Boston Commuter Rail Light Rail

Facing Funding Shortfalls and Protest, Better Rail for Boston Region is Delayed

» Opportunities for rerouting commuter rail via the Grand Junction in Cambridge are criticized by community members who fear increases in pollution. Meanwhile, the long-planned Green Line extension in Somerville is threatened by budget limitations.

Just northwest of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville are some of the nation’s exemplar cities when it comes to promoting transportation alternatives. In Somerville, 48% of the population rides transit, walks, or bikes to work; in Cambridge, 57% do. The explanation likely comes down to a strong commitment to livable streets in both cities, a large student population, high residential densities, community activism against limited-access highways, and big concentrations of jobs both in the traditional office center of Downtown Boston but also in the walkable Kendall Square-MIT and Harvard Square areas, both along the Red Line rapid transit corridor.

Yet, with the exception of the Red Line — extended north of Harvard Square in the early 1980s — reliable transit access in the two cities is limited. Buses crisscross the area, but they are stuck in traffic at all periods of the day due to the lack of reserved lanes. Commuter rail lines that extend through the area only stop once, at the Porter Square Red Line station. These limitations have strained the Red Line, which now suffers from overcrowding at peak hours, and limited the potential for growth. In addition, partially because of the penury of transit stations around which to build up, the Boston region is one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets.

For years, plans for transit access improvements, clearly merited considering the area’s demographics and potential, have been under development by the Boston-area transit agency, MBTA. A circumferential bus rapid transit line, the Urban Ring, would have allowed commuters from Cambridge and Somerville to get to Boston’s jobs-heavy Longwood Medical Area or Logan Airport without passing through congested downtown — but it was put on indefinite hold last year due to a funding shortfall. Now, an extension of the Green Line light rail line into Somerville is threatened by similar concerns. And the reactivation of the Grand Junction commuter rail corridor through Cambridge has been put off by community resistance.

The Green Line extension is one of the most promising transit projects in the country. It is expected to carry about 45,000 daily riders along its four-mile, two-pronged route, with termini in Somerville’s active Union Square neighborhood and Tufts University, just across the Somerville city line in Medford (see map below of the green dotted line), following two existing commuter rail corridors in a fully separated right-of-way. The state has previously said it plans to begin construction at the end of next year, with the opening of the first stations planned for 2016. The program is expensive — about $1 billion for its completion.

The Grand Junction, meanwhile, is a lightly used railroad that runs from Boston University, across the Charles River, through Cambridge, to the existing commuter rail corridors in East Cambridge; it is the only link between the commuter rail corridors emanating from Boston’s North and South Stations, which are on opposite sides of downtown. The Grand Junction, purchased from CSX in 2010, runs through the Cambridgeport, Kendall Square, and Area IV neighborhoods of Cambridge and past MIT, as seen below dotted in purple. The plan developed by MassDOT — abandoned for now — would have routed some commuter trains from Worcester to North Station along this route in order to provide better access to Kendall and decrease congestion at South Station, which is expected to see increasing use due to higher ridership on the commuter rail network and plans for expanded Amtrak Northeast Corridor operations, which end there.

Neighbors of the Grand Junction have opposed the commuter rail rerouting project from the beginning, suggesting that it would increase air pollution due to diesel emissions from the heavy, long, unelectrified trains. State Representative Tim Toomey, in concert with many of his neighbors, hailed MassDOT’s announcement last week that it would cancel the program.

The state’s own studies suggested that the new train services, including a $30 million upgrade at Kendall Square, would do little to improve ridership; only about 300 new riders would be expected to use them. And the line’s six street grade crossings would have posed a significant problem, especially at Massachusetts Avenue, along which a huge percentage of the automobile traffic between Boston and Cambridge travels. And yet the Urban Ring, which would have partially run along the same corridor, was expected to attract 184,000 daily riders, many of them in Cambridge. What gives?

