North/south link could cost $12.3 billion

NBC Boston reports on a draft study by the MBTA.

Officials will discuss the study at a meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at 10 Park Plaza.




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It doesn't matter

It ain't gonna happen in my lifetime anyway.

I'm still holding out for the GLX though. I reckon I got at least another 45-50 years left in me.



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Like the idea.. but I know it won't see the light of day.

We can thank mismanagement of the Big Dig for that. Cost overruns and just so much mismanagement turned off the Fed for decades to give us large chunks of change like that again. It will be decades before are able to ask for a large sum like that again.


It was

But then they cut it out to cut costs.

That does reduce the price though, because they did set it up for us later - slurry walls are in place, the geology has already been cleared so its easy, predictable tunneling.

I think they should have nixed the highway portion to cut costs, and kept the rail.


Hold yer breath. The GLX got shelved again

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The "brilliant" minds at MassDOT had a "fool proof" solution. Just shut down all Fitchburg, Amtrak, and North-South transfer service in the GLX footprint to cut down on costs. The network and business breakdowns from Maine to Mass have led to a $550 million overrun and weeks of new review. I am a big GLX booster and want to see it happen, but it looks like we may need $5 billion in the bank to make this happen. NSRL can come after the GLX.


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That’s maybe 2-3 miles of tunnel? That’s double the Second Ave subway (2.5B/mile) which shattered records for the most expensive, and at least 10 times what it cost to build in European capitals (Paris = $450M/mile). Don’t tell me it’s environmental compliance or high labor costs, there’s something bizarre here.


Read the presentation

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Which is here.

It's more than just boring a hole. There are 3 deep stations to construct, and $4 billion of the bill is electrification and the purchase of a complete set of dual mode locomotives.

My gut is that the T doesn't want to build this, but they show their work. I think the better point of comparison is the East Side Access project in New York. 2 miles of track now costing $10 billion.


They should, if they want to

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They should, if they want to set up shop here. Only maybe don't get Elon to dig the hole, he's not a fan of experts. Maybe the Celtics can pitch in to help out with this bill too. Their fans on the south side will enjoy the access.

¡Electrification! ≠ ¡Tunnel!

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This thing is loaded with extraneous costs that shouldn't be there, dated metrics, and contradictory math about the projected inflation. Turning up a project-killing 11-figure round number to angry up the public seems to be the whole point with how flawed the assumptions are.

Biggest whopper IMHO. . .

The electrification and rolling stock costs should not be shackled to this project to such extreme degree. If they are indeed studying a Commuter Rail modernization plan that includes jump-starting electrification of more southside lines and purchase of modern electric rolling stock (a.k.a. the TransitMatters plan and the T's ongoing in-house CR Future study), those modernizations will already be finished and running before first shovel gets turned on NSRL. So why are those budgets being joined at the hip, and why--if it's being evaluated independently--were the NSRL metrics not adjusted either/or to factor an independent jump-start of systemwide electrification progress vs. electrification begun as an NSRL prerequisite??? The costs flip on their head if that modernization gets pursued independently. Some acknowledgement of that possibility is necessary now that they are indeed officially looking at this. Instead they just rehashed assumptions from 12-15 years ago as if time has stood still on the who & what of triggering system electrification.

For example, it only takes electrification of 3-1/2 schedules--Providence + Wickford/RIDOT intrastate (T costs: expansion of Sharon other RIDOT-funded to-do's across the state line), Fairmount (9 miles of new wire), and Worcester (44 miles of new wire, 1 new substation)--to flip over 60% of the southside's vehicle requirements over to all-electric EMU's. That's a whole heaping lot of scale wrapped up under 70+ miles of existing wire and a mere 53 miles + 1-1/2 new substations of additional electrification infrastructure.

