State finally finds a use for that abandoned train track to the waterfront: To test the new Red Line cars

MassDOT announced today it will spend $32 million to convert the abandoned Track 61 along the Haul Road up by the convention center into a test bed on which to test the new Red Line cars that are expected to start showing up in 2019.

The move puts the kibosh, at least through 2023, when the last of the Red Line cars are scheduled for delivery, on alternate plans for the tracks, not that they've ever amounted to much, such as running little shuttle trains between the Convention Center and Back Bay and, more recently, using them to run some Fairmount Line trains to the waterfront.

The state says the track is perfect for putting the new Red Line cars through its paces because it has at least 1,800 feet of straight track, it's near the Red Line's South Boston maintenance facility and cars can be moved from there to the track without causing any impact on actual Red Line service.

Work to turn the track into a mini-extension of the Red Line could begin this fall, officials say.

Track 61, part of which dates to 1855, is the last remnant of the days when the waterfront was full of train tracks, when Fan Pier got its name because of the way its train tracks fanned out towards the dock.



Free tagging: 



By on

That they haven't extended the tracks to the Conley terminal is shameful. How many other ports have to truck their containers miles to the yard. Even Beacon Park was too far compared to what they do in New York or even Halifax.

Something stinks with this Red Line plan. If they have $32 million sitting around, they could spend it in countless other places to help infrastructure.

Red Line spending

By on

This is only one of many upgrades coming to the Red and Orange Lines beginning in the next 5 years.

Many, actually

By on

Have you ever seen a west coast container port? Almost the entire stretch of Puget Sound from Seattle to Tacoma is container port, and most of the transport is "in yard". Ditto for the Port of Long Beach, where the pollution from trucks considered to be off-road was so bad that regulators stepped in.

Not just west coast.

By on

Not just west coast.

Port Newark-Elizabeth may not be quite the same geographic scale (overall, PANYNJ is busier than Seattle-Tacoma), but they have a good chunk of rail intermodal running in and out of the seaport.,-74.0920629,3154a,35y,300.56h,59.47t/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

Conley isn't big enough to

By on

Conley isn't big enough to merit that. It's MA's biggest container port, but it's just too tiny compared to NY/NJ, Halifax, Norfolk, Baltimore, and so on to be anything other than a niche ship-to-truck port for shooting trucks out on the Haul Road to points around Eastern Mass. Adding Trailer On Flatcar (TOFC) train transloads on top requires more acreage than Massport has available even post- Conley expansion. The railcar storage alone would be a major problem, since CSX would only be coming to fetch once a day vs. every truck being able to drive off the second the crane plops the cube on top. They don't have enough land to let stuff be sitting around for hours on end clogging up space after it comes off the boat like they do with city-sized ports like L.A.

We already get way more container traffic by rail coming into Worcester on CSX from points west out of all of the mega-ports (PANYNJ, Halifax, Norfolk, etc.) than Conley produces Boston-out. So the money the state spent upgrading CSX for double-stacked trains and building them that state-of-art yard in Worcester already addressed that issue. There's no way to goose those volumes to any significant degree by hooking rail up to a gnat-sized terminal like Conley. There WILL, however, be a second direct-competing rail corridor from the west when Pan Am Southern's Patriot Corridor to Ayer is upgraded for stacked cubes in the next 5 years after they enlarge the Hoosac Tunnel in Berkshire County. CSX's arch-rival Norfolk Southern co-owns that line 50/50 with local/regional carrier Pan Am, and is self-funding most of the work so it can compete with CSX for New England supremacy. Which means we get access to even more really big shipping ports and direct price competition between two mega-carriers. The state will end up making money back several times over from all the $$$ it spent on CSX from the economic impact of all those stacked containers flooding in from the west, and the pot-stirring that got Norfolk Southern buying its way into the region.

If, for whatever reason, Conley does need rail service later the new haul road they built to Summer St. has enough room on the side for a single railroad track...and they can build a small trestle adjacent to the Summer St. bridge across Reserve Channel to connect it up with Track 61. But they won't ever have a business case for doing it. The division of labor for container traffic just tilts so overwhelmingly outside-in vs. inside-out that it'll never make dollars and sense. The misc. freight that Massport's targeting with the Marine Terminal spur is much smaller in carload volume than Conley's container loads, but is geared to specialties like perishables and other niches where purely local ship-to-rail has clear advantages over routing a refrigerator car 1000+ miles between Halifax and Worcester. It's niche, but it's an exploitable niche we need more of unlike Conley rail which is a surplus-to-requirement raindrop in a swimming pool compared to what containers Worcester & Ayer will move 24/7 from points west when they're both operating at full-tilt.


Are any rail freight companies actually interested in this service? As in, willing to pay to maintain and use the tracks?


By on

MassDOT or Massport owns the tracks, does the maintenance, and gives access to CSX to use the tracks. Just like they do over almost the entire south side system (I mean, freights aren't going to Scituate or Needham currently, but they are going to Mansfield and Framingham.)

The Port of Long Beach built and owns the Alameda Corridor. Massport could do the same thing for the same reason.