Fundamentally, the problem with the current commuter rail plans for the Grand Junction was that they would have provided infrequent, limited-stop service in an area of the region that demands frequent operations with many stops. Connecting Boston University with MIT and North Station without running through downtown remains a good idea. And neighborhood groups might get on board if the plan is adapted to include stops in Cambridgeport and Area IV, two neighborhoods with only minimal connections to the existing network. This project deserves to be resurrected using low pollution diesel multiple unit trains, electric light rail vehicle, or BRT on its ridership merits alone. Fortunately, MassDOT left the project’s development open as a future possibility.

Community opposition, on the other hand, is certainly not a problem for the Green Line extension, which has nearly universal support from Somerville residents and politicians, who are excited about the opportunity for better and faster connections throughout the city and into downtown. But funding this huge infrastructure program is the bigger concern. Following a lawsuit over the Big Dig project (which interred a highway through central Boston), the state agreed as a form of air pollution mitigation to fund a number of major transit projects, including the Green Line extension. But the costs of the project were forced on the already debt-ridden MBTA; no alternative funding plan has yet been developed.

Though the state is required by legal settlement to improve transit into Somerville, the fate of the Green Line remains up in the air; earlier this year, there were rumors that its completion might be delayed until 2018 or later. U.S. Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville sounded the alarm last week, suggesting that the state should limit its ambitions to reflect funding realities, especially while pro-transit Democratic Governor Deval Patrick remains in office. Mr. Capuano’s proposal would be to build the extension only to Union Square and Washington Street, failing altogether to address connectivity deeper into Somerville. New stations would be built on the commuter rail line to make up for the loss of light rail access.

Yet this proposal would fail to provide the all-day frequent service rapid transit lines offer the rest of the Boston region. And it would force those using the line to transfer at North Station, preventing them direct access to other destinations in downtown Boston as well as further out to Northeastern University, Boston University, the Longwood Medical Area, and Brookline. Using heavy diesel trains rather than electrified light rail vehicles — just as in the Grand Junction case — would likely increase air emissions in the area, defeating the mitigation aspect of the project altogether. Replacing the Green Line with commuter service operating less frequently would doubtless attract far fewer riders.

Like in many metropolitan areas, funding for transport in Boston and its close-in suburbs is always tight. The exciting opportunity to improve on the fantastic transportation use patterns already present in Cambridge and Somerville, however, should encourage local leaders and politicians to fight for new revenue sources. And in the process, they should argue for the refinement of existing transit plans to better serve communities along their routes.

Image at top: Very short freight train running along the Grand Junction near Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, from Flickr user SignalPAD (cc)

45 replies on “Facing Funding Shortfalls and Protest, Better Rail for Boston Region is Delayed”

The state made a binding legal promise to build the Green Line Extension to compensate for the Big Dig. They cannot renege on it without being hit by serious penalties, by law.

They found $15 billion to complete a ridiculous highway. But all of a sudden, they cannot find the money to finish the accompanying transit projects they contractually agreed to do? Smells like fraud to me. But, that’s how it goes in the Masshole state.

Also some of these numbers proposed by Capuano are suspect. $30-$50 million to build a commuter rail station? Um, what? The Green Line extension stations are listed as ~$10 million each, and that includes expensive fare-gates and elevators. The most expensive part of the GLX is the first part: moving Lechmere and building the new viaduct to it. What’s the point of doing all that and then only doing another few stations? More lies, likely.

Can anyone provide a link to the actual documentation regarding the environmental mitigation requirement projects that the MBTA is legally bound to construct as compensation for the Big Dig?

I recall that the MBTA was also legally bound to reconstruct the “E” Line of the Green Line to Arborway, as well as build a transfer between the Blue and Red lines at Charles/MGH, in addition to the Somerville extension. Obviously none of these projects are completed, and if anything progress on the E Line restoration has gone backward.

