South Station expansion plan calls for replacing Widett Circle businesses with train yard, more tracks in Readville

Proposed new South Station layout

Proposed expanded South Station.

A MassDOT environmental report details plans to expand South Station over nine years that would hinge on getting the Postal Service to finally abandon its giant facility along Fort Point Channel and moving the food-distribution companies of Widett Circle someplace else.

Also, Readville residents would get an 18-foot-tall, 800-foot long noise barrier to protect them from the noise of new tracks and trains in the Yard 2 rail facility there.

One thing the report does not do is consider a possible tunnel link to South Station - an Alternatives section of the report only considers different ways to reconfigure the tracks immediately around South Station.

The report says that South Station needs both additional tracks at the station itself to accommodate increased numbers of both MBTA and Amtrak trains over the next 15 or so years - and places to store trains between trips.

The report calls for adding four new platforms and seven new tracks at a station expanded into the area now occupied by the Postal Service building - as well as re-opening the long closed Dorchester Avenue along the channel to the public.

Beyond the station itself, MassDOT says the station needs a far greater number of "layover" tracks to hold trains not immediately needed. It proposes to turn Widett Circle into a large layover facility, to add another new layover area at Beacon Park, near where the Framingham Line now crosses under the soon to be reconfigured Allston/Cambridge turnpike ramps, and by adding additional tracks to an existing facility in Readville to allow for the storage of eight new trains there, in addition to the ten that already use that yard.

The existing noise berm and barrier at Readville would be extended and increased in height to shield single-family homes along Wolcott Street and Wingate Road and apartment buildings on Riley Road and Sierra Road from noise that would otherwise exceed federal limits.

H/t Jameson Brown.



Free tagging: 


Wouldn't it be easier to:

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Wouldn't it be easier to:
-Dig up the original plans of South Station prior to the BRA demolishing 3/4ths of it
-Re-build that

Link to master report?

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Adam -the links only take you to the table of contents and the Alternatives section. Can you link to the master/main?

Edit - you can go to it by following your link to Twitter, but that's a lot of clicks!

Errr . . .

John Hines* might have other ideas for Widett Circle, given he's now working with the owner(s) to move them to the Seaport ...

Stupid me. *Hynes.

The state has this thing

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The state has this thing called eminent domain that tends to win. And he wants land from Massport to facilitate the move, which has one Stephanie Pollack on the board.

But virtually every proposal

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But virtually every proposal for redeveloping Widett Circle includes a layover yard for the T. Even the T's own plan for a layover at Widett includes provisions for air rights development on top. That's the beauty of railyards - they can fairly easily be decked over (see NYC, Hong Kong, etc). Much easier than highways because you can space supports between tracks.

Or Chicago

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It's a great idea, and would reconnect South Boston to the South End via a new neighborhood while increasing the usable space for transit.

If the city can pull it off, it's a win for everyone. It's also the reason why Boston2020 was a thing, they wanted to take it dirt cheap by eminent domain and use the Olympics as a reason to fast track everything without regulation.

And this is key to that,

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And this is key to that, because the track layout shown on Page 18 of the PDF that Adam linked to explicitly provisions for sticking air rights pegs between the tracks. The Widett 'bowl' has to be decked as a practical matter to square it with the elevated street level, otherwise street access down below is very cumbersome and limited to just a couple congested insertion points. Trains taking up the ground level give you the means of floating cost of the later deck, while at the same time eating zero redevelopment acreage and solving a critical transit need. Win-win. The only consideration for developing up top would be sticking a diesel exhaust ventilation stack on the property sort of like a much-shrunken version of those obelisk-shaped Pike vent stacks next to Rolling Bridge Park...something you can easily incorporate aesthetically into the side of a tower. If the T starts electrifying more and more of commuter rail before something is built atop...assume the vents shrink in size proportionately by ratio of electrics-to-diesels resting underneath.

Boston 2024 couldn't make anything happen here because the "Master Developer" for Widett had to swallow 100% of the decking costs before building anything on the site. That huge up-front risk scared away all prospective developers. What B24 didn't think to do was rope in MassDOT for exactly the build released here: a permanent ground-level storage easement that has ability to underwrite the decking costs that the Master Developer couldn't swing alone. They just assumed ground level would be massive amounts of parking or something.

