An electric proposal to make commuter rail world class

CommonWealth presents a proposal to make commuter rail faster, more reliable and more popular - by replacing most of the current trains with individually powered electric coaches known as "electric multiple units" like they use in Japan - and Connecticut.

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Anything is better than

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What we have now. It only took me 90 min tonight to travel from S Station to Roslindale Village for $200 a month.

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Cost?

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The piece conveniently leaves out a dollar amount.

I mean it sounds good to get Tokyo quality rail, if the Japanese pay for it.

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Here's what they don't tell you

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When you move to a system where the power is coming from outside the train, the engines are much lighter than the diesel units. Now, this might sound like a good idea but when Godzilla picks up your train, do you really want to make it easier for him to throw it a great distance?

No, no you don't.

I'll stick with the heavy diesel engines, thanks.

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Forget Japan

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Can we at least get Connecticut quality rail service?

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We interrupt this comment box

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We interrupt this comment box for a literary allusion.

What we have here is your basic "monkey's paw" scenario.

You've gotta have some careful specificity in your wishes. Otherwise you could end up with stuff like (a) getting windfall cash - because your wish gets your son killed in an industrial accident, or (b) getting good, German/Japanese quality high-speed passenger rail service - because your wish has bent the space-time continuum to change history and the Axis won WWII!

Wishing for Connecticut-quality rail service? Which year? My frame of reference goes back about 50 years to my Dad's stories of the death throes of the jolly green giants of the New Haven Railroad - when it wasn't a question of when you got home, but "if"!!!

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Cost?

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Sure it's a nice concept, but the article only states it'd be a significant capital expenditure to build....perhaps someone at Commonweatlh could win Powerball 20 times and donate all winnings to build this?

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How much time wasted in traffic, again?

This is a project that could alleviate traffic, save fuel, and make it possible for those on the train to be more productive.

Given what you post here, I suppose you are probably a little too squirrely to actually travel to Europe or Japan to see how real rail service works.

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Wow.

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How in heaven's name do you know if the original poster has never been to Europe or Japan? Assumption alert! Just. Wow. Aside from that, one does not have to travel to Europe and/or Japan to have an opinion on the cost (i.e. feasibility) of a proposed transportation initiative, Swirls. Perhaps you could give us some analysis and/or a statistical breakdown on how the state can possibly finance this new initiative?

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Fortunately...

... that "can't do, everything is too expensive" attitude wasn't around when the subway system was originally proposed (or the Interstate highway system, for that matter, although back then, "can't do" almost prevailed)

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Free public transportation would improve commerce...

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Free public transportation would improve commerce and change the metropolitan area for the good thereby offsetting the costs.

Or free public transportation from time to time would benefit commerce too!

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That's the same foolish

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That's the same foolish argument that Brownback used in Kansas for his tax cuts. And look how that turned out.

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Huh?

Isn't "let's spend on public infrastructure to benefit the economy." pretty much the diametrical opposite of Brownback's argument?

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the foolish argument is that

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the foolish argument is that Free transportation will somehow generate revenue that will pay for the costs of the transportation upgrades

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You don't think the economic

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You don't think the economic activity generated by the Interstate highway system absolutely dwarfs the cost of building and maintaining it?

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The article is full of great

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The article is full of great ideas that would improve our economy and people's daily lives. But it won't happen as long as Charlie Baker is in office. He has no interest in investing in efficient, safe, responsible public transportation or taking away the myriad handouts drivers get.

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Gov Patrick had a chance to

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Gov Patrick had a chance to spend big on this and blew all the $$$ on patronage and welfare handouts. Compare the success of the accelerated bridge program vs. Feel good nonsense. Until the budget is refocused on building and maintaining things rather than transfer payments we won't have nice things.

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A two-door?!

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A two-door?!

That's rather cavalier of you.

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Bravo

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Totally agree.

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Is there a threshold number

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Is there a threshold number of repeats that equals "proof"?

I understand the performance advantages of EMUs as described. In fact, I agree with several of his ideas.

However, he kept throwing the idea out there that EMUs are "more reliable" without anything to back it up. It may very well be so, but he doesn't do anything to show it. I've lived/commuted on a well-run commuter rail line - no difference in reliability (from the customer perspective) between the diesel and electric on that line.

