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Massholes know train-crossing warning lights never really mean anything

Train signals ignored in Cambridge

Josh Wardell watched in amazement this morning as the warning lights came on where the train tracks cross Main Street in Cambridge and drivers said "screw that" and just kept on going.

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Why aren't there gates?

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Ah yes thats what we need, another million dollar subsidy for drivers

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pedestrians and bikers never ignore signs or their own respective laws, and gates wouldn't benefit them at all. And it's not like passengers on the train could be injured if there were an accident or anything.

You'd think someone who apparently sees with no perspective would be all for safety gates.

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They make gates for sidewalks too. They're just little. And you can't exactly bike through a gate either.

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They are near the MIT Cyclotron, Pacific Street, and Fort Washington Park.

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Some people just have to make it a "cars only" issue so they can ensue we all know they don't like them. Maybe my snark didn't translate well in my initial response.

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At that location trains are moving so slowly that gates don't really increase anyone's safety. At that speed a train can stop if a car pulls in front of it.

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ummm.... Physics?

Really.

Momentum: mass, velocity... V may be very low, but M is very high.

It still takes a bit of distance to brake down to a stop.

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Don't forget all that M holds the wheels pretty tight against the track, providing plenty of braking friction. The trains go through there at a walking pace.

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The trains go through there at a walking pace.

Yeah...because drivers do stupid shit like that last one that stopped on the tracks because there wasn't even room on the other side to cut in front of the train but they went anyways.

If there were gates and drivers had to wait or do something insane like zig-zag through the gates, then they'd wait and the train could cross at a decent clip.

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It's a chicken-and-egg problem.

It's not like trains were blasting through there at 60 mph but car drivers were stupid and ignored the trains and got hit every day so the trains started stopping.

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However much distance it takes, all trains *do* stop at the crossing. Including the one in the video.

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Yes - a planned stop, before the crossing, no cars/peds/bikes in the train's path.

We're talking about the need for an unplanned, emergency stop.

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We're talking about whether gates are necessary to make sure cars stop long before trains get there (because the trains are moving too fast to stop for cars), or whether trains are going slowly enough that they can stop and wait for a gap in traffic. The latter is the case.

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A bit of distance is right. Look at the video, the train stops

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A freight train w forward momentum doesn't stop on a dime like your Hyundai.

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it's still foolish for people in their cars to drive across the tracks right in front of the trains when they're that close to them.

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I mean really.....How stupid can people get? There probably should be gates at the railroad crossings, in street intersections.

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Grade crossings with active deterrents like gates are regulated by Mass and FRA law that mandates a lag time between gate closure and the transit of a locomotive through the intersection. However, it's at the railroad and host community's discretion as to how to administer a particular crossing - in this case, the MBTA and Cambridge have an agreement that limits track speed, but avoid the lag time on the gates and they're permitted by Mass law to do so, as long as they give (I think it's three, but cities can alter the protocol for specific intersections) whistle blows upon approaching a grade-crossing.

Cambridge doesn't want to lock-up three of the major urban arteries, two of which in quick succession, during heavier traffic periods. That's why the grade crossings are kept un-gated. And, frankly, that system should work fine if people weren't so goddamn impatient to move 10 feet forward in traffic that they block an active line.

Again, it's an issue of enforcement - gates are expensive to maintain, as are many traffic control devices and unnecessary congestion causes brings both economic and social detriments; instead of lumping on a new signal, we could have the same outcome if there was a traffic officer posted nearby dishing out tickets (though in this case, I'm not sure the cars were actually committin a fine-able offense). At some point, it becomes the city's fault for not enforcing it's own traffic laws.

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FRA rules state (and working from memory) that the crossing protection needs to be active for at least 20 seconds before the train enters the roadway, unless flagged by a crew member who has stopped traffic (which will likely take more than 20 seconds - drivers are happy to ignore the poor crew member walking into traffic, too.). Considering that this is a low-volume line, putting gates on crossings that are considered a lower maintenance priority is just asking for blocked streets. Grade crossing circuits have a lot of potential to fail and require a lot of maintenance - it's less time Keolis crews have to spend responding to problems on a non-revenue branch line.

(As far at the horn signals, they're required to do the standard long-long-short-long horn sequence as any grade crossing. Probably apt to mess it up or stretch it out here due to the engineer and conductor watching so many conflicting movements coming at them.)

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20 seconds is way too long! If the mandatory delay is too long, towns like Cambridge will not want to deal with a gate, and in other places people will be tempted to drive around the gate, because they know they have plenty of time. That 20 second rule probably causes more damage than it prevents. Unintended consequences.