CSX still has operating

By on

CSX still has operating rights; it was never abandoned, just placed out-of-service when the most recent customer at Cypher St. left town about 10 years ago. And it can't be abandoned unless CSX voluntarily gives up its perpetual operating rights, which it has no incentive to since they are free-of-charge per the state's purchase agreement for the track.

Massport has long-term plans (5-8 years, after the Inner Harbor gets dredged) to spur from where Track 61 crosses into Design Ctr. parking lot up Tide St. to Marine Terminal once that site gets built out. They want to attract businesses that can do ship-to-rail transloading (cold storage warehousing & the like). CSX has already committed to serving the Terminal with an overnight freight job out of Readville via the Fairmount Line if Massport signs on the customers. Not at the top of Massport's priority list, but cracks the lower Top 5 and a matter of when, not if.

And why the bridges were raised

By on

And that also confirms why all of the bridges on Fairmount were raised in the last decade. None of them were "deficient" and trains passed under them quite well.

They only needed to raise to accommodate the possibility of electrification in the future, or assure that double-stack containers could pass under them.

See one here

This is the real reason why Fairmount was never going to be a "subway" line which a number of people already knew but didn't want to say out loud, though enough people "in the know" already knew this from way back. FRA says subway trains and heavy rail cannot occupy the same tracks, at least at the same time of day. It goes on from there for a page and a half. There are known exceptions if a line is closed for the night when freight can resume but it's a stack of paperwork to make that happen at the fed level. So day use as a test track and night moves of freight have a set precedent elsewhere.

Increased commuter service on the Fairmount line will be best served if the MBTA gets the rebuild done on some of its semi-retired F40 locomotives in storage. Not the rebuild they are doing because of the failing HSP46 (new) locos, but the gear change-out that would allow a rebuilt loco to start-stop quicker and run at a slower speed (up to about 50 mph - keeping in mind that MBTA subways are locked down at 40 mph). They could run shorter trainsets, and at some point extend the service beyond Fairmount to Rt 128, Canton, or up the Frankling branch to Norwood, Walpole, and even Foxboro.

$32 million?? I'm sure there

By on

$32 million?? I'm sure there's some major work involved, adding 3rd rail etc., but might it be easier to test them on the real Red Line tracks during the overnight hours when there are no trains?


By on


The Red Line is only actually shut down for a few hours each night, and those few hours are crucial for maintenance. Given the amount of testing that needs to be done before each car enters service, it would not be practical to try and juggle nights of testing with nights of maintenance...

...especially given labor costs. The T's maintenance staff mostly works during the day. Asking them to come in at night would either mean the shop is short-staffed during the day, or they're paying copious amounts of overtime (or both).

I know many people here like to think they could do things better than the T, but nope, this is not a special problem unique to us. The T tests Orange and Blue line trains on the unused 3rd track from Charlestown to Wellington. Some other transit systems have dedicated test tracks at shops and yards. Others test trains mixed in with regular service. This would theoretically be an option here, but I'm guessing the T didn't want to take the risk of disrupting regular Red Line service.

Since it's a "test" and

By on

Since it's a "test" and things will go wrong, you don't want to spend hours tying up commuters while you rebuild what the train broke or has broken on it.

red line testing

By on

I seem to remember seeing 01800 trains tested on the regular red line tracks during revenue hours (without passengers of course!). Have things really changed that much in 20 years?

The 25 - 30 years of deffered

By on

The 25 - 30 years of deffered maitanence was just getting started back in 1993 so yes - a lot has "changed" (rotted) since then.

If there wasn't that

By on

If there wasn't that ridiculous requirement for the cars to be built at a nonexistent factory in Springfield, they could have been built at an established railcar factory that had a test track.

The CRRC factory in

By on

The CRRC factory in Springfield is nearly complete and it includes a half-mile test track that will be used to test the MBTA's and other cars. The track that's being built in South Boston is for internal testing - emergency brake testing, operator training, etc.

An anchor for CRRC

By on

The Springfield plant is becoming their anchor in the USA for rail car manufacture. They have already accepted contracts for other rail cars for other transit systems which will start soon after the MBTA order is underway or near completion. They are also building a second plant for heavy rail near Chicago. So the Springfield plant will not roll-over after the MBTA job is done. It will be going for quite some time.

While giving the finger

By on

to all the people in the seaport with no rail (real) mass transit access. Buses don't count.

Follow the money or the tracks?

By on

What companies will enjoy the 32 million? Why not use the tracks during the night when trains are not running? How will these tracks be used once testing is complete for all delivered trains? If test tracks are needed for Red Line trains will the T also build tracks to test new Orange Line trains?

The Orange Line already has a

By on

The Orange Line already has a test track. It's the third track that stretches from Wellington to Community College. The track was originally built in the 1970s for express service to Melrose, Wakefield, and Reading that never came to fruition. In 2007, it was used to test the new Blue Line trains, and it'll likely be used again to test the new Orange Line trains. The new Red Line trains cannot be tested on this track, because Red Line trains are about a foot wider than Orange Line trains and would strike the platforms at Wellington, Sullivan, and Community College.