  • Make next move after that involve divesting the Needham Line off of Commuter Rail and onto the Orange Line as extension to West Roxbury + Green Line as branch off the D from Newton Highlands to Needham Junction. Congestion in the SW Corridor tunnel to Forest Hills means Needham can't have meaningful service increases even if it is wired up, so their electrification is only a net gain if it's the Orange/Green variety. Trade this line off Commuter Rail and Purple-variety electrics now cover well over two-thirds of southside equipment requirements.
  • Do up the Franklin Line to Walpole & Foxboro (15 miles of new wire south of Readville, 1 new substation) and Walpole-Forge Park (11 miles of new wire south of Walpole Jct., 0 substations) as next move after the Needham expunge and south's well over 80% electric.
  • Stoughton let's assume stays diesel until they sort out the mess with South Coast Rail, because substation placement will depend on final decision on whether the line ever gets extended past Stoughton. Then the 3 Old Colony lines and Cape Cod let's assume stay diesel until they find a pricey solve for the Dorchester-Quincy single-track chokepoint, because that matters far more to service levels as first priority than wires-for-wires'-sake. why are we even talking about a whole fleet of morbidly obese and over-expensive dual-mode locomotives being part of an NSRL budget when 80% of the southside can be settled up incrementally and independently to EMU's with a completion date well ahead of NSRL (with the other 20% remainders merely being dependent on other extraneous decisions TBD)?

  • Some routes will rarely if ever use the tunnel. For example, there isn't a crying need for Cape Cod trains to ever use the tunnel with how many miles Hyannis is from Boston on a Cape Flyer or super-extended Middleboro commuter train on fully upgraded rails to Hyannis. There's no northside pair that could ever possibly schedule-match with it, so it will most likely always terminate at the South Station surface terminal forever out of dispatching practicality and there probably won't ever be a need to send wires across the Canal.
  • Another example: one of the worst aspects of the South Coast Rail's defectiveness-by-design is that even though the Army Corps of Engineers is mandating electrification through the swamp for the Stoughton Alternative those end-to-end schedules are in the same boat as Hyannis as being far too long and infrequent a systemwide outlier to ever match consistently and non-brokenly with a northside pair. The dirty little secret is that Fall River/Newport and New Bedford trains will likely STILL be terminating on the surface when the NSRL opens...electrification be damned...simply for schedule-balancing sanity. There probably won't be more than a couple token Taunton short-turns giving barest minimal practical north-south representation through the tunnel. Extreme outliers like Cape & SCR just don't fit that well into a predictable churn of tunnel-pair slots.
  • As for the 3 Old Colony branches, there's not going to be enough extra frequencies on each line to match wits with a north pairing until the near- billion-dollar fix for the Dorchester-Quincy pinch gets you might as well just keep them diesel turning on the surface until you've first done the Dot fix and can gain the bandwidth to finally run frequencies equivalent to all other lines. Even on EMU's that current single-track pinch leaves schedules too gapped-out to do consistent north-paired slots in any non- ham-fisted manner, so first things first.

Nothing ^^there^^ points to a need for dual-mode locomotives at all. Simply follow-through with EMU's and "80/20 rule" scalability on which schedules the equipment's assigned, and they get there. It's basically what TransitMatters spells out in plain English re: the value of just plugging along on an all-electric + ops-modernization commitment. Then, for the "20%" remainders, do their due diligence on stamping out the out-of-scope decisions like fixing the Dot pinch so everything except the truly long-distance "never-will" schedules like Hyannis are primed to take advantage.

It projects no different up north. . .

When the very first northside wires get strung up to Route 128 at Woburn and Salem and/or Waltham they can take turning EMU's from the south from Day 1 of NSRL's opening.

  • Finish the highest-priority electrifications to Lowell (or Nashua) and Rockburyport for complete end-to-end electric schedules and the EMU scalability on the northside starts making the same "80/20" leaps and bounds as southside electrification's build sequence.
  • Plug the holes with Fitchburg Line wires as far as Littleton. It takes 2 substations to get all 60 miles out to Wachusett so they'll probably chunk out the F'burg Line one sub at a time and put the I-495 short-turns under wire first.
  • Then make an executive decision on whether Reading is going to be Purple Line upgraded/electrified or divested off Commuter Rail onto an Orange Line Reading extension (a la the Needham Line down south). Capacity upgrades to the Medford single-track and all the Melrose/Wakefield grade crossings beyond mere electrification will be necessary if this line is to be made capable of accepting a major surge in tunnel-pair schedules. $$$ for doing those upgrades 'right'-and-full starts converging with $$$ for dusting off the proper Orange-Reading extension displacing commuter rail, so NSRL will probably force a fresh head-to-head study on Purple upgrades vs. Orange displacement to help peg relative bang-for-buck. Entirely unknowable today because Western Route capacity punchlist entirely dependent on what-capacity tunnel we choose to build/not-build.

