busses are choked amidst all the other traffic in the busiest part of the city.

The Silver line just isn't effective as the mass-transit mitigation it was originally supposed to provide. It's true, they are busses, but they aren't rapid-transit.

          ( hopefully Cybah's new Silver Line segment to Chelsea will be rapid! )

I concede you are correct regarding the extension of the Blue Line to Salem, but there's absolutely no excuse for not building the already-designed connection to the Red Line at Charles/MGH!IMAGE(          ( Red/Blue Connector )

rail link

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Apparently one of the real advantages of the tunnel approach is how much it would increase capacity. See this great article:

Not a bad idea

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You could also ease auto congestion in the tunnel between the two if you built an elevated highway over the Greenway.

If only

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If we could only build a ring road around downtown that would bypass the tunnel altogether and maybe have an interchange with an expressway that runs down towards the southwest linking up with 95 and 128. Seems that would help traffic flow...

Save us? Musk does everything

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Save us? Musk does everything will billion dollar taxpayer subsidies. I'd rather give our tax dollars directly to a contractor to do work rather than make a shady huckster middleman rich in the process.

NSRL should have been part of the Big Dig along with a dedicated Silver Line tunnel to the airport.

This absolutely should have

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This absolutely should have been done as part of the Big Dig. But better late than never.

This will allow us to avoid expanding South Station. It will allow many more commuter rail commuting options than are easily done today. And it will allow Amtrak routes to connect, eliminating the Orange Line transfer and layover in Boston that is required today.

So instead of expanding South

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So instead of expanding South Station at ground level, we'll tunnel under it and several miles further? That will involve building more platforms at the tunnel level, which I would say counts as an expansion.

That's like saying to avoid having to fix your car, you'll buy a space ship.

And moving the postal-service

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And moving the postal-service facility and building new tracks and platforms at South Station - the state's current official preference, won't be cheap, either.

I ask this every time this comes but has the Postal Service indicated in any possible way that they want to move? Because the state can huff and puff all they want but they won't be blowing away federal land ownership. I would hope the people in charge of these things aren't THAT stupid.

Starting to think the focus on SSX is just Baker's way of getting out of doing anything.

A few thoughts (and questions

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A few thoughts (and questions)...

IF the NSRL was to be built - two-track tunnel. There's just no prospect of enough use of it anytime within the next few decades to justify expense of tunneling for four tracks.

At the stations themselves, you would need to widen out to at least four tracks with two center platforms - Amtrak trains occupy platform/time whether they're going through or turning back, and you need to be able to get other trains past them. Maybe a fifth track at stations to allow out-of-service trains to be shuttled to/from shop.

Grade is a big issue a lot of people don't seem to think about.

Overall grade of run is often about 1% - about 100 FT of run to have 1 FT change in elevation. How deep would "South Station Under" need to be? Mezzanine is about, what, 15 FT below Summer St? Silver Line busway, about 15-18 below that. Red Line tracks another 20+ feet below that. That's about 54 feet. To clear under that you'd need at least another 20 feet, bringing total to nearly 75 feet. That means you need to start descent from surface into the ground somewhere at least 7500 feet - almost 1.5 miles - before Summer Street.

1 mile (if we take a steeper grade) puts you in Widett Circle. ~1.4 miles puts you somewhere in the Amtrak yard between Southampton St and South Boston Bypass Rd - which would be perfect IF Amtrak approached via the Fairmount Line.

If you want to use Amtrak's current route (and pick up a couple of commuter rail's more active lines) I don't even know where you could start. A mile from Summer Street puts you at Arlington St. 1.5 miles would be somewhere a little west of Back Bay Station. That's a narrow right of way there, with a lot of use already. Would you agree to take a platform and track out of service at Back Bay to start a tunnel there? If not, where? Somewhere in the southwest corridor and take some of it out of service? It'd be a lot better to use Beacon Park, but the main Amtrak traffic comes in between there and Back Bay.

Then you have similar questions for North Station.

...and you want to make this as useful to as much of the commuter rail system as possible, with some through trains and easier access to the service shops. That might mean branching to South and West from South Station, and Northeast and Northwest from North Station. It defintely means needing to electrify commuter rail lines.

I have some doubt on how much this is needed, and a lot of doubt on it being cost-effective

The tunnels/stations/portals

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The tunnels/stations/portals are pretty much already determined. South Station Under would actual be under the post office/channel. Portal inclines would be about 3 degrees - and thus require electrics. A four track system pretty much future proofs things for another century+. Also, one could theoretically use a set of the track for rapid transit instead of CR/Amtrak.

I hadn't gotten to that part,

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I hadn't gotten to that part, but IF you're going to build NSRL, putting lower station under post office site is the only thing that makes sense. Demo most of the building, shaft down, reinforce the basin wall against the channel if needed, build the lower station, build ramps/elevators/etc..., fill, then add commuter tracks at surface - much better than trying to build under current tracks & station building. Then some can develop a mixed-use building on top of the new surface station/post office.

Electric-only is typical for regular service in deep, long-run train tunnels in the US. regardless of incline.

Is the $3.9B figure based on including all the ventilation infrastructure (and bigger tunnel) that would be needed to make regular non-electric service in a tunnel viable?

3% is a bit steep, but possible. Not the steepest regular rail in the country - a quick search shows a few as much as 5% on certain stretches. Willing to take bets on how much of CR rolling stock can reliably climb 3% grade from a full stop? Adam better start working on headline rhymes and "little engine that couldn't" allusions now.