Check the website of the Conservation Law Foundation, who hold most of the legal rights related to the lawsuits. They capitulated on a couple of them, which is why the Arborway rebuild is dead.

At some point, the gross flouting of the law by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has to be addressed. Further postponements of the Green Line to Somerville are illegal. The CLF can start up yet another lawsuit, and it will win.

I think the CLF should stop requesting “legally binding obligations” and should just force Massachusetts to pay a billion dollar penalty, which it can hand directly to the Cities, who will then build the Green Line extension. I’m not sure what has to be done to do that, legally speaking, but Massachusetts’s flouting of the law should not go unpunished any longer.

Draining the state budget with monetary penalties might do more harm than good, and it’s not clear where the money should go anyway. Better, I think, would be to say that if the state refuses to build mitigation projects for the Big Dig by the agreed deadline, the pollution from the Big Dig will have to be reduced directly – by closing some of the lanes.

That would work. The state has now refused to build the mitigation projects by the agreed deadline *three times*. — I believe this will be the fourth? It’s had plenty of money, it just refuses to obey the law.

Forcing the closure of the Big Dig lanes, however, would probably be less popular than draining the state budget and handing the money to the cities to build the mitigation themselves.

#CLF settlement…the problem for the CLF commitments is that the courts agree with the goals (mitigation near I-93) but haven’t sympathized with the overly-constrained “settlement” dashed off in the closing hours of the Dukakis administration. The state has generally been upheld as they say, for example, that the Silver Line to the Airport achieves most of what the Red-Blue connector was supposed to do, and that rest of the Silver Line serves/mitigates about as well as the E branch restoration would have.

@Matt, when isolated in a larger budget, yes the Green Line’s non-aerial stations cost on the order of $10m (they up to $13m each on p.2 of ), but as the extension nears $1B, if it gets you 8 new stations, each new station costs $125m. Part of the problem is that the the extension breaks that camels back of vehicles and yard space, precipitating the construction of new shops/yards and making the $ per station look bad.

On the flip side Capuano was likely saying a Commuter Rail project would cost $30m per new station put into service..1/3 to 1/4 the cost of the Green Line.

Hi Kevin, thanks for the comments.

If the courts think that Silver Line to the airport is helpful to East Boston residents like Red-Blue would be, then CLF has done a poor job of presenting their case.

Also, I think you meant 39 bus improvements has been accepted in place of Arborway restoration, not Silver Line to Dudley.

I did base my cost estimate of the new stations off of that document you linked. I don’t think it makes much sense to take the total cost and divide it by the number of stations. That seems arbitrary. The type of service provided by the Green Line is completely different from added commuter rail stops.

Anyway, that still does not answer how Capuano arrived at $30m per station. Dividing $1B by 8 means that you are counting the costs of new guideway, retaining walls, viaducting, yard, and vehicles. But the commuter rail stops would not need any of that, therefore, they should be much cheaper on a per-stop basis.

I think that the Yawkey station overhaul is comparable to what new commuter stops on the Lowell would cost. Yawkey is currently an asphalt strip, so it is essentially being completely rebuilt.

The problem is that the CLF had not done any studies in coming up with its laundry list of projects. The worst was the Greenbush restoration–a colossal waste of money ($500m for 1,400 new transit riders per day and squandering precious platform space at South Station), and this has undercut the contention that the list of projects dashed off in 1990 is the only legally acceptable way to balance the Big Dig with transit.

The courts needn’t think the Red-Blue = Logan Silver Line–they just need to find (and have found) that it reduces auto trips in approximately the same area by approximately the hoped amount. And that long-range planning by lame-duck settlement is bad public policy making. As a result, the MBTA has only had to commit to Final Design of the Red-Blue connector (a $40m waste, IMO), and nothing more.

And same for Arborway (E branch) restoration. It isn’t like a scientific study traced car fumes from I-93 to exactly (and only) the route of the E. Instead a general sense of the extent of the impact area showed that improvements to the 39 bus and also the (unforeseen in 1990) Dudley Square BRT Silver Line and the Fairmount Line restoration could mitigate the impact of I-93 in a broad “environmental justice” area south of the city.