FWIW...Red Line Cabot Yard in the pit between Rolling Bridge Park and Traveler St. + Traveler & W. 4th was similarly laid out in the 1960's for air rights cover-over on those 2 rectangular blocks. You can easily see by panning over on Google how the storage tracks are separated by just enough to drill air rights pegs between the tracks without disrupting any Red Line operations. That's exactly how the Widett Circle commuter rail storage is going to be set up. Granted, 50 years hasn't amounted to any buildings being constructed over Cabot Yard (nor has it on most of the Pike air rights parcels). And there's no guarantee all this talk about Widett is going to be any more fruitful. But whether the deck and buildings on top are built in 10 years or 110, the transit infrastructure--so desperately needed!--will be ready for it.

This is a good plan. Addresses the fatal flaws of B24's whiff on redeveloping the site, and maximizes the land usage. Depending on how the Mass Pike realignment crunches the numbers knowing that Widett is in-play, more real estate at Beacon Park currently earmarked for train storage may get traded down to make the Pike a little bit straighter and the cavity in the street grid a little less daunting. While MassDOT would be able to recoup some freed-up land sold to Harvard for better land use on that site, using the profits to offset the land acquisition and site prep costs for Widett. The study docs show they're going ahead and expanding Readville Yard 2 too on the side where the recycling center easement is...which on the face is an excess of storage. But they're probably doing that to cover their backs on the probability that further refinement of the Pike design does away with some/all of their Beacon Park space. Any which way it shakes out they're being smart about playing their land use chips, and that's good to see. Especially with how many moving parts--T/MassDOT, City Hall, BDPA, Massport (for the Marine Terminal relocation of the Food Market), and many private vendors--are in-play requiring inter-institutional cooperation (rare with this cast of characters!!!). We get a better transit system and a leg up on these redev parcels by doing this.

"FWIW...Red Line Cabot Yard

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"FWIW...Red Line Cabot Yard in the pit between Rolling Bridge Park and Traveler St. + Traveler & W. 4th was similarly laid out in the 1960's for air rights cover-over on those 2 rectangular blocks. You can easily see by panning over on Google how the storage tracks are separated by just enough to drill air rights pegs between the tracks without disrupting any Red Line operations"

The Red Line storage yard tracks are in the exact location as the old New Haven storage yard tracks they replaced in the early 1970s, and those spacings were dictated by the locations of the supports for the original Broadway bridge, not because of any plans for future air rights.

Oh hey that's me!

Thanks for writing this, Adam!

My comments in short:

1. We don't need such big midday layover facilities if we don't lay the trains over in the middle of the day - we could run them in service, and that would be a good thing.

2. When you're looking at alternatives, you should look at alternatives, like, oh I don't know, the NSRL, which would solve or mostly solve the issues SSX is trying to solve, PLUS solve them for North Station, PLUS do other good things.

3. Reopening Dot Ave is good, but we could reopen it for people walking and on bikes -no need for people to be driving there. And the lanes they show are too wide - 11 feet is unnecessary.


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Walking by there the other day I was thinking about how nice it would be if the street was open with a wide sidewalk and open window taverns / restaurants along the side facing the water.

The road is going to be used as a cut through,.especially at rush hour if they don't limit speed. It's going to need speed bump, or raised crosswalk crossings.

Why shouldn't it be a cut

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Why shouldn't it be a cut-through? It's a major road, and the city developed around it when it was a through street.

Pretty sure the city

Pretty sure the city developed around it when cars weren't invented.

More roads just means more driving and more congestion. Plus, there's clearly no need to open it to cars - they've been doing just fine without it for decades. As a car free space it will be massively safer for people on feet, more pleasant (no fumes, engine noise, honking, getting hit) and could be crafted into an amazing waterfront place. Also, road maintenance is expensive, much more than plaza/sidewalk, because heavy things cause potholes and cracks.

Should the same argument

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Should the same argument apply to any current or proposed road that allows cars?

Bikes and peds could be said to be doing fine without access to Dot Ave for decades, the same as cars. But it's still a good idea to open it to them.

The other side of the channel has some car-free paths. They're deserted.

It would be nice to make Boston a car-free utopia, but that's nowhere near the reality of the situation.

You need this even with the

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You need this even with the NSRL.

The myth--repeated loudly and ignorantly by Seth Moulton, among others who should know better--is that the stub-end terminals are "obsolete" and that commuter rail would be better/grander/more frequent routed entirely through the tunnel. That's not true at all, because the stub platforms are completely irrelevant to service levels.

The service limiter both north and south is NOT the stub platforms but the great mash-up of lines converging into North Station at Tower 1 Interlocking right before the Charles River drawbridges and into South Station at Cove Interlocking where the Northeast Corridor and Worcester Line mash in at a 90-degree angle.