Work the to-do list that far and northside's equipment demands are similarly sitting at >80/20 EMU vs. all other.

Remainders. . .

  • Haverhill Line + Downeaster past Reading/N. Wilmington will be brutally difficult to electrify because of clearance conflicts between tall freight cars and wire height under some hard-to-fix bridges (example: I-495 Merrimack River overpass in North Andover).
  • Fitchburg Line past Littleton will have to be paid on the installment plan because of the second substation required for the outer half of the line. Plus some *minor* overhead bridge mods Ayer-west for tall freight cars under wires.

You're now similarly staring at a set of remainders where the remaining Purple Line schedules (e.g. extra NHDOT-subsidized service past Lowell/Nashua to Concord or past Haverhill to Dover) are either too long and Hyannis-like to ever pair-match through the tunnel and will likely always terminate at surface North Station. Or, it's been whittled down to just the toughest remaining jobs (i.e. Wilmington-Haverhill clearances : northside extracurricular :: Old Colony Dorchester pinch : southside extracurricular) where a few more years running diesel to the surface terminal buys extra time to fundraise and do design for a very tricky perma-fix.

But same deal up freaking way does there *have* to be a massive investment in dual-mode rolling stock at all, much less such a massive investment shackled directly to the NSRL budget. If they're doing their jobs on modernization and working the leaps in EMU scalability with each additional electrified line in the TransitMatters bucket list--south, then north--they'll have the vehicle requirements and (most of) the electrification requirements settled WHOLLY OUTSIDE of the NSRL's actual budgeting and schedule.


There's no reason whatsoever to lump it this way unless self-sabotage was the political end goal. We already know a vehicle & electrification path that's going to cost less and be spread out on a different, completely decoupled timetable. The 11th decimal place in these scare quotes has already been proven complete bunk. Group all that under writ-large Purple Line modernization like it should be and we're left with cost quotes not too-too far off-scale for a tolerable tunnel- + station-centric project price range. It improves that hugely even before deep-diving into the rest of the project details to take out the trash on some of the study's other hugely-flawed assumptions.

There is a path to "reasonable" $5-8B even for the all-frills build with a thorough enough cleanup of the mess this study made. But first off let's acknowledge reality: NSRL isn't *the* one and only reason to electrify; a smart AND cost/benefit -conscious system would be pursuing electrification with gusto anyway. So that modernization-related work has no bearing on the project, and neither do piggish dual-mode fleet we have no rational reason to use in any way/shape/form at all if we eat our peas with all due diligence on modernization of the top 80% of Purple Line schedules prior to NSRL's opening.


Assumption Are the KEY to Cost Estimates

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The math is secondary. Maybe only the discount rate need be debated.

FLTD argues that electrification should not be attributed to the NSRL.
It has to be done, but ... don't charge 'me' for it.

He's got part of a case, but ...
* Electrification is required for the NSRL
* The Purple Line is not electrified today
* The is NO approved plan to electrify the Purple Line

Given that reality, 'charging' electrification to the NSRL is the better option.

No, that's not what I argued.

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No, that's not what I argued. Electrification is being studied independently and sooner, so the updated NSRL study has to fork its metrics to reflect Alternatives in which. . .

A) System electrification is separately greenlit and substantially precedes it.

B) System electrification is NOT separately greenlit and remains stet as a part of the NSRL.

And the reason why you have to provide this accounting is that the T will not be buying dual-mode locomotives to change from electric to diesel at Route 128 if a substantial share of the heaviest-ridership parts of the system is already running all-electric vehicles on end-to-end schedules. A dual-mode loco costs cosmically more to buy and maintain than a straight electric loco, and a large fleet of EMU's displacing push-pull sets would have different accounting altogether because some of the already-projected costs for upcoming retirement/replacements of old coaches would shift over into the EMU pool instead reflecting the shift in fleet shares.

The assumption of fleet makeup is DRAMATICALLY different for NSRL if electrification/modernization proceeds separately, because it completely changes whether dual-modes are a factor. Therefore it's irresponsible to pretend that difference doesn't exist when they are simultaneously running the CR Future study about electrification. Keeping the same fleet and electrification mileage assumptions from 15 years ago stet when they are quite clearly actively studying a radically different set of circumstances is willfully pretending that one hand doesn't know what the other is doing.