The new Orange Line trains

By on

The new Orange Line trains can be tested on the unused 3rd track between Charlestown and Wellington.

See my comment above for why they likely can't run test trains during the night.

The tracks will likely be removed or at least turned back into rail (as opposed to rapid transit) after testing is complete, but I'd hardly argue it's a waste since best case scenario, they're used until 2023, and components can be reused elsewhere in the system (e.g. the sections of third rail can be reused in future replacements on the Red Line), so it's not like it's just being thrown away.

Shouldn't contractor be doing the testing with MBTA supervision?

By on

Why does the MBTA have to pay for a test drive? Shouldn't that be part of the contract? If the T must pay, whatever happened to the weekend, "Red Line will be closed for track work between JFK and Broadway but shuttle buses will be in place?" Sounds like another money grab for someone.

You can't work on track when trains are on it

Track work = No Trains. For them to stop service only to test new vehicles is asinine. If this new section of track lets them put new cars into service months sooner, it's worth it.

Every delivery of new trains has the owning agency do extensive testing using their own personal. It also gives conductors a chance to learn the new controls, maintenance staff to learn what to expect, etc.

Thinking out loud …

By on

Most of this money is probably for the physical track connection from the Cabot Yard leads to Track 61, and then power along Track 61 and probably laying new rail (subway and mainline rail has somewhat different profile, and the track there is probably too degraded to use much anyway).

Of course, if you rebuild the track there and install power, it's not a huge leap to actually running service. As I've pointed out, you could run streetcars (same voltage as the Red Line) between Andrew and the Convention Center pretty easily, and then loop them in to the Silver Line tunnel to South Station, which would dramatically improve capacity there (a two-car Green Line train has four times the capacity of a Silver Line bus). You could also restore some of the PCCs from Mattapan and bring them up to the Seaport to run as a tourist attraction, and give Mattapan actual new cars, even.

Or you could even rebuild Malfunction Junction (a.k.a. JFK/UMass nee Columbia) and have it be a transfer for a line to the Seaport.

Knowing the T, they'll spend $32m, build this, use it for two years, and then let it rot away.


It makes one curious if someone at MBTA HQ is pushing this idea as a way to get viable revenue service ready without the debate that normally comes from expansion proposals.

That's what I....

By on

That's what I was (wishfully thinking). Build the "test" track, then in 5 years..."Hey, we have this newly built red line capable ROW directly to the seaport, why not use it for revenue service?" That would be a clever way to get it built without having to propose and "expansion".

Few issues with it however. I don't think there is massive demand for south shore to the south boston waterfront direct rides. Everyone else would still need to transfer to the red line in town, take it out to JFK UMass, then back to SBW. It's much easier to just grab a silver line bus. The rail connection, if it ever happens, needs to be back bay, to the waterfront, and would make the most sense to run the green line out there.

Another issue is it's a single track ROW, and I don't think there is any room to add an additional track. This would mean only one train at a time could exist on the track between JFK/UMass & the convention center, which would undoubtedly lead to bunching & delays.

Heavy rail rapid transit and

By on

Heavy rail rapid transit and mainline railroad have the same wheel profile. It is streetcar/light rail that has a different profile from heavy rail/main line railroad. So this work does not help convert the line for light rail/streetcar unless they put railroad/rapid transit profile wheels on any light rail/streetcar equipment that runs there.

It is crafty...

...if it works. $32 mill for the track, tie-in, power and rail seems like a steal. Well, what happens when they find that the ties are shot as well as the rail? More money, but, "Hey, we got this far, might as well finish it."
I'm not being negative, it just seems like a good way to ensure the project is started. Running trolleys seems like a good idea also, but I'm no expert.

Just one more question...OK, so they test the new cars on 1800 feet of straight track. No curves? What if they start acting like the old Green line trolleys that didn't like curves?

However, as was mentioned

By on

However, as was mentioned above, when the 01800 cars were delivered in 1993/1994, they routinely did burn-in testing in between revenue trains during the day, and at night they were tested on the long shop lead between Cabot and the junction at JFK, which is a longer distance than what they will have with this new test track. So is it worth $32 million to avoid using the shop lead track for testing like they did 23 years ago?

OK then...

"They need enough track to get up to speed and then slam on the brakes."

Um, if the brakes don't work, do they float?


By on


The difference in wheel profile between tram/metro and railroad stock is the buzzkill for the otherwise sensible proposal you float in your blog post. See here. The difference in profile is what allows streetcars to run on streetcar tracks easily fitted to the confines of auto lanes, and trams or metro cars to negotiate much tighter curves than even the most nimble first-world mainline RR stock. That divide between rapid transit and mainline track exists pretty much everywhere in the world for that same reason. You could more easily plug in an unmodified Mattapan PCC on a random streetcar system behind the old Iron Curtain than you could on Track 61's current rail because of wheel profile.

