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Old 11-17-2009, 09:20 PM
 
7 posts, read 26,363 times
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Hello everyone,

I'm a student at UMass Boston, and I'm writing an article on the changes that the Mass public transportation system, particularly the railways, are going through currently.

First, some background:

According to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the state of MA has been apportioned $319 million (approx.). Among other things on their expenditures agenda, the Mass govt. plans to use this money to fund various railway expansion projects (which include both Boston's local T lines as well as the commuter railway lines) around the state:

For example,
http://www.eot.state.ma.us/redblue/
http://www.greenlineextension.org/default.asp
http://www.theurbanring.com/
http://www.eot.state.ma.us/SouthStationDirectConnect/index.html
http://www.southcoastrail.com/

These projects are currently in their infancy, the govt. has only submitted plans to carry out these expansions. I'm certain that many of you must be already aware of these developments.

But, on the other hand, the railway infrastructure at present is in a very sorry state with most of the trains, trolleys as well as railway tracks requiring heavy maintenance and repair.
For example, those of you who take the Red Line trains from Alewife to Boston might have experienced train delays on multiple occasions due to track problems. This, according to David D'Alessandro's recent review report (mbtareview.com), is due to floating slabs and tunnel leak repair project. This poses a serious threat to passenger safety - it might potentially lead to derailment, or if trains run slow, then the delays we experience might continue.

In this scenario, I would like to know what your reflections on these matters are.
Some questions just to start off:
- How would these expansions be relevant to your lives personally? Would they help? Do you think they might prove disadvantageous in any way?

- In your opinion, which warrants more immediate attention: expansion of the rail network, or repair and restoration of current rail infrastructure?

I would really appreciate your views on this subject, please feel free to introduce something that has not been addressed here, but is relevant to this issue.

Thank you for your time.


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Old 11-18-2009, 01:00 PM
 
Location: Newton, Mass.
2,954 posts, read 11,775,575 times
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Here are some recent threads on T expansion plans:

//www.city-data.com/forum/massa...mass-when.html

//www.city-data.com/forum/bosto...l-service.html

//www.city-data.com/forum/bosto...blue-line.html


Personally, I think we need significant expansion AND rehabilition of the current network. Although we certainly can't allow the current network to become even more unsafe and inefficient, the proposals you listed are very important to

Personal experience, coming from Belmont: If I need to go to Brookline on the T, I either need two buses, some bus/train combo, or take the bus to Harvard, then the Red Line downtown and the Green Line back out. Of course, it takes 20 mins or so on the bus to get to Harvard. No matter how you do it, invariably the total trip time is over an hour. Thus I drive there instead of taking the T. An Urban ring would help with that and relieve congestion at places like Park Street and DTX.

The Boston Foundation has a report on the Longwood area, a key economic driver in Boston. An Urban ring would facilitate commuting to that area from places like Cambridge. Right now it's hard to get there from a lot of places.

Green line extension across Somerville to West Medford is important too. Rents are high near the T and much Somerville, though more affordable, is less convenient because it's pretty far from a T stop. T access would signficantly reduce commute times from these areas and make them more attractive places to live. A lot of people commuting to downtown Boston can't afford to do so by car given the cost of parking, etc.

Likewise, having rail connection to Fall River and New Bedford would help integrate those cities with Boston and could alleviate some of the Route 24 traffic. Right now it's hard to live in either of those cities and commute to Boston. The train could help make those places more attractive for new residents too.

It also makes no sense for the Red and Blue not to connect when they're so close. Given the Route 2 traffic and the full garage at Alewife, I'd support extending the Red Line past Alewife too.
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Old 11-18-2009, 03:00 PM
 
Location: East Boston, MA
10,787 posts, read 19,138,621 times
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Good points as usual, Holden.

The funding number you've listed is current, but it's likely not the final amount for these projects. I have some close connections (and a vested personal and professional interest) with the Southcoast Rail project and I can tell you they have applied for $1.9 Billion in Federal Stimulus money for the entire project ($8 Billion High Speed Rail dollars are available). They won't get all (if any) of that as it doesn't completely qualify, but they've applied nevertheless. They've also applied for about $80 Million in funds to begin construction of a large, intermodal (bus, ferry, train and coach bus) mixed-use station in downtown New Bedford which if approved, would begin construction in January.

Some of those others may be in their infancy but they've been in various stages of planning for quite some time. I'll get into it below.