To handle that, you duly acknowledge that NSRL can't predict the fate of the electrification/modernization study and has to include the dual-mode figures as a *possible* budgeting item. But you also either have to break the whole fleet budget out of the lump-sum and heavily highlight it as a big variable subject to major change, or take a gander at re-factoring it into a full-on second Project Alternative budget for a universe that starts with substantial electrification and substantial all-electric fleet pre-dating the NSRL and completely or majority- eliminating the need for the expensive dual-modes purchase.

Simply lumping it as-is as an always-unchanging constant is just books-cooking to aid a preordained backlash. If the assumptions of backbone dual-mode fleet vs. majority all-electric fleet are subject to major change to this degree, that's a big enough whopper to require major alternate accounting or major explanation of alternate accounting to come. They did neither and tried to bury that lede. That's not credible.


That's another issue. They

That's another issue. They didn't look at using a single wide bore tunneling machine - which would be 2-3 miles, and only need 2 pits, not 4


By on about that 12.3 billiion....maybe multiply that by ten,then add fifty percent then quadruple the result and you might get close to the REAL cost of the so-called great idea...
And if it is such a great idea,well why didn't J.P. Morgan or Vanderbilt pay for it 90 or a 100 years ago(when railroads were profitable)???


Something is funny here. Why

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Something is funny here. Why does transit always cost so much more in the USA? Nearly $10 billion per mile??
In Europe normal prices seem to be less than 5% that price. Paris extended some of their underground lines for about $400 million per mile.
Even if you raise the price a bit to account for the fact that these tunnels would need to accommodate trains larger than normal subway trains, would be going right through the center of downtown, and general American stupidity, a 20 times increase is insanity.


Part of the problem is that

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Part of the problem is that we don't continuously work on new transit projects so when a new project comes around we have to re-learn all the expertise necessary to complete the project. In France they keep expanding out the train system so with every completion they gain knowledge and efficiencies and then put that knowledge to work right away on the next project.

We should have a dedicated state team that works on expanding and introducing new public transit continuously so that the start of each project isn't a monumental undertaking.


Do tell us

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How much to highway projects cost? How was it that the Big Dig sucked up all the transit improvement money on cost overruns?

This involves tunneling through one of the oldest cities on the North American continent.


What other transit does $12B buy?

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I'm all for spending another $12B on transit. But what are my choices?

What do the upgrades cost that would allow Green C & D 3-car-kits? [power, TSP on C]
What do the upgrades cost that would allow significant capacity upgrades on the Red Line? [signals]
What do the upgrades cost that would allow significant capacity upgrades on the Orange Line? [signals]
What do the upgrades cost that would dramatically improve bus time and capacity on the most popular 25% of routes? [BRT, TSP, bus stop reorg, etc]

Making commuter rail (and Amtrak) better is good, but to what end if the folks who arrive can't squeeze onto the subway?

There are MBTA nerds on this page... what do the other major upgrades cost, as a place to compare?


You're missing an important

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You're missing an important point of the NSRL though, which is that it would result in far fewer commuter rail passengers transferring to the subway once they arrived. Anyone who works in Back Bay for example could either stay on their train or do a (hopefully cross-platform) transfer to another CR train and get off at Back Bay, so they don't have to try and squeeze onto the orange or green lines.

I'm not going to refute your point that $12B might buy more meaningful improvements elsewhere in the system, I just wanted to point out that the NSRL would result in a lot of those improvements (like reducing subway crowding) by acting in a lot of respects like a second subway system.


Exactly this, the cost of not

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Exactly this, the cost of not doing the NSRL will eventually outpace the cost of doing it. Without NSRL we'll need to expand south station and then in 20 years do the NSRL anyway. Doing the NSRL now let's us not do the south station expansion and electrification will in the long-term save money while also making commuter rail able to act closer to rapid transit.

The big dig was wicked expensive but looking back on it was worth every penny and then some. NSRL would be similar.


The ability to run the trains

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The ability to run the trains along the complete line is also a huge boon, and I am too stupid to properly articulate how it can cascade down the line, but something like 20-30% of all "trips" done by our trains are just moving equipment or turning it around. It's a huge drain on the entire system. Trains that run end to end can also run more frequently and be better spaced.

They are already looking at dumping 2bn into keeping the already cruddy system going, so some of this should be seen as somewhat of a sunk cost.