Put the lines underground...the service limiter is "Tower 1 Under" and "Cove Under" all the same. Run-thru has some clear benefits, but NSRL is a very steep tunnel going very far underground in a very limited wiggle-room space left behind by the Big Dig. Unlike other "union" tunnels like SEPTA Center City (the oft-cited one) and abroad, speeds are going to be extremely slow in such a steep tunnel and these same line merges redone underground are going to be very tight. Nothing you can do about that, as that's what the Big Dig left us to work with. We are lucky that the CA/T project had the foresight to leave us with a fully viable open trajectory for it, because it took threading a very fine needle to make sure the path for NSRL didn't get blocked by all the other criscrossing crap underground. But the raw frequency increases aren't going to be revolutionarily higher than the current service levels in a 1:1 trade into the tunnel because those line mash-ups are the same limiter. Substantially better than today's lame frequencies...absolutely. French RER-level like we all dream, not even close. The tunnel grades just won't allow that kind of throughput.

Solution? NSRL in addition to the surface terminals. Because now you have TWO Tower 1's and TWO Coves to choose from--upstairs & downstairs--and can double-barrel frequencies up to EACH set of interlockings' limits. Now you're talking an outright doubling of frequencies. Throw on top modernized first-world operations and basically every line can run at dizzying near- rapid transit level frequencies. You won't ever get that making a binary choice of either/or surface or NSRL, so Moulton et al. empty another bullet in this project's foot every time they pooh-pooh the surface terminals as "19th century" with their misinformation campaign. It's the line merges, not the terminals or stub-end vs. run-thru.

Also...South Station Expansion is more about fixing the merges than it is the raw number of platforms. Originally South Station had a nice symmetrical track layout. When it was chopped in half in the 60's to build USPS, all the switches got compacted to the Atlantic Ave. side and the layout became lopsided. Now that traffic on the Northeast Corridor has exploded, the lopsided layout means that Amtrak and Providence trains fanning out to the middle platforms foul the switches of a lot of Needham, Stoughton, Franklin, and occasionally Fairmount trains with cross-cutting movements. It's harder to get trains off the platforms when the NEC is busiest, and very difficult to shuffle them in/out of the yard. This puts a real kink in plans for running DMU's on the "Indigo Lines" to Fairmount and Riverside-via-Worcester Line. Example: because the last inbound from Franklin emptied on Fairmount's platform and got blocked from escaping to the yard by a cross-cut conflict with a Stoughton train, there isn't a DMU available from the yard to send out for that next Indigo frequency to Readville. You either hold that empty 5-car Franklin train on the platform to send back out reassigned as a Fairmount local, or wait and have an uneven-spaced Indigo schedule. Not only that, having layovers pinned onto the platforms means Keolis has to hedge on an inflexible avg. # of cars per trainset to cover random schedule change-ups...when that seating guesstimate may be overkill for Fairmount and standing room -only for Providence.

Demolishing USPS serves up the breathing room to reconfigure the switches in less-pinched space and restore about 80% of the symmetry of old. Now nearly all of those cross-cutting movements are eliminated, you can have more trains moving simultaneously in/out of the station, you can clear the platforms way faster, and those Indigo sets that are very different size from a Providence or Worcester crowd-swallower can get staged. also need the adjacent layover yard if trains inside the station are going to be whizzing in/out that much more densely. Not because things are NOT moving often enough...but because they ARE moving so much more fluidly than before and you don't need to send a six-pack of coaches to do an intracity shuttle's job anymore. You're also running more trains period, especially on the off-peak...meaning those staffing shift changes get a whole lot bigger when they overchurn. You're not wasting time idling them on the platform so there's time at crew change to pick up trash in the're rotating into the adjacent yard to do that. And if you're running DMU's back and forth all day to Route 128...those small fuel tanks stuffed under their floors are going to need a refill at the Widett filling station a lot more frequently than a locomotive's 2000 gallon tank.

All of it...SSX, storage, NSRL...are interconnected. You have to fix what we stupidly broke about South Station's symmetry 50 years ago if you really, truly want our great NSRL-fortified Purple Line future to have real no-foolin' double or more the service. Those trains have to be flinging through the NSRL line mash-up and surface terminal mash-up *pew-pew!* *pew-pew!* to hit the kinds of frequency targets that'll make the Germans envious of us. In short: someone needs to beat Rep. Moulton over the head and say "Repeat after me: it's the frequencies, stupid!" That binary-choice talking point about one build over the other can't die soon enough or violently enough.