Also, he talks a little about what the agency/RR, government, and voters might do - but doesn't mention the need to stand firm in the face of unreasonable levels of NIMBYism and impractical design decisions. Community input and buy-in and accomodation is important, but the recent Greenbush reactivation was a disaster in what was given away.
- ruling out late-night service, making it nearly impossible for anyone to have an evening out in the City at a show or sports event and come home via CR
- allowing noise concerns to disrupt standard-practices (silenced the crossing gate bells)
- it was sensible to only build out as a one-track line until ridership got closer to needing more, but insanity to not to the right-of-way prep construction only once (look where the line crosses under 3A - they rebuilt the whole overpass and made the crossing only wide enough for one track. They should've built it wide enough for two. If the line ever gets enough demand for two-track service, it would have been a simple matter of laying the second track. The way they did it - they'll have to tear down the entire overpass again!

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..as to building high-level

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..as to building high-level platforms - that's happening. Not as fast as anybody might like, but they can't do them all at once - either logistically or moneywise.

All new station construction is accessible. Greenbush line, Yawkey, Brighton....

As older stations are renovated, they are changed to meet accessibility standards. There's accessibility law in general, and conditions on receiving state or federal funds.

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Published statistics from

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Published statistics from Metro North (I believe you can find them on Wikipedia) show that the mean distance between failures for the M8 trains that run between New Haven and NYC is somewhere around 400,000 miles, and other agencies that run EMUs have similar results. Meanwhile, from the presentations given to the FMCB about our ongoing commuter rail crisis, you can see that the goal for the new locomotives is 40,000 (which they are not meeting yet), and some of our older locomotives are struggling to get to 4000 miles between failures. EMUs are literally 100 times more reliable.

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Why

If someone is wondering why, it basically boils down to fewer moving parts for electric traction. You have a motor, maybe a couple gears, and the wheel/axle. Probably some lubrication mechanism too. An internal combustion engine has all that plus radiators, pistons, valves, exhaust, fuel injectors, (or whatever diesels use), probably a lot more too, I'm not really a mechanics guy.

Plus there's the fact that there's not constant explosions happening inside it.

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More frequent service - more riders

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I would love, love, love, more frequent service on the commuter rail. One reason I don't use it more is that I don't want to have to carefully schedule my day around the rail. On regular work days this is no problem. But if I need to go in or leave in the middle of the day there are limited numbers of trains for me to take. So, I drive instead.

If I want to go into Boston on the weekend the trains run only a few times a day and if I miss a train it's at least 2 hours till the next one. I don't fancy sitting around North Station for two hours waiting for a train, do you?

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Sort of

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Except those were diesel, and only meant for limited use (Fairmount Line, that poor abandoned track to the waterfront and maybe as a shuttle to/from the proposed West Station in Allston).

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All I keep reading about and

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All I keep reading about and hearing about in the news for several years if not more, are proposals and deals to be made when it comes to the commuter rail (and subway system as well). But everyday ridership and the riding experience gets worse and worse! When is anything good going to actually happen?

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Sounds Good

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It sounds good. As a matter of fact,if this kind of scheme was introduced on the Lowell line, it would have eliminated the need for most of the Green Line Extension work, a savings of much more than $1 billion.

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I've always thought that if a

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I've always thought that if a commuter rail platform was squeezed in at Ball Square, it would address a gap in that line. How about initiating a bus line or two from from that general area directly to Causeway Street?

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The problem is not convincing the public to ride the CR

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The problem is convincing Keolis to simply pick up the people who want to use it. If the issue is that trains aren't frequent enough the answer is to spend $100M on new cars and engines, not untold billion$ to create an entire new system. Er, I mean go check out Copenhagen, dude, No Blood For Oil.

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Try reading the article

Electrification + North South Rail Link =

  • faster service
  • frequent service
  • much more reliable service<>

I.e., picking people up who want to use it, when they want to use it, and encouraging more people to use it. This isn't creating a new system, this is investing in the system we have, leveraging it, making it better. The return on investment is massively more than from just buying new rolling stock, fiscally, environmentally, housing-wise, personal freedom-wise.

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You forgot "We will maximize our synergies".