Not missing it...

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I'm not missing it. It cuts both ways though. NSRL reduces subway congestion b/c folks who are going TO North Station from the South avoid subway, as do folks going TO South Station from the North.

But you're also going to get a subway ridership boost. People currently [or when they move, eventually] living in the North take the NSRL to South Station and then hop on the red line or silver line. From the South, similar story with green and orange.

Either way, it's a relatively modest change as compared to a 40%-50% capacity expansion that improves service for folks who live in Boston and folks who visit every day to work.

And again, I'm not arguing that there are better uses of $12B, I'm asking the question...


What other transit does $12,5b buy?

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For $8b you can get a five year plan to do all of the upgrades needed to run the new Red and Blue line cars, upgrades power and signals, improved maintenance equipment and facilities, begin planing for the next generation of Green Line vehicles and more. This is one the agenda now in the Capital Improvement Plan. The $12.5b to $21.5b is all for one mode that currently serves 10% of all transit users.

A link would make sense if

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A link would make sense if there were thousands of business travelers on the Eastern seaboard who needed faster access to Portland, Maine. Otherwise, just run buses up and down the Greenway.

In fact

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I favor underground gondolas on underground canals, with singing gondoliers.


Rivers of the underworld

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Now this has possibilities. There could be five lines: Styx, Acheron, Phlegethon, Cocytus, and Lethe. Phlegethon will be beset by fire problems, and if you take Lethe, you'll probably forget where you're going. All these lines will have one thing in common, however: they are strictly one-way, and once you get on you never come back.


too late...

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...we already have all that on the T. (Didn't Dante talk about a river that smelled of piss?)


Former San Fran Mayor Willie Brown

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Willie Brown was was a smart, blunt guy. His words on the cost of public projects come to mind. Paraphrasing and slightly exaggerating:

Public works projects cost A LOT. To get them built, public officials LOWBALL the cost. In fact, they knowingly lie. Once there is a hole in the ground, the project has to be finished. Your stupidity is why this transparent stunt works.

MAYBE, this estimate for the N-S rail tunnel is too high. And maybe there will be snowball fights in July.

Brown's Wisdom Doesn't Always Apply

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It's certainly sometimes true, but there are also things politicians don't want to do, and when it comes to such projects, they consistently overstate the cost. I've read enough analyses on NSRL to think this is an example of the counterpoint to Brown's statement. Baker doesn't want it, so the study came back with inflated costs covering extraneous expenses not related to the core project.

40 years ago Philadelphia did

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40 years ago Philadelphia did the exact same thing in connecting the terminals of the old Pennslyvania RR and the Reading RR.

Philadelphia Center City Rail Link

The transformation of Market St from City Hall to Independence Hall is nothing short of remarkable.

At the very least, a monorail connecting North and South Stations and possibly continuing to the Seaport would solve some of the issues.

But the price MassDOT is quoting is laughable. Just last week Chicago greenlighted a 17 mile rail link underground that would cost ONE BILLION

Careful on Philly

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They also closed some rail lines at the time, not because of poor ridership, but simply because the lines were not electrified.


SEPTA Center City vs. NSRL myths

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Apples/oranges as well. SEPTA Regional Rail has a much more compact service area. Basically, it's a bunch of Fairmount Lines with only the schedules they bootstrap onto the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor and Keystone Corridor being longer analogues to the T's collection of I-495 -spanning Purple Line routes (and only barely, as their system-longest Newark Line is more or less same length as Newburyport and Plymouth...and quite a lot shorter than Providence, Worcester, or Fitchburg). Even the Doylestown Line, the longest non-Amtrak shared line on their system, short-turns nearly half its service within 2 dozen miles of downtown rather than running all 34 miles to its endpoint.

SEPTA is a much simpler system to interline, and their frequencies are still pretty disappointingly pedestrian for what you'd expect from "a bunch of Fairmounts".

NSRL isn't going to be some perfect utopia where we abandon the surface terminals and start running everywhere-to-everywhere willy-nilly. The inclines down into the tunnel are going to be incredibly steep and slow, because that's the only way it can slot around all the crisscrossing Big Dig tunnels. "Vertical" transportation to/from the surface and connecting subway lines will be challenging given the depth of the underground stations, and concourses are likely to be a little constrained. This is one reason why the Central Station connecting to the Blue Line @ Aquarium may not prove to be a wise investment, and could be one of the first major project elements on the chopping block when they re-factor costs.