I thought the plan always was

I thought the plan always was that NS and SS would remain as terminal stations (not expanded), and some trains would pass through the link and some would terminate.

As for branching, 4 tracks can handle the number of branches we have, even without terminal usage, at 15 minute frequencies. See this analysis . Even if the tunnel grade makes that impossible, the combination of the terminal and the tunnel should make something at least close to that possible. But even you seem to think that the grade won't be an issue if we have both NSRL and SSX. The interlockings will be easier because you won't have trains needing to enter and then reverse across the same tracks. It's still going to be a tough and tight dance and engineering, but it doesn't have to be the complete mess it is now.

As for the layover yard - If most trains are passing through, it doesn't need to be anywhere near the city center where land is expensive and difficult to build on. The ones that terminate can lay over where they do now - you don't need to clean and mop them after every trip, the subway cars certainly aren't. NSRL also requires electrification, so hopefully we'll have EMUs, which clearly don't need fueling.

I'm not against expanding South Station, but with limited resources, I think NSRL is a better option. It does everything SSX does (maybe not as perfectly, but well enough), it helps both side of the CR, and it forces electrification.

As mentioned in the previous

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As mentioned in the previous post, it's not the expansion of the station that matters. It's fixing what was broken with train movements in/out when SS got lopped in half during the 1960's. When all the lead tracks and switches are scrunched way up on the Atlantic Ave. side pinned in by USPS, the only way to fan trains out to the middle platforms requires cutting across the paths of other platformed trains.

The middle platforms are where the NEC trains--Amtrak, Providence, Needham, Stoughton, Franklin--all go, and the explosive growth on the NEC means they're fanning out further across as traffic gets more congested. Worcester's OK because it's always hugging the tracks closest to Atlantic and has a straight shot in/out every time that isn't crossing up any other train's path; they can arrive/depart whenever they want conflict-free. The 3 Old Colony lines are OK because they're up against the USPS side out of range of the NEC and likewise aren't crossing anything up. But those NEC trains that are fanning out have to throw more track switches the more platforms they have to fan out to get a spot. Every switch that's thrown for a cross movement means some platform track is blocked from a straight-in/straight-out movement until the train is clear of every switch, meaning fewer trains at the station can be in simultaneous movement in/out.

So those NEC trains end up tripping over each other and choking off the supply of oxygen between the mash-up of lines at Cove Interlocking and the platforms. The closer you pack NEC trains in a conga line through Cove and Back Bay Station, the worse they foul each other once they're in station limits. And the tougher it becomes to find new Providence, Stoughton, Needham, Franklin, and Amtrak slots to be had.

Worse...the middle platforms that are being fouled by cross movements are the ones that are straightest shot to the Amtrak and (very small) T layover yards. So those blocked switches from a cross movement choke off supply of equipment. Amtrak always runs to the yard between every Acela and Northeast Regional run to change crews, restock food service, clean, etc. So every +1 Amtrak frequency that makes the fan-out worse does double the damage by slowly choking off yard access, and ensuring that those fewer yard slots available get rationed to Amtrak first instead of the T being able to do shift changes or swap one terminating train's huge trainset for the next departing train's smaller trainset.

The problem has nothing to do with a stub-end. You have MBTA trains that have already completed changing ends and are ready for departure, but have to take a number because there's an incoming Acela with priority slicing across their path. And 5 minutes later some other T train is going to have to take a number because that emptied Acela has to slice over into the yard and get restocked.

Eventually the whole system suffocates itself as fewer and fewer trains have uninterrupted simultaneous paths in/out. The fix is not in the additional platforms, but removing USPS to spread out the switches and restore the symmetry of the pre-1960's layout. The new track layout will let many more trains be in simultaneous in/out motion without having to throw switches for cross-cut movements. That's the capacity fix: having 8 trains in constant arrival/depature motion at any given moment instead of 4-5 or wherever it's trending with congestion. The extra platforms are simply a byproduct of the relaxed layout; spread the switches to minimize cross movements, you're going to need more straight-ahead starting/landing spots.

How many additional platforms they're building has more to do with just taking as much freed-up USPS space as they can grab while they're spending non-negotiable sum fixing the minimum-essential layout. It's simply good use of resources to lock it all down for platforms before the BDPA starts courting developers to plunk another air rights tower on the expansion wing like they're doing with the Atlantic Ave. side.

