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Let’s improve commuter rail service between Providence and Boston (commonwealthmagazine.org)
137 points by chmaynard 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 104 comments

I would love for MA to improve the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line, too. The infrastructure feels so dated. The trains are slow, infrequent, and are late or broken too often, so I just drive in the terrible Boston traffic instead. I would love to take the train if I could. Even the fastest train from Worcester to Boston, a single express train, takes an hour. But most likely your schedule can't align with that train (I wouldn't get on at the terminal station so I can't ride it) so you have to take an even slower one.

This image is fascinating, is there a source to it? Reverse google images sadly didn't turn anything up.

And then you get into the city and have to take the T... My 4-mile Green Line trip from home to work takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. The other lines aren't as bad, but the Green line is just shockingly terrible.

Depends on the branch, the D seems ok to me. It’s the only one that doesn’t share the road with cars, which is I think a large part of the problem with B and C. (Aside from the B having a stop every block).

I used to drive to the D line terminal station and take it to Copley Square and it was a pretty OK ride.

The Fitchburg line is even worse because you have to slog through the Concord rotary if you chose to drive. I'd love to see the face on one of my Californian friends driving on Route 2 -- nowhere else have I ever encountered a 55mph highway that ends at a stoplight.

Breezewood, PA is pretty infamous: I-70 has a stoplight with US-30, where you turn right, go through a second stoplight, turn right again, and then get back on I-70. It and the I-78 approach to the Holland Tunnel are the only two places where the interstate has a traffic light, although the road is 35mph immediately in front of it in PA (I don't know what the speed limit of the NJ road is).

Freeways ending in stoplights are actually fairly common, although they usually have lots of advance warning saying "FREEWAY ENDS." 50mph and 55mph roads having stoplights on them aren't particularly uncommon, particularly in rural areas.

I70 joins I76 (the Pennsylvania turnpike) in Breezewood, so traffic would be slowed at the toll-booths even if a proper intersection was built. I suspect that there was some political wrangling that resulted in the US30 transition though - the truck-stops, restaurants and tourist-traps are loving it!

> 50mph and 55mph roads having stoplights on them aren't particularly uncommon, particularly in rural areas.

Sure, but this is a major artery connecting several residential hubs to the regional capital.

I would love for the powers that be to fix Route 2. The neighborhood roads in Concord and Acton are almost unusable at rush hour from Waze, etc. routing around Route 2. It has gotten progressively (and noticably) worse over the past three years.

They ended up having to redo the school bus schedules to accommodate the new traffic levels.

I'm not sure what you mean by "ends" but there are parts of the Pacific Coast Highway (between Malibu and Santa Barbara) with 55 mph speed limits and stoplights.

What I mean is it's a 50-60 mile stretch of highway that unceremoniously stops at a traffic light with no highway on the other side. It's a very weird thing.

Or Route 1 at least through Central New Jersey, 55 and stoplights all over.

Same in all of New York anywhere north of the city. It's very common.

It wasn't that long ago that one of the main north-south roads in California had a stop light on it.


I don't mean to be contrarian but since there is a perfect counterexample near where I live...


There's a surprising number of UK A-roads that are 70mph up to a traffic light. There's usually a lot of signage warning you about it.

Most of your Californian friends would need to pack extra underwear for the first few weeks of commuting in MA.

Take 55 south to Newport Beach during morning Rush hour.

Georgia 400 is a limited access highway with a 65 mph speed limit that retains that speed limit after turning into a traffic light controlled motorway.

I hate to be pedantic, but that is not what a motorway is. It cannot, by definition, be traffic light controlled (except the on-ramps).

I'm posting this editorial because CalTrain riders need to know that commuter rail in New England faces many of the same problems. CalTrain also has the additional challenge of eliminating its grade crossings. The cost of that improvement would probably bankrupt CalTrain, but it needs to happen.

It actually will happen, eventually, as a result of the California HSR project: http://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/2012/12/grade-separation-de...

These are good recommendations, because in the greater scheme of things these are (relatively) small expenditures that can greatly improve level-of-service.

Many European commuter rail systems -- or mainline rail segments that end up hosting predominantly commuter traffic --- run EMUs and have renovated their stations with level-boarding platforms.

Advocating for these types of boring improvements is a good way to make a difference with your local City Council or transit organization.

In my experience, Boston to Providence is pretty fast and pleasant. The issue is the rest of the way to NYC, which crawls through Connecticut at a snail's pace and takes something like 3.5 hours. It's a pretty brutal trip.

I think you're thinking of Amtrak service. Commuter-rail service only goes as far south as Wickford Junction in North Kingston, RI.

From New London Connecticut to New York City Penn station its average time is 2.5 hours. I live in New London and I have taken this route a few times for job interviews in New York.

New London is pretty close to the Road Island boarder, I don't think 3.5 hours is accurate, at least not on average.

I code on the train and it's by far my favorite type of travel, so much room and WIFI included with ticket. It's awesome.

For perspective, it takes 2.5 hours to drive on I95 from New London to New York. If you take a train you don't have to worry about traffic, or parking, or pay attention to the road.