It's also going to be tough to consistently pair-match lines of much more varied length and stop spacing than it is with SEPTA's more homogenous system. Obviously there's a SEPTA analogue with all the "Indigo Lines" pinging 128-to-128 with dense stop spacing and rapid transit-ish fare structure, as that's the backbone of the Regional Rail plan being recommended by the likes of TransitMatters. The NSRL presentations, however, like to show a bunch of pretty graphics of going from one southside extreme to one northside extreme on a single a Fitchburg to Cape Cod or Worcester to Rockport. Practical load balancing and dispatching sanity probably isn't going to work that way. You're more likely to see a lot of run-thru slots from the outer 'burbs being broken down into "495-to-128" units to even out the lengths to more fungible measure for maxing out tunnel capacity and minimize the bunching/gapping that'll inevitably happen from trying to mix so many unlike schedules in one downtown pressure cooker. That is, thru-running Providence trains are probably going to be short-turning at Anderson RTC while thru-running Lowell/NH trains go to Westwood/Route 128, thru-running Worcester trains go to Salem/Beverly, and thru-running Newburyport trains go to Riverside or Framingham. With ability to cross-platform transfer onto the train hitting the opposing "495-land" schedule at any number of those overlapping inside-128 Regional Rail stops.

It also means that the tunnel slots, for cohesiveness' sake, are probably going to keep a pretty regular rotation all day long with minimal dipping and spiking. The 'surge' slots above and beyond the regular churn thus are probably going to continue originating/terminating primarily on the surface, where time-sensitive crowd swallowing is far easier to stage footsteps from the Atlantic Ave. sidewalk instead of 200 feet's worth of escalators underground. 5:01pm and before/after B's/C's game nights at the Garden are still going to be a stampede even when all-day Regional Rail frequencies are way higher overall than today, and that is exactly the situation where the accessible surface terminals shine best while the deep caverns are most stressed under load. The roles of the surface stations may change when the new 'downstairs' route opens, but unlike simpletons like Seth Moulton who seem to think NSRL is a literal SEPTA-clone drop-in replacement for 'icky-poo' terminal reversing and we're going to be abandoning North Station to redevelopment just like Philly abandoned Reading reality we only get the Regional Rail capacity of our dreams by working the "upstairs vs. downstairs" levers to the hilt in smart and mutually complimentary balance. Because our tunnel will be a little ops-clunkier than SEPTA's due to its extreme depth and tight geometry, while system starts out so much more heterogeneous than SEPTA's.

Monorail or gondola not a bad idea

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Monorail or gondola is not a bad idea, or even a Silver Line bus lane down "Rose Kennedy" Greenway.

I'm not opposed to the Link, but at that outrageous cost (surely to double or triple) what is the goal of connecting the two stations? Is there a huge demand for Amtrak Express from NY to Maine?

We all hope for non-stop flights during air travel, but is that one stop killing people? For years, the larger airports have had a shuttle or tram that quickly connects folks from one terminal to another. It would be a much better use of the Greenway.

Don't forget that Rose Kennedy loved us so much that she made sure her last will and testament was filed in Florida to beat Massachusetts taxes. She hadn't been to Florida in years! While the Globe is pushing for name changes, let's get on to the Greenway.


The RKG should be renamed for

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The RKG should be renamed for Fred Salvucci. Without him the project would have never happened. The naming rights to the Central Artery were a fiasco of political patronage recognition and not a worthy monument to public service.

Is this for the thousands of

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Is this for the thousands of business travelers on the Eastern seaboard who need quicker passage to Portland, Maine?

Yes and

Yes and the tens of thousands of people who currently drive into the city because the CR is so infrequent and sparse, but would take a train if it came frequently and conveniently. Or if they could get to somewhere on the other side of the city via train but right now that just doesn't make sense.


Not really

The limiting factors are the terminals themselves. We could certainly get more than we have now, but the narrow approaches, slow speeds, reverse moves, all of that set a pretty short limit on the system as is.