You either fix what got broke in the 60's when the station was half-bulldozed, or traffic remains broken forever. And remains broken even when you build NSRL. Surface or tunnel the NEC is always going to be the inexhaustible lion's share of schedules. The more breakneck total frequencies you run the more Amtrak's going to need to run to the yard and constrain the T, who have twice the number of trains needing a midday pause for shift changes. The more the T's constrained, the less they can precision-match trainset size to ebb and flow of hourly demand and the more equipment gets tied up--upstairs and downstairs--over-hedging on train length instead running more trains. The more pressure everything is under to hit its slot at "Cove Upstairs" because of the station constipation the tougher it's going to be to traffic-manage the merge with "Cove Downstairs" traffic outside Back Bay station.

The stakes get higher the more frequencies you run systemwide, so yes...this will exert a drag effect on the NSRL too. Double-barreling service by double-barreling the terminals isn't truly achievable by leaving upstairs permanently and artificially gimpy so downstairs is forced to overcompensate. The inefficiencies creep in, schedule padding starts to creep in to fudge the inefficiencies, and all those precision-ops efficiencies that Alon Levy's blog harps on as hallmarks of first-world frequencies aren't going to be fully achievable here. It'll be a much better improved rail network for sure, but it will have its proportional share of pointless inefficiency gripes if a breathing beast of a system is arbitrarily left with a game leg at its nerve center.

Since the $$$ at stake with the SSX fix are *adorably* small and short-term compared to what massive long-term outlays the NSRL funding commitment is going to take, just get SSX over with and start repaying the costs with more air rights redev next door to the new tower. And towers on top of the Widett deck. That $6B+ funding pitch for NSRL doesn't get any easier to mount saying "Yeah, we need to waste a share of this thing's value because we broke the capacity of something cheaper but decided to rebrand it as Gimp-for-Life to make some politicians look smart for higher office." It does get a lot easier to justify that sum cleanly saying "Our frequencies will be better than @#$% France's, bitches!" The only thing taking the binary-thought Seth Moulton approach rationalizing away NSRL's core value proposition of "It's the frequencies, stupid." We aren't truly going for it on an all-world rail service if we're content to leave critical parts of the system operating half-cocked just to say we built a great big tunnel. This town of all places should've learned that lesson by now.

As someone who takes the

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As someone who takes the Needham line I would be more than happy to offer up our capacity at SS in exchange for an Orange Line expansion instead. :) Just doing our part~!

Yes, yes, 1000 times yes!

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And it's probably A LOT cheaper. (And before you yell at me, Cybah, no, it would not cost $500m to build the tracks out to Roslindale.)

Dot Ave

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I agree that Dot Ave should be open again. It's part of the Harborwalk and has been closed for too long because of safety concerns at the Post Office. Let people walk or cycle there again but keep the cars and trucks out.

We need a Mayor for the working class

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The City is slowly decimating all businesses that hire the blue collar workers. They already eliminated affordable housing and gas stations in the City.

While we all ponder this non

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While we all ponder this non sequitur, where are the dedicated bike lanes?!?! ::cries::

Plus, teh shadows!!!!!!!! zomg! They must plant more trees, for shade!


While we are at it...

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Can we knock down some of the buildings around the common? There isn't enough acreage for my goats and cows to graze.


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we need to build our economy around guys working at full time gas stations! Which are mostly self-serve.

Move to Greece if you want excessive mandated low skill employment.

Not if it's up to the federal government

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That post office is not going anywhere anytime soon. It's one of the top 5 largest P.O. facilities in the country. It also employs a lot of people. The P.O. drawfs in size Amtrak and the MBTA.

Seriously, all these

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Seriously, all these arguments are a moot point unless the PO has lost it's damn mind. They're already constantly in the crosshairs of privatization freaks in Congress (despite being entirely self-funded), and the Executive branch right now is hardly going to step up and defend / explain any moves the PO makes. Selling their land and relocating, even if they make a profit, is going to open them up to a barrage of criticism in our ADHD riddled press and the kill-government-at-any-cost idiots above them. It's just not a politically wise move - the Civil Service as a whole is in bunker mode for the next four years.

Even then, you have the logistics of it. Even MA state agencies have nothing on the Feds in terms of how. damn. long. it takes to do anything. Widett will be overrun by sea level rise before a land exchange happens.

And the logistics

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Moving that facility to a new location is logistically mind blowing:

1) It's enormous
2) A new faculty would have to be built and completely ready to move into.
3) Any new facility, either purpose built or renovation, must be near Logan Airport. There really would be no $savings$ since every possible location is expensive real estate.