On top of that if you see one or two cars blow through the flashing lights, then it's fair to blame the drivers. But when you see a lot of people roll through, then the blame shifts to the design of the intersection.

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The crossings *do* have protection -- flashing lights. They just don't have the accompanying gates (except the one at Cambridge Street).

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Not only does it have gates, it also has the flashing lights overhead where you can't possibly miss them, rather than off to the side partly obscured by trees and parked cars.

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As far at the horn signals, they're required to do the standard long-long-short-long horn sequence as any grade crossing.

Except if they're in a suburb that gets the rules changed, like on parts of the Greenbush Line. After all, why should anyone need to hear railroad-type sounds next to an actual railroad track?

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...that's in most of the area. For example, the entire Haverhill Line (except Lawrence, naturally) is a quiet zone. Fortunately in a lot of cases the towns themselves are now having to pay for the added work (usually lane dividers) to allow the quiet zones to stay in place.

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If there were gates the Cambridge police would need to come by and arrest them.

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really work, then tougher enforcement of traffic laws, including going through a flashing railroad train/track light, should be implemented.

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...don't know how often Cambridge does railroad crossing enforcement, but MBTA police could also do it since it's their railroad. I suspect one major reason is just lack of coordination. Due to the infrequent nature of these trains, they would need to plan in advance. I suspect it's sadly not a high priority.

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The Grand Junction only became MassDOT property 4 years ago, so all of the crossing protection is leftover from when CSX and Conrail owned (and negligently maintained) the line. The fact that there are no gates has nothing to do with City of Cambridge; City of Cambridge has no veto power over that. The reason the crossings are un-gated is simply that the equipment is older than dirt. Recently they've had to implement stop-and-protect rules forcing the trains to slow to near-stop and lay on the horn because that older-than-dirt crossing equipment has started malfunctioning and failing to pick up the train in time.

MassDOT's purchase of the line came with a to-do list of required repairs: crossings, track/ties, and BU Bridge rehab. But they're in no rush to fund and schedule all of it because the line is bottom-priority, so they're just tackling it in little bits when they have spare time. They did the BU Bridge rehab a couple years ago. Eventually they'll redo the crossings and give Mass Ave., Main, Broadway, and Binney full gate installations just like Medford St., Cambridge St., and the Ft. Washington Park pedestrian crossing. And eventually they'll repair the shot trackbed through MIT so the freight trains don't make the whole neighborhood vibrate every afternoon and can do 20 MPH instead of 5 MPH. But none of it is anyone's idea of urgent work.

Ultimately doesn't matter. The idiot drivers will surely try to daredevil their way around gated crossings too. Just sit by the Medford St. crossing while the gates are down and watch the Darwin Award contenders do their thing all the same.

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Cambridge can petition MassDOT and, assuming an agreement, can petition the State for variances on those crossings, correct? That's all I was trying to convey - general lack of desire for gates on the City's part contributing the low priority on MassDOT's to-do list.

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Seriously? Gates? The lights, and bells, and the hundreds of tons of machinery potentially crushing you into oblivion aren't enough?

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I would have plowed into the last car to teach them a lesson

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They arrest people who walk onto subway tracks for trespassing. Arrest these idiots as well, especially the ones that drive onto the tracks of the green line. Its crazy how often the terrible drivers around here hold up public transportation and they always get away with it.

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The easy way to deal with this is to give the railroad the unconditional right to take title to any motor vehicle preventing a train (including trolleys) from moving, with railroad police having the right to immediately take possession of the car. Failure to deliver a clear title to the vehicle within 30 days (meaning paying off any loans secured by the vehicle, arranging for the lessor of the vehicle to transfer title to the railroad, or purchasing the vehicle so that title may be transferred) shall be considered prima facie evidence of car theft.

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This is Massachusetts, buster! Go back to someplace where they have consequences for driving like a shithead with that talk!

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And purposefully maimed and likely killed someone? Great call.

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The train had slowed to a crawl. It could have very slowly and dramatically ppeeeeeeeeeeelllleeeeeedddd the back bumper off that last car. The driver would have had the lesson of some serious car body and dry cleaning expenses. And this video would have a very satisfying coda.

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...take all the fun out of that. Poor train crew would spend the next three days in interviews and filling out forms and such.

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That video just made my day.

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I work next to the tracks on Broadway and these trains come through 3-5 times a day. No one pays attention to them. I think most people think they are freight trains coming through, but usually it's a loco and 3 cars. Not worth rushing over the tracks for.

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I see it all the time as well.