Track 61 is still on the FRA RR network since CSX has not relinquished its freight rights on it, and is unlikely to ever do so because their trackage rights are free of charge and Massport has plans to build that freight spur to Marine Terminal giving CSX a new shot of freight revenue. Even if plans change or delay the spur buildout the fact that new port freight was the prevailing Massport plan with fully-crunched revenue numbers means CSX is going to be sitting on those rights forever as a hedge on "a" plan happening...even if "the" plan currently drawn up doesn't happen. Because of federal interstate commerce protections and legal entanglements from the state's line buy (and many previous line buys from CSX and their bankrupt predecessors), they can't be forced out of their trackage rights agreement against their will, either. Nor would a blank "Go Away!" check accomplish anything other than lighting too much money on fire to make the transit build worth pursuing at all...while salting over the ability to pay any of it back in year-in/year-out port revenue.

So a permanent re-grinding of the tracks to rapid transit profile isn't going to be in the cards. When the Red test track use is finished and Massport plan advances they'll re-run the rail grinder over the (generally decent-condition for freight) tracks on 61 to reset it to RR profile.

The profiles are *loosely* compatible, in that it is physically possible to safely operate on unlike-profile wheels vs. track. But the speed restriction for it, extra wear on the railcar's trucks, and increased derailment odds (correlated with frequencies & speeds) makes it a practical nonstarter. Compatible enough wheels for a rail museum to take its antique equipment out once a week for a spin on a lazy Sunday...yes. But not nearly compatible enough to run functional fixed-route transit frequencies of any real-world usefulness.

The only way to run rapid transit rolling stock reliably on RR track (assuming all other logistics like time-separated ops are worked out) is to outfit the trucks with wheels ground to RR profile. Which breaks interlining compatibility with all other rapid transit track. So, yes, you could borrow the Mattapan PCC's, switch the wheels out to RR-profile, and run them down 61 like it's second-nature. You could even keep the third rail and run no-foolin' Red Line trains over it. But you wouldn't be able to go anywhere useful other than pinging from one end of 61 to the other. *Maybe* ping from one end of 61 and into the Transitway on street-running RR track laid in the Silver Line pavement, but the sharp-by-RR-standards South Station bus loop is probably going to be murder on the elderly PCC's trucks when they round the curve wearing RR wheels. So still a tad too fugly in execution to hack it that way even if you manage to solve for where to usefully wrap the Cabot end of 61.

The few systems in the world where mainline rail and tram/metro stock do mix--time separation or otherwise--do so with vehicles and lines intentionally built to the same RR wheel profile (sacrificing the ability to do sharp tram turn radii). NJ Transit's RiverLINE, the oft-cited successful example of a time separation agreement, uses lightweight "diesel LRV" -type DMU's with a RR wheel profile. So unfortunately if you brought the Camden end of the line across the river into Philly it can't ever interface with any form of SEPTA or PATCO subway track. Likewise, you wouldn't be able to run tram-wheeled Hudson-Bergen Light Rail across the Arthur Kill Lift Bridge onto Staten Island without some very novel kludges (gauntlet track ground at trolley profile???) for getting safely across that single-track RR-profile span.

You could make it work the other way around if the freight loads were small/intermittent enough to skate on wheel incompatibility. Newark Light Rail's early-00's Grove St. extension overlapped with 3 city blocks of Norfolk Southern freight trackage, where trolleys had to shut down early so NS could *crawl* across the trolley-ground track to spot a couple carloads at one last remaining customer (who's since gone out of business, ending all co-mingling). Top-condition trolley track is way less derailment-prone than god-knows-what condition barely-regulated spaghetti rail is on excepted industrial tracks and customer sidings across the world, but they're only running at sub- 10 MPH so the stakes are much different for a one-off light freight move vs. all-day passenger service. And CSX would not be running light down 61, as this will be double-digit carloads from Marine Terminal every single night for many (i.e. harder-to-insure) terminal customers rather than some local-yokel single factory taking a couple boxcars twice a week. What Massport's proposing for Marine T. is a cut above what CSX or the state could reasonably rationalize for liability if they had to tiptoe across 1.5 miles of rail ground for rapid transit-by-day. And because this is a niche corridor for ridership the various Track 61 proposals to-date have all eyeballed that steady Massport freight revenue as a primary means of amortizing a chunk of the costs for building and running the transit corridor by day.

Unfortunately it is what it is, with the plausible workarounds either being very limited (same boat as the underwhelming Back Bay-BCEC Olympics dinky) or costs & difficulty for reconciling physical compatibility (gauntlets, payola to CSX for insurance) all running afoul of the ROI target for the corridor's limited ridership potential. There's good reason why Track 61 is such a tough nut to crack. In 2D on a map it's a tempting eye-of-beholder solution begging to be matched to a problem, but devil's always in the details (e.g. "cutting across busy Amtrak yard traffic limits its RR shuttle frequencies" / "it's isolated and can't hook up with rapid transit track" / "we need to wring more revenue out of our deepwater port if we want a diverse economy that can pay for nice things" / etc., etc.).

Pin this

By on

Adam - pin this message and reference it frequently. It's gold, and explains a lot. Now if people were to only read, comprehend, listen, and accept rather than just be an armchair bitchy because the T doesn't run like Thomas the Tank engine. (Tweet Tweet!). It's not as simple as it looks.