The Green line to “Medford Hillside” was promised in the CLF settlement. The first problem was all were free to concoct their own definition of “Hillside”…some put it as far as West Medford (my CR stop) or the Mystic Valley Parkway (a very “park and ride” choice), or Tufts U/Winthrop Street (near a former “Hillside” school) or nearly back into Somerville at Tufts U/College Ave (as the State now offers).

Back to Capuano, It seems he’s picturing more frequent Commuter Rail, similar to the Fairmount Line (Indigo Line) project. I think that project is in the $60m to $120m range for 4 stations. Maybe he’s dividing $120m/4 = $30m, or maybe he was simply misquoted. Or maybe someone told him that DMUs to College Ave would require a bunch of new bridges, sidings, crossovers, signals and rolling stock to serve 4 stations. Seems possible to me.

Planned Metra infill stations are in the $15-20 million range, and given that Boston suffers from the same sort of high costs/poor planning as New York this seems reasonable if you want to go forward with such a solution.

I’d say such a solution would be acceptable if the MBTA routed all Haverhill trains via the Wildcat branch (leaving North Station-Reading as its own line), increased off-peak frequency to Lowell and Haverhill lines to every half an hour (scheduled for fifteen minute intervals in Somerville), and had funded long-term plans to electrify the lines then you might have a substitute worth funding. That would have the MBTA to shift its priorities from adding parking to the suburbs to running an effective regional rail system, which strikes me as more difficult than figuring out a way to fund/reduce capital costs for the GLX to Tufts.

As a native of Massachusetts and frequent user of the then-new Red and Orange lines when they were still fairly new (I probably wouldn’t be commenting here if it weren’t for them), reading about what’s happened to transit culture since I left is very disheartening, especially given Boston’s pioneering role in transportation planning in the late sixties and seventies.

Speaking of infill. it’s my understanding that Sepite all those commuter lines going through Somerville there’s no station for commuter. If the Green Line can’t be exteded there then surely at the absolute lwast a commuter stop could be put in. I would hope though, that some way of funding the extension could be found even if only for part of it.

I believe the Green Line Extension studies say that the project will only eliminate 25,000 vehicle miles traveled per day.

If Massachusetts were to subsidize 2,500 copies of the Nissan Leaf, by $2500 per vehicle (California had to reduce their subsidy to $2500 because the program was too popular for their budget at $5000), the cost would be between $6 million and $7 million, and if each Leaf that replaces a gasoline powered car travels an average of 10 miles a day, that should be roughly equivalent to the air quality improvements from spending $1 billion on the Green Line Extension.

Even after you refine the numbers to fix the slop in that estimate, it’s hard to imagine that the Green Line Extension will ever be a remotely cost effective alternative to battery powered cars, if the focus is on air quality as the Conservation Law Foundation commitment asserts in their lawsuit.

There’s that, and I think you’d need to honestly compare the emissions for charging batteries vs running the light rail line (that would be a rather interesting comparison).

There’s need to park cars at both end of the trips and congestion in between.

Let us suppose that we did enact your suggestion: 2500 subsidized electric cars, driven 10 miles a day, between workplaces in downtown and Somerville.

In the morning, everyone gets into their electric car and drives to work. That’s 2500 cars which need to get to a highway and cross the river. Supposing these are safe drivers, they rigorously follow the “two second” rule of thumb. That means no more than 1800 vehicles per hour, per lane. But we’ve just added 2500 cars to the road. That’s more than one freeway lane’s worth of traffic, which leads to calls for further road widening.

And it doesn’t end there: now you need to find space in downtown Boston to park 2500 cars. So you need to build more parking garages there to handle that.