I'll go in order of what you listed. The Red-Blue connection is something I think would be REALLY nice but it's not of the utmost importance right now. While it's a pain to come in from Eastie or Revere and have to get over to the Red (towards Somerville or Braintree) because you have to switch to either the Orange or Green for one stop to get to the Red Line which is time consuming and unnecessary for the distance covered. You COULD walk but it would require paying extra if you don't have a pass. Because of the Silver Line (for airport users) to South Station and other connections, I think we can live without it while more important upgrades are made, but a simple tunnel under Cambridge Street from Bowdoin to MGH would make a world of difference.

It think a Green Line extension to Medford is absolutely necessary. I think it's pathetic that the Green Line is so extensive West of downtown but only has two stops beyond North Station on the other end, terminating at Lechemere. I can't tell you how important this extension would be for raising land values along the route and encouraging new business development. The Red Line extensions have been credited with breathing life into Porter and Davis Squares, and the Green Line extension could do something similar to certain areas along the new proposed route. Some of the renderings of the proposed route have shown that some stops are in the middle of nowhere which isn't good. I'd rather see them get in as close to the bulk of the population as they can. I understand it's easier to use existing rail bed and open land, but public transit works best when more people have access to it.

The urban ring has been discussed and proposed in various iterations for decades. The current iteration (I believe... don't have time to pour through the links) is proposed to be bus rapid transit which is, for lack of a better term, stupid. The urban ring needs to be at LEAST light rail (picture modern Green Line style cars). It needs tunnels in certain areas and and designated right of ways on streets above ground where necessary. It's too difficult to do that with buses (San Francisco is one of the few cities I've seen do BRT well). What they want to do now is akin to the Silver Line which I believe is one of the most seriously flawed transit lines in the city. Anyway, the urban ring (if completed PROPERLY) would be a HUGE positive for the city. It would make parts of the urban area that seemed nearly impossible to access currently (i.e. Alewife from, say, Wonderland) much more easily accessible which would do wonders in helping the positive growth of some of the outer neighborhoods. I want the Urban Ring, but I want it done right.

I don't think a North/South Station link is necessary underground. A free (or VERY cheap) trolley or tram connection along the Greenway would be a good alternative. Moreover, it would be a good tourist vehicle. Something similar in size and style to San Francisco's famous Cable Cars or even as large as their historic "F" Line (which actually uses some of Boston's old trolleys).

I think Southcoast Rail is absolutely necessary. I get the feeling that some people are really unaware of what this route could mean not only for Fall River and New Bedford, but for Boston as well. It's clear that the cities of Fall River and New Bedford would benefit. They would instantly become more attractive to professionals looking for more affordable urban living with access to Boston (you'd be surprised ad how nice parts of Fall River and New Bedford are). Both Fall River and New Bedford (NB in particular) are good seaports with excellent infrastructure (New Bedford has one of the best small city Downtowns in New England... on par with Portland, ME, Portsmouth NH or Burlington VT) like a good airport, deep water access and good roadways. They also have industrial parks that are on the fringe of become vital. The access to Boston's existing labor force would push them over the edge. New Bedford is emerging as a destination for High Tech companies (read more on it HERE), but some companies are looking elsewhere because New Bedford doesn't have the educated workforce to pull from. Commuter rail from Boston will give those companies access to cheaper land AND the workforce in Boston. In addition, the rail will give Bostonians car free access to Martha's Vineyard and Cuttyhunk because the station location is going to be next to the ferry terminal (in fact, they'll be combined into one intermodal facility). Fall River will serve as a good hub with potential for a partnered (with RI) extension to Newport RI. I'm not even getting into Short Sea Shipping and the possibility there. In my mind, this project is a must and should be a priority.

Before some of these projects can be completed or successful, I'd also like to see FULL electrification of the Commuter Rail lines from the Inner City stations (North and South) all the way out to the terminus stations. I don't like that they rely on fuel outside the city. Electric would make them run a bit cheaper (though it does cost to run electricity) and much cleaner. They'd be much quieter too which would be a big plus when trying to expand other lines (say... West to Springfield or North to Manchester/Portsmouth?).

I also think that the Blue Line needs to be extended to Lynn. I think that extension could do wonders for Lynn and a possible revitalization there. I actually think this may be one of the most important and necessary projects.

Upgrading rolling stock (trains) on the Orange, Green (though i've seen renderings for the new cars that will be put into use when the extension is complete... not too impressive) and Red Lines. The new Blue Line cars are nice, but they need newer ones. Track and stations upgrades are underway, but it would be nice if progress was made a little faster. I think getting the existing system up to par is THE priority. Why build out when what exists isn't working right?