So now we should have a

By on

So now we should have a freight-only railroad running parallel to the trucks-only Haul road?
So two ways out of the city South for freight, but only one way for cars? (A Street)

I thought we long ago decided there was better use for our waterfront than gumming up the works with these Massport pipedreams that benefit the very few and lead to acres and acres of underdeveloped land in the heart of the city.

It's a deepwater port.

By on

It's a deepwater port. Designated deepwater port areas have all kinds of zoning restrictions keeping their land use maritime-oriented because they're a scarce resource the federal gov't has deemed worth protecting with extra checks-and-balances on acceptable land use. Go do some reading on the Deepwater Port Act before complaining that we aren't building ritzy condos on that slab of Marine Terminal land. There's a good reason why deepwater port areas are uniformly ugly and industrial. Hate the existence of the DPA at the federal level if you will...that's a legit debate. But acknowledge that it does exist as federal law, that it's part of Massport's very agency charter to be faithful stewards of their designated deepwater port areas, and that City of Boston has no say in the matter when it comes to re-zoning that land. The terms of engagement are what they are, so the haul road and rail line that take a straight shot into the DPA area are...shock!...going to be existentially pretty darn freight-centric. Otherwise they never would've been built pointing arrow-straight at the port.

FWIW, Boston 2024 was completely and pathetically oblivious to the DPA when it thought it could build stadiums and shit all over Marine T. like it ain't no thang. Reason #394 why the Olympic bid belly-flopped: failure to do a Google search's worth of research on land use regs and thinking all the B24 business fun bux in the Hub was somehow going to make the federal Maritime Administration bend over and go "Aww, shucks!" because the USOC asked pretty-please. It was a big reason why everything ended up riding on that Widett Circle/"Midtown" hail-Mary: they had no recourse but to double-down by the time they realized that using Marine T. was way more complicated than a free land grab.

Path of least resistance--far and away--is finding some economically useful deepwater port activity to put there and make that happen instead of tying oneself in knots trying to agitate for a zoning change that's so goddamn difficult to pull off, or screaming in impotent rage that it's no fair we can't have pretty things there. We need a more diverse shipping economy to spread the field so we can better-control Boston's cost of goods/cost-of-living and have supplemental revenue streams to pay for other nice things. Might as well use the DPA asset for its intended purpose and make some forward progress with the whole supplemental revenue thing. We ain't at a loss of other pretty unbuilt things to get on with building, or other low-hanging fruit transit corridors to get on with exploiting. Just use the DPA areas for what they're worth, because that's beneficial economic stimulant for plenty of other useful shit we want/need to accomplish.

Oh, please. The Deepwater

By on

Oh, please. The Deepwater Port Act was created in a time when we were importing insane amounts of oil/gas, and the legislation allowed the gov't to offer breaks to those oil/gas companies. It is completely outdated and a form of job-protectionism. You can put anything in the light of "revenue might be generated from it." And its societal benefits, when you can move goods in numerous other ways, are overblown.
The fact remains that in more than 25 years, the marine park has barely been developed. There's simply no industry to support it. It's gone — or maybe you can get Trump to bring it back along with the coal mining jobs. That's why they're already looking into finding other uses for this land, including possibly rezoning all of it. All of these "supplemental revenue" generations are a pipedream spouted by places like Massport so they can sit on the land and screw the city and its residents. Heaven forbid Massport yield some power from what is continuously the most corrupt agency in the state govt.

The few systems in the world

By on

The few systems in the world where mainline rail and tram/metro stock do mix--time separation or otherwise--do so with vehicles and lines intentionally built to the same RR wheel profile (sacrificing the ability to do sharp tram turn radii). NJ Transit's RiverLINE, the oft-cited successful example of a time separation agreement, uses lightweight "diesel LRV" -type DMU's with a RR wheel profile. So unfortunately if you brought the Camden end of the line across the river into Philly it can't ever interface with any form of SEPTA or PATCO subway track. Likewise, you wouldn't be able to run tram-wheeled Hudson-Bergen Light Rail across the Arthur Kill Lift Bridge onto Staten Island without some very novel kludges (gauntlet track ground at trolley profile???) for getting safely across that single-track RR-profile span.

You could make it work the other way around if the freight loads were small/intermittent enough to skate on wheel incompatibility. Newark Light Rail's early-00's Grove St. extension overlapped with 3 city blocks of Norfolk Southern freight trackage, where trolleys had to shut down early so NS could *crawl* across the trolley-ground track to spot a couple carloads at one last remaining customer (who's since gone out of business, ending all co-mingling). Top-condition trolley track is way less derailment-prone than god-knows-what condition barely-regulated spaghetti rail is on excepted industrial tracks and customer sidings across the world, but they're only running at sub- 10 MPH so the stakes are much different for a one-off light freight move vs. all-day passenger service.