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Electrifying all the tracks, upgrading the rails to allow the speeds, and buying all new rolling stock amounts creating a new system. This is before considering the Link. It all sounds very nice, but the best chance is to ask Santa for it for Christmas. The CR used to have 3 conductors on a car and for a year it's been 2, although they keep pretending one guy is sick. This is an angels on the head of a pin discussion which is only useful if you want complain about Baker. "Hey man, if they took all the money for the border wall.." "it still wouldn't even be close. A CR link that enables people to ride from Brockton to Lowell would only be used by a few drug mules. I know people like to pretend that if you can take a train from ME to FL peace and love will spread throughout the world, but I have my doubts.

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It doesn't need to change all

It doesn't need to change all at once, and not every line needs to be electrified. Eventually, that would be nice, but it's not necessary. And it's not about moving people from Lowell to Brockton. It's about moving the equipment, which right now is so cumbersome it limits anything approaching frequent service. It's also about speed, housing affordability, local and state economies, AND environmental costs.

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But you do, kind of

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Sure, north side and south side are separate, but the trainsets on either side go on multiple lines. The train from Providence becomes the train to Needham which, when it gets back to South Station, might become the train to Franklin.

It would be very simple to start electric service to Providence, since the wires are up and live, but having a fleet just for Providence would be a lot harder than one would think.

I know I come across as opposed to all of this, but if we don't know the cost and means for paying for it all. It is harder than some think.

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Great

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How are they going to get commuters to Worcester?

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No - for any line that is

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No - for any line that is already (or becomes) electrified. That way, you can gradually transition as electrified sections of line(s) are added. You add electric locomotives, replacing your oldest or least-reliable diesels. in the meantime, you get to continue use of perfectly serviceable (and interchangeable - can be used with diesels on the same or any other line) passenger coaches that you already have and that will last for decades.

The alternative is to buy trainsets of these EMUs that then can be used only on the electrified lines.

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Sigh

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If you didn't understand my comment, why did you reply to it?

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Then why did you write an

Then why did you write an incomprehensible comment? I understood it that same way Rob did. Commuters will get to Worcester in a train pulled by a diesel loco, then once its electrified by a train pulled by an electric loco, until the cars are replaced by EMUs.

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Okay, let's try it again

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When the train gets back from Worcester nowadays, it may become a Greenbush train outbound. How is that train going to get to Scituate using an electric locomotive when the line is not electrified?

The scheduling system for the commuter rail is a lot more complex than people think. Changing one part has a knock on effect for the entirety of the north or south side.

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"Okay, let's try it again."

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"Okay, let's try it again."

https://youtu.be/9-k5J4RxQdE?t=20s

Sorry, couldn't resist. The "let's try it again" rang familiar in my mind, just had to dig it out. You do better than Daffy in arguing your case. blues_lead understood me, though.

Currently, how often does a train set go in from one line to South (or North) and out another line? The crews mostly start their shifts at an outlying yard, right? They need to end their shift back at the same location (whether it's on the same train set or a different one). The only current scenario that comes to my mind for a train set coming in one line and out another is when a train set would be rotated out to maintenance facility - drop one off, pick one up, and get back out to your original line.

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How common?

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Very common. They do try to ensure that certain consists are on certain runs on certain lines, but if you look at the newspapers left behind, you see how many directions the trains go. The weekend Fairmount trains, for example, definitely are on other lines for other runs.

You note the NJ Transit setup elsewhere. Imagine if the Hoboken and Penn Station routes were combined. They probably do the same thing we do, but with essentially 2 systems.

I'm not saying it couldn't be done. It's just harder than people think.

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Yeah, the NJT routes

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Yeah, the NJT routes (northern half of the state) have been at least partially combined for at least 20 years.