These improvements don’t come cheap. Suddenly that $10 million subsidy of electric cars is looking more like a multi-billion dollar highway widening and parking garage project. It’s not that 2500 commuters are going to make this happen on their own: but when they flood the roads with new vehicles, the effect they have on everyone else will cause sufficient political motivation to be found.

Will 2500 subsidized new electric cars be used exactly the way I described? Probably not exactly — patterns are much more complex in real life. But I must also ask: why stop at 2500? If such a program were instituted, surely it would make sense to sponsor it more widely and get more people out of polluting cars and into clean ones. But then it should become clear that you cannot simply buy everyone an electric car and expect that to take the place of mass transit.

We already tried that experiment across America: we redeveloped cities to be automobile friendly, and we didn’t care about the pollution for many decades. It didn’t work. We replaced vibrant cities with clusters of tall buildings surrounded by parking lots and highways. There’s no point repeating that mistake just because we’ve replaced the internal combustion engine with an electric one.

Like Matthew said, if the cars travelled on rainbows and moonbeams, they would be a subsititute for trains….

….but they don’t. They travel on roads. Which are very expensive and wasteful. So, if you’ve got a lot of traffic, you need a train.

Sadly, it seems difficult to track down the settlement online since it was so long ago. Here is a Suffolk law review document on a separate issue, but it includes a section on the Big Dig that has a lot of footnotes to chase down.

You can also check out the Conservation Law Foundation as they are the organization that brought the lawsuit.

Many news articles over the years have mentioned the lawsuit, settlement, and subsequent legal action, but none provide links that I’ve found.

The Boston area really doesn’t know what to do with its commuter rail. As you posted a few months ago, it’s planning to add infill stations on the Fairmount Line, but not to increase frequency adequately. The MBTA is also averse to electrifying and using decent rolling stock; its proposal for Fairmount modernization is to use US Railcar DMUs, hardly choice rolling stock. On the Providence Line, trains run heavy diesel locos even though the track’s been electrified and maintained to HSR standards since the late 1990s; the frequency is one train every two hours off-peak, even though ridership is only a little below the hourly Caltrain or the half-hourly Nice TER.

There was a Foxboro Station study published somewhere around 12-15 months ago on the MTBA website, which claimed that South Station can only handle two trains per hour per platform track because of single tracking, limited mid day layover space, issues with different lines using trainsets of different lengths that limit interchangability, etc. They did admit that some other agencies can handle three trains per hour if they are blessed with sufficient yard space, double tracking, etc, but the possibility of building more double track to add flexibility for faster turnaround at South Station doesn’t seem to be being considered.

The T is also short on operating funds at the moment, which may affect frequency. Station construction is probably federally subsidized.

I think the long term future in motive power ought to be battery powered locomotives or EMUs that can recharge from the 25 kV catenary where available. If the Nissan Leaf can go a hundred miles on batteries, why can’t a commuter train achieve a similar range on batteries?

Batteries are heavy and inefficient and in the parts of the world where trains are run by competent professionals, the main lines are electrified and electrifying new lines is cheap (in France the cost is €1 million per kilometer; that’s just less than $100 million for Boston-Providence). They are working on hybrid DMUs, though, for through-service to unelectrified branch lines. I forget which JR is most heavily involved – I think JR Hokkaido, but don’t quote me on that.

Also, 3 tph per platform track is not exactly stellar performance. 4 is routine on many lines, 6 is done on some lines in Paris and Tokyo, and one line (the Chuo Line) achieves 14-15. And most of these do not have yard space in an expensive CBD because city centers have more important functions than parking trains.

There’s at least two examples in Manhattan of turning trains faster than two an hour. PATH terminal at 33rd and the L-Carnasie at 8th Ave.

Yes, and the 7 turns 24 tph on two tracks at Times Square, an exceptional case but still an example to strive for in a crunch. And the other subway terminals routinely turn 12+ tph on two tracks. But you could always excuse these cases as not mainline rail, an excuse that does not work for the Chuo Line.