RiverLine would've been vastly more expensive to build if they wanted direct track connections to PATCO (and complicated, too, but more in the bi-state politics sense than the engineering sense), and probably would never have been built at all. As it is, the Line crosses PATCO, ACRL, & NEC, with stations at each. I'd call that pretty useful for NJ-Philadelphia commuters, especially since being an arterial spoke is not its primary purpose.

Funny that you earlier mentioned tight loops for PCCs and then mentioned Newark light rail extension (about other matters). Back in the Newark pre-extension PCC days, the track loop at Franklin Av station (the old end station, eliminated with nearby Heller Pkwy station and consolidated as Branch Brook Park station) was just about the tightest loop possible. Only PCCs could scrape through it, and NJT only ran singles at that time.

Not that the HBLRT is anyplace near the Arthur Kill, but has anything run across that lift bridge yet? They were talking about fixing that 20 years ago, and at that point it had been years since it had moved. I suspect it would be more likely to be revitalized as a freight (or as some sort of mixed use) than a strictly passenger line.

It's interesting to contemplate, though... If Amtrak, the feds, NY & NJ keep struggling along 'til the NEC Hudson tunnel and Penn Station track maintenance and the Portal Bridge is a complete nonfunctioning disaster - alternates will be needed and it might be attractive to have some sort of connecting passenger service between the NEC (somewhere at Elizabeth or Linden) and the Staten Island Ferry. Probably less practical that other alternatives even in that worst-case scenario, but it's fun to imagine...

Not that the HBLRT is

By on

Not that the HBLRT is anyplace near the Arthur Kill, but has anything run across that lift bridge yet? They were talking about fixing that 20 years ago, and at that point it had been years since it had moved. I suspect it would be more likely to be revitalized as a freight (or as some sort of mixed use) than a strictly passenger line.

Back in action for freight since '06 and sees 3x daily freight traffic to the container terminal and garbage transloads on the west side of Staten Island. More planned from there, as the city is looking to consolidate more of its garbage hauling around that connection since they can run at-will out of Staten while the other NYC outbound trash train out of Queens & Bronx only gets slots when Metro North's Hudson Line goes idle between midnight and 5:00am.

Point of entry for HBLR-to-Staten I. focuses on the Bayonne Bridge, with Arthur Kill being the escape for terminating in Elizabeth. Newark Light Rail had a separate proposal for going to Newark Airport then Elizabeth, swinging within about a half-mile of the bridge. So either a direct joining of the two light rail systems or a cross-platform transfer was part of the hazily sketched-out vision thing for that one. It's moot now that the Elizabeth extension of NLR has been canceled, since that was the main motivation for lusting-from-afar at the lift bridge.

The problem is still the same: there's no way you're running a trolley from either/both light rail systems over the as-is RR track even though there's plenty of time-separation slots to be had. It's either a gauntlet ground to trolley wheel profile, or there's no way it's safe enough to risk plunging the trolley off the bridge in a derailment.

That's the #1 thing to remember as a self-check against overestimating the transit prospects of every seemingly underutilized bit of urban rail like Track 61. New York pols are making that mistake yet again recently proposing a light rail line between Brooklyn & Queens on the freight-only track of the LIRR Lower Montauk branch because track exists, it was too much a misfit for LIRR fares/frequencies (hence it being downgraded to freight-only), therefore "something!" needs to go on it. Visions of time separation and all the cool on-street places it could go after spurring off the Lower Montauk mainline. And they're probably going to race ahead to keep the hype machine inflated and burn through some real study money before taking 5 seconds to listen to a real transit engineer 'trainsplain' it to them that:

-- "No, you can't have RR wheels and be able to make 90-degree streetcar turns at street intersections at the same time."
-- "No, there's no elegant fix or Jetsons Shit technology or can-do spirit that'll make it so at a cost your niche vision can live with. Physics doesn't work that way."
-- "Saying 'Fuck the freights; just kick them out!' is commercially destructive and legally impractical in the extreme. Not to mention childish and counterproductive to your own cause."

So far nobody's gone that full-on stupid racing ahead of themselves with 61. Knowledge is power, and when it only takes 2 minutes on Wikipedia to get a sense of the boundaries it becomes a hell of a lot easier to pick our transit battles. 61's tempting, but it's not a hill to ever want to die on or tie self in straightjacket over given those boundaries. The city's got boundless transit improvements a little commitment can help solve throughout the Seaport. We can treat it systematically rather than getting caught up in another episode of target fixation thrice per year when the Globe breathlessly pushes another story about 61-to-BCEC.

Back in action for freight

By on

Back in action for freight since '06 and sees 3x daily freight traffic to the container terminal and garbage transloads on the west side of Staten Island.

Glad to hear it. I don't go by too often in recent years. Mostly from the turnpike, and from there, the paint job is all I see. It's always been in raised position whenever I go by.

I have some hazy recollection of one HBLRT branch originally intended to run further, closer to Bayonne Bridge that was eventually built.

Too bad they stopped the western branch where they did. Then - all they would've had to do was rebuild the harbor bridge and negotiate passenger service through a very busy freight sea-rail intermodal facility, and head for Perth Amboy! Long live the CRRNJ Chemical Coast passenger service!!!