Set of tracks for rapid transit? Great. A rapid transit tunnel with no rapid transit line running in or out of it at either end. The perfect companion to the #49 - excuse me... Silver Line "BRT" - surface branches outside the downtown core with no tunnel to connect them.

Future-proofing? If they build space for future use without a specific timetable to implement it... You end up having to maintain it - see the 2nd Ave subway in NY. You have to secure it - it's bad enough with the homeless population in the Prudential section of the Pike. Also, unused asset will get repurposed - 2039 op-eds will be "95/93 overcrowded. Unused tunnel below. Convert it to truck bypass tunnel." Build/seal or reserve space for necessary features like tunnel portals or foundations, but do not build a tunnel that isn't going to be used.

There's just no prospect of

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There's just no prospect of enough use of it anytime within the next few decades to justify expense of tunneling for four tracks

The entire problem with infrastructure planning in this country in one sentence.

Not at all.

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Not at all.

You build out to a reasonable projection of use and leave room to facilitate some expansion beyond that.

That's the way it is with interstate highways. You don't build a six or eight-lane interstate. You secure the right-of-way for a six-lane or eight-lane interstate. You build the critical infrastructure in such a way that would be ready for an eight-lane interstate (such as the span of overpasses at crossroads). Then you build a four-lane interstate with a wide, grassy median. If demand increases, starting to approach the capacity of the road, that's when you add the third lane in each direction, or someday even the fourth lane - and all you need to do is grade & pave a lane, not rebuild overpasses and move abutments.

Looking at transit - that was a criticism I and some others here had for the restored Greenbush Line. It was entirely justifiable to build it as only a single-track line. It was unjustifiable - shortsighted and possible sabotage of any prospect of future expansion - to build elements of the restored right-of-way (such as the Hingham Center cut or the 3A overpass) that either (a) constrict it to one track, making a second track impossible without a complete rebuild, or (b) put the one track down the center of a r.o.w. that's wide enough for two tracks, meaning you'd need to rip up the one track and build two instead of simply adding a second.

I wrote a fairly detailed

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I wrote a fairly detailed analysis of the practicality of the NSRL addressing all your points on here a while ago, but I can't find it now...

2 vs 4 tracks comes down to how much you intend to run through it. The best you can hope for at rush hour is maybe 6 trains per hour in each direction (~5 minutes for unloading/loading, ~5 minutes between trains, which, unlike the subway, can only run so close together due to signal blocks and braking distances). So yeah, if you only run one or two commuter rail lines through it from each side, two tracks would suffice. But there would be no capacity for expansion, no capacity for Amtrak, etc., so you'd still end up needing to expand South Station as well if you want to actually grow the system to account for future demand. But if you want to run a couple lines through from each side (e.g. Worcester, Providence, and one of the Old Colony lines, plus Rockburyport and Lowell), or Amtrak service (e.g. extending Acelas/Regionals to a new 128-esque station at Woburn) you'd be a lot better off with 4.

Allowable grade depends on whether you electrify as well. The ruling grade on railroads is usually determined by freight, rather than passenger. Passenger-only lines (like the NSRL would be) can be a lot steeper. For example, the ruling grade on the North River Tunnels under the Hudson to Penn Station is 1.93%. So 2% is a better assumption than 1%.

Some of the previous NSRL studies have scoped out potential tunnel portal locations:

  • Worcester/Providence/Franklin: in the cut east of BBY
  • Old Colony: Widett Circle/Southampton St
  • North Side: two separate portals on each side of BET

Regarding the Back Bay cut, it might actually make more sense to build two separate portals west of BBY and a new lower level there. The Southwest Corridor is already at capacity, and will need something done eventually (which is why they're adding a second platform at Ruggles - to increase flexibility). Converting the Needham line to an OL extension would help in the short term, but long term if we ever expect substantial service increases to the south (e.g. South Coast Rail, additional Providence frequencies) the SW Corridor will need more capacity. When you can't build out anymore, build up or down!

Finally, as for electrification, as touched on above it would help the NSRL achieve greater throughput with steeper grades (and no need for complicated ventilation systems), but it would also be a boon for the commuter rail overall. Honestly, it's inevitable.

The most achievable service configuration for the NSRL to have the maximum benefit would be to have through electric service to the biggest destinations, like Lowell - Providence, and then frequent electric short turns to places along 128 and intermediate destinations (e.g. Salem, Waltham, Reading, Brockton), with the longer trips and branches not worth electrifying (Fitchburg, Haverhill, Franklin, Old Colony) running diesel or dual-mode into the existing surface terminals.

The NSRL is definitely needed, but less so if you think of it in the context of the current system, and more so if you think of it in the context of what the system could be, which is a second subway system. Enabling one-seat run-through commutes would free up a significant amount of capacity on the subway lines downtown, and lure more people off the highways, while maximizing the utilization of our current infrastructure.

How about we take the

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How about we take the frequent electric short-turns (the less expensive but far more useful part of your proposal), and skip the through trains from Providence to Lowell that hardly anyone needs?

Those would be more for

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Those would be more for equipment positioning, rather than due to passenger demand. If you want Providence trains to use the NSRL, they have to run through to somewhere. So to maximize equipment utilization you might as well run them all the way to Lowell, instead of turning them somewhere like Anderson (though this is, of course, an option).