At that same intersection I saw similar action to this video - but worse. The car on the tracks finally noticed the train and pulled ahead. Then the guy behind him then pulled forward INTO the tracks. Then, of course, was shocked to see a train a foot away form his passenger drivers side door.

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There's no crossing bell audible in the video, only the bell from the train. Where the warning lights at the intersection even working?

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Like Boston drivers pay attention to traffic lights.

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This was Cambridge not Boston. Furthermore, it's a valid question.

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I think it's safe to say that when somebody mentions "Boston drivers" they are referring to people who are from roughly, oh, the area inside 128, just like people who speak "Boston English" may not actually get a chance to vote for or against Marty Walsh.

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As someone who lives in Boston and has worked in both Cambridge and Boston, there is a huge difference between the two cities. Equating them as one and the same basically shows that you live in neither. Not saying you specifically, Adam -- my comment is aimed at the commenter who didn't bother to read even the most basic point of information about your post.

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Axes are being ground.

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Which city do you think has worse drivers?

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As a pedestrian, I'd say drivers behave worse in Boston -- perhaps because of the street design and quicker pace. As a driver, I loathe driving in Cambridge mainly due to pedestrians in Central and Harvard Sq., where I more frequently drive; it's like a free for all with people crossing the street whenever and wherever without looking. Either way I would love to see cops enforcing the rules of the road for drivers -- stopping for red lights and stop signs seems to be treated as merely a suggestion.

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are quite badly behaved, but New York drivers are rather badly-behaved as well, many of them. Unlike a lot of Bay State drivers, however, at least many New York drivers, as badly behaved as they may be, are alert.

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People driving in Cambridge are not the same people who are driving in Boston. The river has no bridges for them, after all.

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Drovers should have sense enough to slow down and/or stop when they see the flashing lights and hear the bells on the railroad signals, whether it's in Cambridge, Boston, or any place else..

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Drovers don't always have control of the lead animals they're herding.

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Here's google maps street view: https://goo.gl/maps/85rkQisw1CN2

No cross bars, but the usual blinking red lights are there.

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Yes, the red lights were definitely flashing.

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When he pans to the street, you can hear them. When he pans to the train, you cannot.

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and passes the spot at least twice daily, I can tell you that the bells do indeed ring as well as signals which flash. The crossing bells start way before the train ever shows up.

It never ceases to amaze me that so many drivers will keep going over the tracks as the train approaches. Because any train literally crawls through at this point (per the video) perhaps the car drivers think that it is no big deal. Very foolish anyway you cut it.

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Main St rather than Mass. Ave. People still ignore the train, tho.

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Thanks, fixed.

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...in addition to the private cars, there's an ABC Moving truck, and the first vehicles across appears to be an MIT Facilities truck.

Being a low-speed, low-volume, and non-revenue (as far as the owner MBTA is concerned), many if not all of the crossings are considered "crossing protection out of service" by the railroad, requiring stop and protect (train crew flags the crossing).* In practice, it's so well ignored the train crews do a stop and proceed at all of them, which of course just encourages drivers to pay even less attention.

*Yes, most of them work, but when they're placed "out of service" by the railroad it means they're not confident of their condition and function, so train crews by rule then have to stop and flag. Not such a big deal on this line since they pretty much have to because of the drivers.

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https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter90/Sect...

All other persons violating the provisions of this section not operating a school bus, or any motor vehicle carrying explosive substances or flammable liquids as a cargo or part of a cargo, shall be punished by a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $200 or by being required to perform a total of 50 hours of community service which may include service in the operation lifesaver program.

Station a Cambridge cop where the video's being recorded and there you have a quick $1,000 or so in revenue for the state.

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make them do the 50 hours of community service, then it'll stop.

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People ignore the lights because the train always stops and waits for traffic to stop at these crossings.

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Region 1 Cambridge FRA Federal Railroad Administration
https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0236

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In no defense whatsoever for those ignoring the working visual and audible signals, but that Blue Moon truck was blocking eastbound drivers' view of the train and the right side crossing sign.

These signals are commonly ignored until the train comes into view, and it amazes me. But to see someone stop on the tracks completely unaware of a train a few feet away was exceptional. There was more than a car length between him and the car in front.

The signal bells are working, but not loud at all. Thankfully this was just one engine. Trains come through here a few times a day, sometimes with several cars. Maybe adding some strobe lights to the signals to get extra attention would help, as you see with some traffic lights.

I'm usually proud of our assertive masshole driving, but don't mess with trains, folks. You won't win.

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...at a low speed crossing.