One thing I'm a bit confused

By on

One thing I'm a bit confused about here is that the CRRC plant in Springfield supposedly will include a half-mile test track, at least according to multiple news articles about it.

I would think initial testing (the cars themselves) should occur there, followed by final testing (the cars interacting with the T's infrastructure) occurring on the actual Red Line.

Using Track 61 only makes sense if the CRRC plant has been downsized such that it no longer includes said test track.

The test track in Springfield

By on

The test track in Springfield is for the builder to test them before they are shipped to the customer. The testing at the MBTA is to test them before they are accepted, rail equipment is tested both by the seller and then by the buyer

Different agendas

Kinda like the car dealership telling you you can't test drive the car because they already test drove it for you at the factory. :)

Springfield will do all the testing they need. As new owner, the T has different things they will be testing, and do so under their own supervision, simulating their own conditions... The initial cars also get beat up a little more with the intent of seeing what they can break.

Or, to build on your simile,

By on

Or, to build on your simile, it's kinda like when a banker asks you why the value of the car loan for which you are applying is for way more than the value of the car and you say "Well because I need a new place to test drive it too of course !"

I acknowledged that in my

By on

I acknowledged that in my comment. Please re-read it:

I would think initial testing (the cars themselves) should occur there, followed by final testing (the cars interacting with the T's infrastructure) occurring on the actual Red Line.

To use your analogy, this would be the car dealership telling you "you need to build a proving ground to test drive this car, since it's never ever been driven before".

When you buy a car, you expect the manufacturer to certify that the model of car you're buying has been thoroughly tested.

As I said, previously, I would expect initial testing to be done on the test track in Springfield, then final testing to be done on the T - without the third, intermediate step of testing on the T's test track.

I'm hoping it's an example of

By on

I'm hoping it's an example of good, lateral thinking. Money put into track bed, ties, rails, etc... is an investment in usable infrastructure for any future plans for Seaport.

By the way...

I saw something yesterday that brought my mind back to recent discussions of electrification for commuter rail.

I was on the Expressway and looked over as a double-decker commuter rail coach passed under Boston Street. It might have been just the angle I was looking from, but I don't think there's enough clearance there to install overhead catenary (if running double-deckers). That would rule out electrification for the three Old Colony lines until that bridge could be changed.

Is anybody aware of other such points?

Electrifying the Old Colony

By on

Electrifying the Old Colony lines may well require raising some bridge clearances. This can usually be accomplished with relative ease by undercutting the trackbed and leaving the bridge intact.

I don't think so. Most of

By on

I don't think so. Most of the Old Colony was pre-designed for future installation of 25 kV overhead electrification, since the restoration of passenger service came after the Big Dig was deep enough into design to know that we'd have space reserved underneath the O'Neill Tunnel for the North-South Rail Link. NSRL had its first prelim scoping study released before Middleboro and Plymouth service were even 5 years old, so that study was cued up while they were still doing the heavy construction work in the mid-90's on those two lines. All that Old Colony restoration was done 20 years ago foresight for the same exact NSRL script we're reading from today. Nothing's really changed with the Link proposal at all with the recent renewed advocacy; it's just being picked back up where it left off after 10 years of procrastination.

Amtrak also has its electrified Southampton Yard runaround track running alongside the Red Line Cabot Yard leads and Old Colony main down to Boston St. a little before JFK, where it stubs out. So everything Southampton St. overpass and points north is already fully clear.

Boston Street over the RR was

By on

Boston Street over the RR was built in 1977 (maintaining the street profile of Boston Street over the Expressway, which was built in 1957).

Amtrak's overhead yard electric ends just north of Boston Street. I don't know if that's because they didn't need any more space than that (from their yard to that point) or because they couldn't fit under Boston Street, but - that's where it ends. I'm assuming their yard electric wasn't put in until around the time the line from New Haven through Providence was electrified. Can't remember - mid 90s, early 2000s?

Southampton over the RR was built in 1981. Southampton over the Expressway was sometime 1956-1958.
W 4th over the RR was built in 1989.
Broadway Bridge was built by 1999.

North-South Rail Link doesn't have much to do with it.

'99 was when Amtrak installed

By on

'99 was when Amtrak installed that track. Only reason it doesn't extend beyond Boston St. is because it runs out of side room, as the Red Line yard track starts spreading there around the subway portal that's on the verge of popping up from underground. It's wrong side of the Red Line to merge into the Old Colony anyway, so the far south end is only used as a test track for Amtrak electrics and Acelas that just came out of Southampton Shops for service/inspection., a searchable database of the National Bridge Inventory, has vertical clearance stats for every active road and rail bridge in the state. Boston St. and Southampton are +/- 3 inches the same height. Big caveat that NBI stats require some interpretation because they don't say whether the quoted vertical clearance is measured at the side abutment, center, or wherever...or whether the measurement is a minimum, average, or maximum clearance. Centerline over the rail is the only clearance that matters for rail, so if UglyBridges says Southampton St. over that wired-up track is only 15.4's not quoting the track centerline because you wouldn't be able to fit 25 kV wires over an Amtrak Sprinter locomotive if it were *truly* that short. 15.4 ft. is probably at the abutments where the gravel masses up on a mini-embankment, and track centerline is probably a full-regulation 18 ft.