Yes. Especially on the

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Yes. Especially on the southside where Cove and Tower 1 interlockings mash all lines together in an extremely constrained area pinned in by Ft. Point Channel. That mass of track switches is the true system limiter even moreso than the on-platform reverses, and it's largely unfixable because geography places South Station right next to the Channel and forces the Northeast Corridor to merge into the platforms in the middle of a hard left turn.

This became a major problem when Amtrak service increased by leaps-and-bounds in the 2000's and kicked off unbounded traffic growth from the NEC direction. Mixing increased Amtrak, Providence, Stoughton and/or South Coast, Needham, and Franklin trains from one direction means trains have to fan out further across more track switches to reach the middle platforms at the terminal more often. Every cross-cutting movement blocks the switches from free movements from the storage yards + Fairmount + Old Colony direction and induces a wait. This starts to choke off SS, because every single Amtrak train has to make a pit stop in Southampton Yard between runs to re-crew, restock food service, and/or empty the bathrooms as functional necessities of running long-distance service from a national endpoint terminal. When moves in the yard direction have to be rationed to keep Amtrak on-schedule, the Purple Line is increasingly forced into extended on-platform layovers because they can't scoot out of the way to change sets.

For example, let's say a mixed 5-car Needham set just came in but the next outbound slot is a monster 7-car, all bi-level Providence set. They can't just re-badge the Needham set for Providence and send it right back out because it would be silly-inappropriate to short the seating capacity to that degree on a sardine-can Providence run. That only works when the schedules are apples-apples matches on required seating, something that doesn't happen often enough when congestion is at peak since schedules run the gamut from Stoughton shorties barely poking past Route 128 to super-extendeds running 62 miles out to Wickford Jct. making twice the stops...all forced to share the same SS platforms. But those Needham and Providence sets are blocked from easily trading places from a parking spot at Widett Circle because the switches are all blocked by an arriving Acela that just emptied and is preparing to go to the yard, a NE Regional that is being readied in the yard for an imminent departure slot, and somewhere in between an incoming Fairmount slot that may or may not be running a couple mins late. So they end up having to bogart 2 platforms having both the Needham 5-car and the Providence 7-car sitting there dark for a half-hour between next runs instead of vacating to/from the yard less than 10 minutes from first/last onboard passenger so somebody else can use the platform.

Add another 25+ years of projected Amtrak growth to the mix plus long-awaited "Indigo-ification" of Fairmount schedules and you can see what crisis this is fast-careening towards.

Now, NSRL has very similar geometric constraints around Ft. Point Channel so won't "fix the glitch" as a drop-in replacement that retires the surface terminal. In fact, despite the big advantage interlining has on getting rid of the time-chewing platform reverse move, the very steep and slow approach tunnels plus constrained pedestrian movements deep down 150-200 feet into the cavern will probably make it a near wash on real-world capacity (assuming pure ops everywhere on the system were run as efficiently as they could). Instead of "upstairs" Cove + Tower 1 interlockings being the systemwide service limiter "downstairs" Cove + Tower 1 interlockings will be the limiter. But the yuuuuuuuge upside of doing the tunnel is that the surface terminals are not going away at all, and you skirt the issue of those traffic-limiting switches by mixing/matching BOTH upstairs/downstairs service to net basically unlimited downtown capacity. And this is especially important because Amtrak is going to keep growing in leaps and bounds while still needing to dump its load at Southampton Yard for between-run chores. Even if some percentage of NE Regionals get routed through the tunnel to hit the other end of 128 @ Anderson RTC or super-extend a few schedules Virginia-style to Portland or Concord, all that projected Acela and Inland Route growth through mid-century is going to keep the SS surface terminal and yards quite crazy busy even if the Purple Line shape-shifts to far greater share of tunnel slots. The literal only way all that local and intercity growth is cumulatively sustainable for another 30-100 years is if those limiting interlockings get doubled-up upstairs/downstairs to filet all manner of service to different places.


Now, one of the things SSX does beneficially fix is making the platform track layout more or less symmetrical again to ease pressure on those absolute-limiter interlockings. South Station was originally built to have a symmetrical track/switch layout that minimizes conflicts, but when it was cruelly chopped in half in the 60's to build the USPS building it became traffic-imbalanced, with trains to/from the heaviest-traffic NEC direction needing to cut across greater share of the shrunken terminal's switches than before to reach their platform slots. This makes the problem of cross-cutting movements much more acute than it could/should be. Arguably this will still be an issue in a shape-shifted NSRL universe where Amtrak is the dominant party upstairs, and the T is mainly using the surface for grab-n'-go surge slots that would otherwise upset the even all-day overchurn of tunnel-pair slots. So you could very well still have to do some or most of SSX--the pure track work part at least--after the NSRL simply as a necessity of having the kind of saturation HSR and Inland Route frequencies Amtrak is envisioning for 2040-and-beyond in its NEC FUTURE study.