I see it happen at home in Andover, where we have slower moving commuter trains (due to the station), but also Amtrak that comes through at 60 mph. The same people who pull into an intersection without having a place to go on the other side (blocking the box) often do it on railroad crossings, where the non-traffic fine penalty can be a bit more severe.

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I don't start to cross railroad tracks unless and until I can see that there's enough room on the other side for my car. It's not uncommon that the chowderhead behind me starts blowing the horn because I refuse to move my car forward ten feet and block the tracks while waiting in a line of traffic.

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But the penalty for failure in a more rural state is far higher - as in "the remains of you and your vehicle will be located 1 mile down the tracks".

I have had that experience of being honked at, too. Then screamed at because the gates came down and we had to wait. Too bad. I'm not going to die because some asshole is in a hurry.

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Swirlygrrl, you are the best.

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Kudos to you for sticking to your guns and not giving into the jerks who insist on honking their horns because you stood your ground and refused to move your car forward and block the tracks, and thereby risk both your life and that of the driver of the train.

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I stopped as I couldn't clear tracks. Guy behind me starts honking. Space for my car opened up but there would have been no space behind me. I envisioned the knucklehead behind getting stuck on the tracks and spinning into me if he got hit by train. So I waited until I could proceed far enough forward for that not to be possible too. Sorry angry impatient dude!

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The signal bells are loud enough and no new lights are needed. The trains, as they come through, also blow their horns which are very loud. If you, as a driver (or cyclist and/or pedestrian), can't figure out that "gee, train tracks, bells, lights, oh, horn...must be a train...me stop" than I don't know what to say.

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as you can see from this Street View.

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It's a twofer!

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Where this line crosses Medford St in Somerville there are gates. Which fail often. That combined with the poster above who noted their affinity for failure would be why Cambridge didn't request the gates on Main St.

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I hope that the stupid driver stopped on the tracks had a heart attack. The drivers in that area are HORRIBLE! They never stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks either (including police vehicles).

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It's obviously the cyclist's fault!

Oh, wait... ;)

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not all assholes are massholes. some of these dribers cpul be from oit of state

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Regardless if the train was going slow or not, It's common sense. What if it wasn't going slow and that last dummy didn't clear the tracks in time?

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Then we'd have one fewer dummy in Massachusetts and a damaged T locomotive?

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The easy solution would to just have a (Transit?) cop park there and give out tickets. Not saying it would stop everyone but once you are ticketed once you'll remember.

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Back in the day (15+ years ago), where a spur line crossed routes 2/3/16 between the rotaries at Fresh Pond, a train with a few cars would occasionally go through. There was no gate, and I don't remember if there were even lights. I understood that the train delivered supplies for a commercial bakery in Watertown. When the train needed to cross, a RR official would park in the gas station next to it, and halt traffic. One time, we were fortunate to have him help us ferry a momma duck and ducklings across to the pond. Foundations were built for a crossing gate, but never finished.

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That was the Watertown branch of the Fitchburg line, and the tracks are still there.

https://goo.gl/maps/2YbLvFa8zYx

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has been disused for so long that trees are growing between the rails. It is officially abandoned now and at least the part south of Concord Ave. is to be converted to a bike path.

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It was used regularly up until the last customer went away in 2007. Not that long ago.

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I was driving in Cambridge last night and noticed RR Crossing signs. What is that line used for? and where does it go? I usually commute to and from North Station and am curious about where the freight cars there go.

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The cars are ferried along the line to the maintenance facility at North Station.

Also, I believe produce that is shipped in via CSX goes that way en route to Chelsea, but in any event the small amount of freight uses a spur by North Station to get to its destination.

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The Grand Junction is the sole Boston-area connection between the north and south sides of the commuter rail system. Since all heavy maintenance is carried out at Boston Engine Terminal in Somerville, equipment is regularly moved back and forth via the Grand Junction. Work trains also use it carrying things like ballast and ties around the system.

Amtrak also uses the GJ to move Downeaster trains to Southampton St Yard for service.

Additionally, CSX uses it for one daily freight train to Chelsea/Everett, carrying primarily produce and scrap metal.

The branch once in a while plays host to things like the Circus Train as well. It's actually an unexpectedly busy rail line, seeing on average 2-3 moves a day.

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Thanks for the information. Could the line play any role in the discussion of the proposed tunnel between North and South stations?

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No, as on the north end the connection is to the Fitchburg line heading toward North Station, and on the south end the connection is to the Worcester line heading toward Worcester at Beacon Park. The North-South Rail Link would need to connect to more than just one pair of lines, and be located downtown rather than Allston-Cambridge-Somerville.

There is on-and-off discussion about routing some Worcester trains to North Station via the GJ, but this is unlikely to happen.

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