The FRA definitely collects records on vertical clearances, but that's unfortunately one of the few data streams of theirs that isn't publicly searchable. So you have to rely on some guesswork from UglyBridges, and *roughly* extrapolate from there by compare/contrast with other spans of more firmly-verified dimensions. So...since Southampton & Boston St. are very similar recorded height and very similar slope up top...they both probably have +/- couple inches the same centerline clearances. It appears from Google Street View they have very similar/exact same gravel massing along the abutments causing the very low 15+ ft. reported readings. Thus, you can say with reasonable confidence that Boston St. isn't going to be a problem at all for electrification because it's either an identical match for Southampton and A-OK for wires...or, is off by very negligible fudge factor solveable at track--not bridge--level with a cheap shaving.

Dig from there and you can ID the potential problem spans pretty easily and isolate what % of systemwide spans you'll need to load the piggybank for mods/replacement. It's fewer than you might think, and only a couple of northside lines that are going to be a real money-chewing pain in the ass to get cleared for wires.

after the Big Dig was deep

By on

after the Big Dig was deep enough into design to know that we'd have space reserved underneath the O'Neill Tunnel for the North-South Rail Link

"Reserved" for the NSRL? Oh, you mean the voids created underneath the tunnel after they cancelled construction of the fire suppression system with retention tanks because the Boston Fire Department decided they didn't want it.

Maybe improving a track for

By on

Maybe improving a track for testing COULD be an investment in passenger rail in the area. But I predict this track will never get used again after the last Red Line car is accepted.


By on

I'm on the fence about this idea. Why not just use the Cabot Yard leads? Double-tracked with signals and third rail already in place. Sadly no roller-coaster loops, but at least 1800' of straight track. Presumably there would be no issue scheduling test trips on this section of track betwixt the regular yard pulls. From what I know and have observed there seems to only be a few moves in the early morning, some after the PM rush hour, and then some late pullbacks; plus the work train moves after service ends.

But the prospect of Red Line photo ops in the Seaport seems too awesome to pass up...

I had the same question

By on

But it appears there might not be enough tangent track there. Plus you'd have to build test times around equipment moves in and out of the yard, which might not leave you with any long blocks of time. Of course, that fact that the T owns and operates damn near two miles of yard lead is interesting, as is the fact that the main yard for the Red Line is on such prime property a stone's throw from the Financial District. (Of course, you need a yard like Cabot, and the only other place on or near line it could conceivably be located is down by the Braintree Split. Or maybe even in the middle of the Braintree Split. That could cost some pretty long dollars to build, but Cabot may be worth a pretty penny on the open market!)

Cabot's already deckable for

By on

Cabot's already deckable for air rights pegs and cover-over on the Rolling Bridge Park-Traveler and Traveler-W. 4th blocks the way the tracks are spaced, so there isn't even a land use incentive to try to relocate it. Those two blocks would arguably be higher-value on the pecking order for air rights redev than much-overhyped Widett Circle since there's a real pre-existing rectangular street grid to engage on those blocks, and it directly aids with knitting together Dot Ave. @ a post-USPS expanded South Station with GE headquarters @ Ft. Point and the immediate Broadway Station area with contiguous density. The state's and BRA's 50 years of futility at moving any of the Pike air rights between Back Bay Station and Albany St. without snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is unfortunately the main reason why these two over-Cabot parcels aren't subject to much mindshare for on-again/off-again dev proposals. They're more valuable once you've moved the even more geometrically perfect Pike parcels on the other side of 93 rather than a compelling priority by their lonesome, so lack of progress filling in the grid of Pike airspace a stone's throw away hinders Cabot's immediate infill value.

The only 'sacrosanct' part of Cabot's land usage is the actual Red Line maintenance complex between W. 4th and Southie Haul Road. Multi-story and space-intensive for the size of the fleet it has to maintain, so can't be tucked under a deck and doesn't have any equivalent-size tracts of land in equal shot of JFK/Columbia Jct. that could substitute its functions. But that's tucked in back behind the (also mission-critical) Cabot bus yard and the commuter rail inspection facility in the middle of a big break in the street grid, so is conveniently on the least valuable redev parcel of all anywhere the whole mile length from Rolling Bridge Park to Southampton St. Too many better parcels that could be decked-over first before enough land is gobbled up for anyone to start coveting the footprint of the Red Line maint complex.

If they move the Food Market from Widett and install ground-level commuter rail storage that can be decked over, then there's almost 2 million sq. feet of developable land reclaimable between Widett/etc. and those two Cabot blocks without squeezing one single transpo-supporting building structure. It's the canvas of our wildest SimCity dreams AND we get to eat cake too with 50-year needs for transit storage. If only this weren't the same state that's so inept at moving even better Pike airspace after a half-century of futility, we might actually see that canvas exploited before the heat death of the universe. :-\