Last edited by CaseyB; 11-18-2009 at 03:10 PM.. Reason: send via dm
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Old 11-18-2009, 06:06 PM
 
Location: Newton, Mass.
2,954 posts, read 11,775,575 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lrfox View Post
The urban ring has been discussed and proposed in various iterations for decades. The current iteration (I believe... don't have time to pour through the links) is proposed to be bus rapid transit which is, for lack of a better term, stupid. The urban ring needs to be at LEAST light rail (picture modern Green Line style cars). It needs tunnels in certain areas and and designated right of ways on streets above ground where necessary. It's too difficult to do that with buses (San Francisco is one of the few cities I've seen do BRT well). What they want to do now is akin to the Silver Line which I believe is one of the most seriously flawed transit lines in the city. Anyway, the urban ring (if completed PROPERLY) would be a HUGE positive for the city. It would make parts of the urban area that seemed nearly impossible to access currently (i.e. Alewife from, say, Wonderland) much more easily accessible which would do wonders in helping the positive growth of some of the outer neighborhoods. I want the Urban Ring, but I want it done right.
Great point LR. I tend to agree that the BRT system is problematic. One other issue (both from my parochial perspective west of Harvard and also from a broader perspective): on the map I've seen it does not go far enough west in Cambridge for my liking.

The Urban Ring links up with the Red Line at Kendall and then comes down what looks like Albany Street. This, honestly, does not appear any better to me than transferring to the 47 bus at Central for purposes of getting from Belmont or Alewife to the Longwood Medical Area. If you're going all the way to Kendall for the connection to get across the river, you might as well go to Park Street and take the Green.

LR is much more familiar with the logistical hurdles than I, but I'd prefer to see it go via Harvard or at least Central. Is there any major reason it couldn't go to Sullivan and then down Washington Street in Somerville to Harvard? This would go right through Union Square, which the extended Green line may not.

I see a second proposed leg (the "Veritas" line, I guess) to connect Harvard Square with Allston. Not surprisingly, the entire town of Brookline is studiously avoided. If feasible, I'd prefer either (a) making one ring that goes from Sullivan to Harvard and continues on to LMA with a spur from Sullivan to Kendall following the route on the existing proposal, or (b) having a second line connecting Harvard all the way to LMA, going through Brookline or going around it as the proposal does. But a BRT line from Kendall to the BU Bridge seems not too helpful, and the Harvard to the Sports Depot is not much better unless you go to HBS.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lrfox View Post
I don't think a North/South Station link is necessary underground. A free (or VERY cheap) trolley or tram connection along the Greenway would be a good alternative. Moreover, it would be a good tourist vehicle. Something similar in size and style to San Francisco's famous Cable Cars or even as large as their historic "F" Line (which actually uses some of Boston's old trolleys).
Completely agree. This should have been incorporated into the original Greenway plans. Good luck getting a second tunnel built under downtown Boston. Something like the light rail in Jersey City or along the river in New Orleans would work.
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Old 11-18-2009, 08:20 PM
 
136 posts, read 439,820 times
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I've actually tried to write a response three times and keep finding myself rethinking it. This post is 180 degrees opposite of what I was going to write just 10min ago, lol.

First: safety first. Can't have anything else until you have that. Folks don't mind an increase for something so tangible as that. I'd rely on the economic geeks to help figure out what delivers the best economic value for each dollar spent. Finally, fix what you got before you expand - no one trusts the T with any more projects/responsibility.

I've heard it said that all public transportation operates with subsidies and that we should not expect the T to ever become profitable. I can live with that. The problem is that the T does receive subsidies (20% of sales tax, correct?) and it still is in huge debt. People have a hard time seeing how the T can increase its operations when there are countless stories of mismanagement, waste, etc.. Why trust an organization with more responsibility when it can't seem to take care of what it already has. Rather than risk a new line with bad management, perhaps new endeavors are privatized and/or outsourced. Let them make the money, but make them take the risk. If they go broke, sell it to someone else.

The problem is that while the T can collect fares on new routes, it doesn't profit nearly as much as those who see real estate values increasing, etc. etc. Rather than worry about how much the T loses, perhaps we change our thinking and realize that we're getting good value for all that debt because the status has seen billions of dollars in increased economic activity as a result of having it. For any non-believers, I'd say: think what life would be like without it. Therein lies its value and benefit to the region - its huge, warts and all.
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Old 11-18-2009, 09:46 PM
 
Location: Newton, Mass.
2,954 posts, read 11,775,575 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ScituateAl View Post
Rather than worry about how much the T loses, perhaps we change our thinking and realize that we're getting good value for all that debt because the status has seen billions of dollars in increased economic activity as a result of having it. For any non-believers, I'd say: think what life would be like without it. Therein lies its value and benefit to the region - its huge, warts and all.
I think this is right.