*bangs head on desk*
I knew there was a mitigation measure for the Big Dig to connect North Station to South Station. Never looked a map of it though. Until now. There’s a huge chunk of land just north of North Station. From the looks of it, it used to be a railroad yard. Surrounded by commercial if they need more space.

If you are turning the train around in Cambridge ( big chunk of land north of the Lechmere T station ) they don’t spend time in South Station or North Station, turning around.

Heres one major area you didnt cover:

How the proposed improvement would affect Amtrak.

Im sure you’ve all heard of pie-in-the-sky proposals to connect South Station and North Station via an underground train tunnel. It wasnt done when they were busy digging the highway (which passes by both) and it never will be done.

So Amtrak passengers complain that to get from one to the other, they must get off at back bay and take the orange line. And that means the Downeaster is all alone up at North Station.

But this line helps solve the problem.

If this line is set to passenger standards (currently only 2 freight trains a day + MBTA and amtrak service runs use it) then Amtrak could get passengers from NYC (and beyond obviously) to North Station via the inland route, no messy backwards moves required.

Portland Maine to NYC would be possible with a stop at North Station, and then onto Worcester and so forth.

Then there’s no need for a $100billion north-south tunnel because the service would exist via the existing tracks.

Alternate solution: Gondolas.

Once Amtrak finishes improving the inland route, we will probably see service on the Grand Junction restored. Maybe 5-10 years.

However, avoiding an Orange Line connection for Downeaster riders is not the reason for the North-South link to exist. The best use of the N-S link would be to run trains through from north to south, making it possible to commute from one side of the region to the other, as well as ameliorate capacity issues at South Station. Alon has written a guest blog post here extensively describing this kind of operation.

First, the North-South Rail Link is officially estimated to cost $9 billion, but this is a gross overestimate for a tunnel of about 2.5-3 km. Per km, it’s comparable to East Side Access, which is stupid since it’d be a two-track link with ordinary stations rather than multilevel deep caverns. As is common with projects that the local authorities don’t want to build, the estimates are deliberately padded; it’s no different from how when Berkeley demanded a tunnel, BART’s initial claim for much it would cost turned out to be a factor-of-2 overestimate. Local rail activists have estimated that the cost of the rail link would in reality be about $3 billion, which is in line with American rail tunnel construction costs. (At Continental European costs, make that $750 million.)

Second, with that aside, Amtrak has no good reason to divert trains from South Station. Frequency north of New York is already bad – a Regional and an Acela every two hours, the two trains being non-interchangeable in the minds of most passengers. Diverting trains to North Station would cut that frequency even further. For the same reason, inland trains from Boston to Springfield should keep using South Station as the daily Lake Shore Limited does – it’s where the good connections are, it’s much closer to Downtown Boston, and unless frequency is so high that halving it is not an issue, maintaining two terminals for one service is bad for both passenger numbers and operating costs.

Almost the exact same thing happened with the Red-Blue Link—Menino didn’t want it and costs magically tripled.

I don’t see why immediate partial construction of the Green Line to Union Square/Washington Street is regarded as such a nonstarter. Something is better than nothing, and everyone knows that the funding issues are legit.

I really like JJJ’s idea, too. :)

Because the state government is intent on NOT fufilling its legal obligations — they seem to view it as some kind of goal. I’m not really sure why, but the Massachusetts state government has been jackasses when it comes to transportation since the days of the Big Dig.

The grade crossings along the Grand Junction are a not insignificant issue. One of the T’s busiest bus routes, the 1, which connects Roxbury Crossing, the South End, and Back Bay to Central and Harvard Squares in Cambridge uses Mass. Ave. If crossings jammed traffic on Mass. Ave. (beyond how much it is already jammed), the 1 would face serious scheduling issues.