The politics have gotten all messed up here with this notion that SSX and NSRL are somehow in such direct mortal combat with each other that the "winner" wins by getting the "loser" canceled...regardless of whether anything whatsoever ends up getting greenlit from the wreckage. But that's how Beacon Hill dunderheads and shameless self-promoters with national ambitions end up ruining a good thing. The raw track layout fixes and extra platforms are unequivocally beneficial fixes from SSX, and it should be stressed that the extra platforms are overt dependencies for de-clogging the switches of excess conflicting movements so ops can be modernized and not some lazy excuse to gorge on more inefficient practices like over-long platform layovers. But the raw train infrastructure was never the most expensive part of the SSX's all the boondoggly eye candy being larded on top about making the Dot Ave. side of the terminal some crown-jewel gateway to the Seaport. They've been hopelessly conflated, and political battle lines have turned into an all-or-nothing shoutfest.

In any practical sense, you can't physically construct NSRL in less than 20 years. But SS is over-capacity right this second. So if they've got a fair deal in-pocket to move USPS you pretty much have to do the track expansion today because none of the shorter-term Regional Rail modernization that they're studying and TransitMatters is hyping ends up getting very far along if they can't address terminal capacity by 2025. Which they can do on-time and within reasonable budget if they just did the bare track expansion, poured some bare platforms (like when they quickly put the Old Colony platforms @ SS into service in the late-90's), and de-coupled all those dueling renders of bejeweled Dot Ave. headhouses to some wholly separate cripple fight. I mean, the existing SS platforms have had peg mounts between them since 1989 for that mythical air rights skyscraper that has still has yet to break ground. We've already done that transpo vs. development de-coupling at this same terminal once before, and saved ourselves years and billions in headaches for that simplification of efforts.

It doesn't help NSRL's chances one bit if Purple Line growth is completely choked off, flat, and deprived of meaningful modernization because we bickered too much while the capacity ceiling got breached. We need the forward momentum of ridership growth to carry the project forward for the 2 decades it'll take to actually budget + engineer + build + complete. If not SSX (or just the purest capacity-enhancing bits salvaged from it while all other lard gets chopped) for cultivating that momentum, then what???

Throwing out baby with bathwather isn't just afflicting this NSRL study. SSX has been crap-bombed to smithereens too with all the aesthetic mission-creep and political fight-clubbing warping any sanity around the project's basic transportation goals. As straight-up transportation civil engineering projects NEITHER of these should be as controversial or poisonous as they are. As noted, SSX makes a lot of sense even in a post-NSRL universe where Amtrak is the dominant surface tenant and would not have the track work portions of the project go to waste as a century-level investment. While commitment to one project does have ripple effects on the other, as pure transpo projects they aren't even contradictory in time or purpose. If we could build anything cleanly we'd arguably be doing both, selling the momentum-building growth of SSX's capacity boost as a catalyst to NSRL full-build, and highlighting the upstairs/downstairs differentiation as the killer feature that buys Boston 100 years of absolute unbounded transpo capacity for growth and national stature.

Instead our pols are salting the earth for any improvements by making it a race to the bottom on whose pet project's cooked books stinks worse. Can't have nice things and blah blah. . .


At the web site that reports

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At the web site that reports train breakdowns pretty nearly every single day of the year, people want to spend money on this.

For once, I agree with Barney Frank

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At the beginning of the (Big Dig) project, Congressman Barney Frank joked, “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to raise the city than depress the artery?”
The project has incurred criminal arrests, escalating costs, death, leaks, and charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials.


Psst... Adam... your headline is wrong

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When a cost is reported in a headline, there are only two possible dollar-years: dollar years at the time of publication [2018] or, if in a past year, the year the expense happened.

This study uses 2028 dollars, at a 3.5 percent inflation rate. In 2018 dollars, that's like $8M and change.

Still a lot of scratch, but to report it in 2028 dollars is really misleading.