First, everything would come to a standstill without it.

Second, it's all in how you conceive of it. The MBTA has well under 1,000 miles of train track. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has thousands upon thousands of miles of paved streets and highways. Take a look at a map of Boston and Cambridge. Compare the number of streets to the number of T lines. Do people think the streets just magically appeared?

Although there are tolls on the Pike and some crossings, most of the roads in this area (both highways and local streets) do not charge people to use them. They were built and are maintained (albeit poorly) with public funds.

That's right, folks--socialized roads. I can't imagine these roads supporting themselves without any funds from regular tax revenues, but I don't recall hearing anyone characterize it as the roads "losing" money or trying to see what their balance sheet looks like when public spending is taken out of the equation. Yet the MBTA is supposed to "pay its own way."
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Old 11-20-2009, 12:24 PM
 
Location: East Boston, MA
10,787 posts, read 19,138,621 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by holden125 View Post
Great point LR. I tend to agree that the BRT system is problematic. One other issue (both from my parochial perspective west of Harvard and also from a broader perspective): on the map I've seen it does not go far enough west in Cambridge for my liking.

LR is much more familiar with the logistical hurdles than I, but I'd prefer to see it go via Harvard or at least Central. Is there any major reason it couldn't go to Sullivan and then down Washington Street in Somerville to Harvard? This would go right through Union Square, which the extended Green line may not.
No, I agree. I don't think it goes far enough west for me either. It seems to avoid a chunk of Cambridge that could use the additional service. I don't know much about the logistics of this segment either because I don't really know what the plan is (tunnel, ROW, median, designated lane, etc?). I still don't see how it makes more sense to have it to go where proposed as opposed to further west.

I'm wondering if they fear more neighborhood opposition if the extend it west? The NIMBY stance can really kill a project (this is part of why I think Brookline is avoided in the proposal) as NIMBYs use every possible stance to delay or derail (no pun intended) projects like this. It's called a "Red Herring." They nitpick and demand more studies (far beyond the necessary studies) which delay the project and drive costs up (time is money) to the point where some projects don't ever break ground. It's good to take necessary precautions, but often times the "precautions" are a vaguely disguised attempt to block something from happening.




Quote:
Completely agree. This should have been incorporated into the original Greenway plans. Good luck getting a second tunnel built under downtown Boston. Something like the light rail in Jersey City or along the river in New Orleans would work.
I don't know why it wasn't included either? I think a tunnel would be such a waste. A light rail or trolley along the surface can accomplish what the tunnel would at a mere fraction of the cost too. I bet it would see some very high ridership.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ScituateAl View Post
Rather than worry about how much the T loses, perhaps we change our thinking and realize that we're getting good value for all that debt because the status has seen billions of dollars in increased economic activity as a result of having it. For any non-believers, I'd say: think what life would be like without it. Therein lies its value and benefit to the region - its huge, warts and all.
I agree with you 100% The economic benefits often justify or even outweigh the debt. However, it's a hard sell to skeptics. Skeptics want to see clear numbers that make a direct correlation to the transit route and benefit to the economy. It's difficult to impossible to do that. Everything is estimates. Granted, they are very specific, very educated estimates, but they're estimates nonetheless. Anyway, the reason the state subsidizes these projects knowing they will run at a deficit is because they expect economic return. Boston is always in demand due to the fact that it has one of the best transit networks in the nation connecting employees to their employers and people to their entertainment and other needs.

At the same time, that doesn't mean the MBTA can't and shouldn't make improvements. I, too, believe that improvements should be made to existing infrastructure to improve safety and efficiency while reducing costs before taking on more of a burden.

While most transit networks are run at a deficit, there are examples of systems (or single lines) done well enough that they turn a profit. They do so well that they can be sold at a profit to private firms which run them profitably (though costs are controlled so the companies can't price people out) and maintain the infrastructure (to regional and national standards). You can see examples of this in many of Europe's rail lines as well as much of Japan's network. This is more typical in terms of commuter and distance rail than it is in terms of Rapid Transit like subways and light rail which is almost always municipally or regionally funded and can rarely run at a profit regardless of how efficient it is (rapid transit fares have to be REALLY low to work well). It would take a LOT of improvement for the MBTA to do this with any of their lines, but it could possibly be done (I doubt I'll ever see it happen though).
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Old 11-25-2009, 08:40 AM
 
7 posts, read 26,363 times
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Thank you everyone for your time and help! It was really helpful.

Happy Thanksgiving!
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