Looking at the map, and from my occasional visits to Somerville, the radical but better plan is to build the Grand Junction as a Green Line connector so that alternate trains from Medford can run cross town with all day service. Electic LRVs should be more acceptable and useful to residents and riders. As to traffic on Mass Ave, delaying single drivers for even a partially filled transit vehicle is just fine.

I agree. As someone who lives within sight of the BU bridge that would be an interesting idea. I think they should explore that option. It would also be better for disruption of traffic at at grade crossings.

Before you get too excited about this idea, remember that the Grand Junction is the only link between the north and the south side. Any proposed changes would require you to preserve the ability to move equipment back and forth. Every MBTA commuter train needs to make frequent trips to the service facility on the north side. Also, CSX will continue to use the Grand Junction even after the Beacon Park yard shuts down.

In this country, FRA regulations forbid sharing of tracks between rapid transit and heavy railroad operations. I don’t think there’s room for three tracking. I like the idea of having rapid transit on the GJ too, but I don’t see how it will ever happen as things are.

Indeed, my handy railroad atlas tells me that if the Grand Junction is closed to freight, all freight crossing from north to south would have to go via Ayer and Clinton.

That’s not a good idea.

Correct about FRA in general, but there are several examples of LRV routes where during overnight transit shutdown the mainline RR can operate. So it is possible to run transit and mainline on the same tracks.

I’d be skeptical of the feasibility of continuing the Downeaster/Amtrak trains from North Station through Grand Junction. First of all, an incoming train from Maine stopping at North Station would have to reverse directions to “back out” back to the Grand Junction. Second, trains are limited to 10mph (or something like that) along Grand junction as it stands today, and probably can’t go much faster without serious upgrades possibly including some grade-separation. At this rate, it would be much faster to just hop on the Orange Line, yes?

I generally agree that pursuing the Urban Ring projects that could move 50-100k people per day between Cambridge/Somerville and the Longwood area would be far more worthwhile than providing 1000 passengers per day from the distant suburbs a one-seat ride to North Station with highly disruptive diesel trains.

Well, far be it to turn this into a history lessen but I’m curious to know just how many years back proposals to link the north and south in Boston go. Also, I thought that there was some kind of provision thrown in with the BIG Dig to put a couple of tracks in, possibly in the median, if there is one.

Through all those parks? For what it’s worth, the no. 4 bus goes along Atlantic and only carries a few hundred passengers a day, so that’s a pretty marginal transit market.

I believe the the Big Dig was designed with provisions allowing for a deep level North Station-South Station link, though.

The provision for the N-S Rail Link in the Big Dig was that they spent some extra money on both the road tunnel and the Silver Line to ensure that neither blocked the underground alignment. It drove up the cost of the road, but it isn’t like they left stub tunnels or an empty median.

N-S rail link is not fully boxed in (a la the PATH at Herald Sq) it could have been had not the Road been made to thread its way through the CBD in a particular way.

From South to North, I-93 starts as an elevated, plunges under the Red Line, quickly climbs over the Blue line, then dips down to be connected to the pre-existing airport tunnels, and leaps up to cross the river by bridge and re-connect with a pre-existing elevated.

For the N-S Rail Link, it left a fairly deep alignment with steep approaches, essentially requiring electrification (too deep to ventilate, too steep to for diesels to climb)

Nice post. I agree in general. But I can’t agree with this:

“In addition, partially because of the penury of transit stations around which to build up, the Boston region is one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets.”

Alewife is far from built-out, and the story along the Orange Line is even worse with huge amounts of investment possible around Roxbury Crossing and the other stations where land is still vacant from when it was cleared for the Southwest Expressway decades ago. I’m not sure if this says more about the real estate market (but it’s been 30 years since Alewife) or the latent interest in TOD in this region.

The first value of the Grand Junction Line is to connect from New York City directly to North Station, and Logan Airport. Direct to Airport trains could be nonstop super express, building up shareable rail capacity, and bypassing downtown Boston stations. More people fly international from Boston, than take Acela everywhere, each year. Green rail to the airport, would move potentially millions of people from as far as Washington DC and Northern Virginia. This line could generate billions of dollars in investment in shareable high speed rail corridors, and comsequential investment in downtowns served by high speed line sharing stations.