One line (Raritan Valley) terminates at Newark Penn on the NEC.
North Jersey Coast runs on the NEC.
They put in a connecting track at their shop & yards northeast of Newark Penn, so NEC traffic can run to Hoboken Terminal (mostly used by the diesels from North Jersey Coast that wouldn't be going in the river tunnel anyway)
They put in a connecting track near the shop & yards so one of the Morris & Essex branches can run onto the NEC instead of going to Hoboken.
They put in a connecting track at the far west end of that branch, connecting it with the midpoint of a parallel branch, so half the the stations on that other branch could get the one-seat ride to Manhattan.
They built the Lautenberg Station (Seacaucus Transfer) where two of the Hoboken-only lines cross under NEC, so passengers can come upstairs and transfer to NEC trains.
Hoboken-only trains can go out from that terminal to the NEC connector - obviously it helps that a major shop & yards is centrally located (abutting multiple lines & in an area between Newark Penn, the river tunnel portal, and Hoboken Terminal).

The other thing I think they do is they have some daytime layover track space in the Sunnyside, Queens LIRR/Amtrak yard. I suppose there must be more capacity in the East River tunnel than the Hudson tunnel to make that practical.

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That's kind of what they do

That's kind of what they do now though. The consets to Providence don't do Greenbush runs, because they want the longer consets with larger cars on the route with more passengers. There's some shuffling, and having a mixed fleet + mixed trackage would make things more difficult, yes.

The other options is to do inner sections first, on all lines. Then you can start runner frequent inner service with electric vehicles, and while longer-distance routes maintain the diesels, until the whole line is electrified.
This doesn't actually strike me as a better option, but it might be.

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The other options is to do

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The other options is to do inner sections first, on all lines. Then you can start runner frequent inner service with electric vehicles, and while longer-distance routes maintain the diesels, until the whole line is electrified.
This doesn't actually strike me as a better option, but it might be.

That can work, though I suppose the practicality of it depends on things like the size/length of the line, where lines overlap, where can increments of electrical work be done, where can vehicles be stored (if not the end of the line)...

The line I lived/commuted on in NJ was electrified in increments, but I'm not sure how it compares in scale to most Massachusetts commuter rail lines. That line (North Jersey Coast) runs on the Northeast Corridor (long ago electrified) for the 7 or 8 stations (25 miles) closest to the core. When it branches out to its own line, it goes another 20 stations (~45 miles). The 11 stations (~25 miles) closest to the Corridor were electrified in two or three installments over a long period of years. They still run diesel for the last 9 stations to the end of the line because some sort of drawbridge/overpass/clearance issue means that there isn't enough clearance to install overhead catenary until the overpass is rebuilt.

They run a mix of service. Off-peak is usually diesel shuttle making local stops between the end of the line and the last electric station, and electric service making all local stops on the rest of the line. Rush hour, they add diesel expresses that skip some of the Corridor and some of the stops in the electrified portion of the branch line.

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One of the goals of the

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One of the goals of the recent rescheduling was to eliminate trainset interlining. That way, if a line has a delay, other lines aren't affected.

This also makes it easier to have lines with different equipment requirements, such as keeping electric trains on the Providence line (until it's possible to electrify more lines).

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It is essentially a new system

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Yes, the ROW and track are already there (assuming that one doesn't think all lines need to be double tracked to be "world class") but the electrical system is not as simple as one might think. Heck, how long did it take Amtrak to string wires from New Haven to Boston? I remember seeing something about that at South Station in the early 1980s. We're talking about 300 miles of new infrastructure to get this done.

And of course let's not ignore that most of these plans include the North-South Rail Link, which is Big Dig-ish in scope (though admittedly a bit easier.)

But sure, since the state has billions of dollars just lying around, let's get started today.

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It took Amtrak 4 years to do

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It took Amtrak 4 years to do the actual work of electrification (1996 to 2000).

And we don't have to do the whole system at once. We could do just the (rest of the) south side. Or do half the lines on the south side -- the busier ones. Stoughton trains shouldn't become Worcester trains anyway, since the demand is so different.

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4 years?

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Sure, after decades of trying to get the funding. And remember, at that level of government, they literally print money. We can't get South Coast Rail built and are 2 decades behind on GLX already, so I'm not holding my breath on this.

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More frequent service?

The article makes a lot of assertions that sound fishy. The notion that we could cut Providence to South Station time from 75 to 43 minutes just because EMUs have better acceleration is one. Harder to believe is the notion that we could have much more frequent service. Go back into the archives to see dbperry's writings about the South Station interlocking and other choke points to see that the capabilities of the trains in only one factor in a complicated dance; a dance where one dancer's stumble echos through the rest of the day.

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