There are two Amtrak corridors which could be connected to North Station. For immediate service, I would create an Acela Nonstop super express, branching off the NEC at Mansfield, to Framingham, and then the CSX / MBTA Worcester line to Grand Junction, to North Station, and/or Logan Airport. This could be as many as 19 trains per day adjusting the current Amtrak coastal NEC, but likely only just new added trains. 4 trains per day are needed in each direction to create capacity to move each million people between Logan Airport and NYC, or similar city to Logan for greener flights to Europe.

The alternative is using the Boston – Springfield CSX line in two ways. Extending the Amtrak Northeast Regional from Springfield MA, to Logan Airport is one option, while extending Amtrak Downeaster to New Haven CT and NYC, the other option for using the Springfield CSX line. Combined this could be as many as 12 trains per day just by extending existing trains.

The second value of this route is connecting all of North Station customers, be they MBTA commuter rail or Amtrak Downeaster or MBTA subway riders, a single seat ride to NYC is deeply needed for long term opportunity and economic growth. With 2 subway lines, the North Station is better for rail to NYC for Bostonians than South Station with only one subway line and a BRT line.

The third value is that if a downtown unifying rail tunnel is built, an emergency fall back route will always be required, such as for cargo trains, to avoid cargo in the people focused expensive unifying tunnel.

The unifying tunnel if built would serve premium rail first, such as extending all South Station Amtrak to North Station, and all North Station Amtrak trains to South. That creates about 25 round trips per day. Long haul nonstop Premium Airport Super Express trains could add as many 12 round trips. Local Premium Airport express trains to Logan Airport terminal ln the Grand Junction line every 15 minutes, would require about 73 round trips per day. A similar service from Boston downtown via the unifying tunnel, to Providence Airport, to bring the first 50 miles of the Boston – NYC 235 miles, every 15 minutes for greener flights to Florida while building up the NEC rail lines to highest speeds would use another 73 round trips per day. Combined this is equal to about all the MBTA trains to South Station each day. Emergency back up routes are clearly required, such as in the event of flooding.

Through running commuter rail beyond downtown is a very bad idea, diluting downtown. The only modification to MBTA even worth discussing is like Amtrak extending all trains across only the downtown, to simplify downtown job market, but not shipping jobs to the suburbs with full through running. Unfortunately this downtown unification for low ticket price commuter rail, would consume massive portion of premium tunnel space.

An even quicker way to efficiently connect the Amtrak Northeast Corridor to Boston North Station and Boston Logan Airport, using the Grand Junction corridor, would be to tunnel a sort turning tunnel from the Northeast Corridor just south of Back Bay Station, to the CSX line to Springfield just west of Back Bay Station for a grade separated and electrified connection. The route awkwardly must slightly overshoot the Grand Junction bridge over the Charles Bridge to a loop back turn at Alston Yards, and then return to the bridge, to reach North Station and Logan Airport. This route would minimize costs, minimize miles of electrification needed, and maximize shared North East Corridor rail used, helping focus Massachusetts investment to maximize high speed rail from Back Bay to Rhode Island. Properly done this would be a big project, but could move millions of people both from Boston headed to/from NYC, and North East flyers headed to Europe on greener rail to flights.

The cost of the line with all infrastructure upgrades, such as road underpasses, and even shorter rail routes, could be largely covered by local premium Airport Express train, connecting South Station, Back Bay, and North Staion, directly to Logan Airport with a new rail terminal at the airport, using US Rail Car EMU rail service inter operating with freight and Amtrak, presaging the unifying rail tunnel, North to South Stations, often called the North – South Rail link.

Much of the same downtown route could be served by cargo trains, such as moving ISO containers and air cargo.

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