It's great, I just wish the ticket price was a bit lower.

At least it isn't Fung Wah.

RIP $5 Boston-> NYC trips with dudes literally getting on the bus carrying chickens in cages



If you were willing to put up with the downsides the price couldn't be beat.

My understanding is that the reason the US doesn't have better rail service is because the auto industry lobbies the government to direct subsidies toward roads rather than railways. I've seen many cities wanting to improve commuter rail services, but until we get rid of the auto industry's influence, this is an uphill battle.

The US has a great freight rail network. In the US a greater percentage of goods are carried on rail than in Europe.


An alternative explanation as to why the US has poor long and medium distance passenger rail is that the subsidy required is not cost effective.


The farebox recovery ratio for roadways is similarly terrible, gas tax is piss in the wind when it comes to building and maintaining road infrastructure.

Up front though, our federal government will happily eat 90+% of the cost for new roadway projects, resulting in said projects seeing ample funding, and older localities ending up with massive infrastructure they can't afford to maintain, let alone replace at the end of its design life (eg: when its starting to approach failure).

[G]as tax is piss in the wind when it comes to building and maintaining road infrastructure

That’s an exaggeration. Federal and state gas taxes and user fees cover a large fraction (something like 50%) of maintenance and capital costs of highways and local roads, even though 1/6 of the Federal gas tax is redirected to mass transit.

If it were politically viable, a 100% user tax/fee scheme could fund 100% of the system with gas prices not too much higher than they were a few years ago. The system would not collapse; EVs and hybrids would just become more popular. Air travel is similar.

That is not true of passenger rail of any form in the US today, outside of perhaps the Boston-DC corridor.

And the subsidy for roads is?

In the US most tracks are owned by freight rail companies so they nearly always get priority over Amtrak.

De-prioritizing passenger rail is going to result in shittier service, which will result in fewer passengers which will naturally result in a lower farebox recovery ratio.

Are you arguing that because the passenger rail service is shitty and people aren't riding that the service should be kept shitty?

Cargo is profitable and has a bit more flexibility in schedule (often loading at odd hours). Passenger isn’t profitable without a subsidy and requires service employees (on train and off) along with more expensive infrastructure as opposed to buildings owned by clients (e.g. grain elevators). Insurance is also more and B2B is always easier than B2C.

Rail service isn't practicable in most of the country, even at 200 miles an hour, NY to Chicago is still a long long trip.

At 200 miles an hour, NY to Chicago is less than four hours.

It takes about an hour total for transportation between downtowns and the airports; you need to be at the airport about an hour ahead of your flight; the flight itself is 2 and a half hours.

So, a 200mph train would be _faster_ for most travelers.

> At 200 miles an hour, NY to Chicago is less than four hours.

Assuming you can a) maintain that speed the entire length and b) there are no stops along the route. A long-distance point-to-point HSR system is simply not cost-effective, particularly when you've got a geographic barrier like the Appalachians. That's what makes Chicago so problematic for HSR: the Midwest ends up being a region where no city is particularly close to being "on the way" between any other city pairing.

The Appalachians aren't particularly an insurmountable barrier. Japan, Switzerland, China, and France all have much bigger and more formidable mountains than the Appalachians.

The real problem is:

- Not enough government funding for mass transit projects

- Not enough people supporting government funding

- Too much power at the city level and not enough power at the state/national level for transportation projects

- Terrible UX and not enough city-level public transit infrastructure. When you exit the train station in most of the above countries, you are greeted with a properly air-conditioned/heated waiting hall, delicious food, hotels within walkable distance, and buses/subway to anywhere you would need to go. In a LOT of US cities when you exit the train station you are greeted with a massive parking lot and not even so much as a restroom. (Okay, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Washington are fine, but they are quite the exception. Most other cities suck.) Even if California gets the high-speed rail going any time soon to Los Angeles, the fact is that it's stupidly hard to get around anywhere in LA without a car, so I don't imagine it getting much ridership until that problem is solved (maybe by autonomous cars, maybe not).

Appalachians aren't insurmountable as a geographic barrier, particularly because there's a very easy topographical shortcut by going next to the Erie Canal. What makes it really challenging is the lack of lesser-tier cities to plug into the network, combined with the sheer length.

Put another way, the distance between Chicago and New York is roughly 700mi as the crow flies. The distance between Edinburgh and London is 330mi, Calais and Marseilles 550mi, Zurich and Copenhagen 600mi, Milan and Calabria 600mi, Shanghai and Beijing 650mi, Hiroshima and Sendai 530mi. You're looking at a distance that's longer literally than the longest axis of most European countries, and at a much more sparsely populated region than the linear corridors of other countries that have axes that long.

NY/Chicago is on the edge of viability in terms of distance. As the crow flies, you're talking a 3½ hour trip minimum; as you actually build it, a non-stop express is looking like at least 4-4½ hours. The most feasible route with intermediate stops (via Pittsburgh and Philly) is around 860 miles, an even longer trip. If the trip were on pretty much flat, featureless terrain, the cost and time could both be kept small, but the mountainous terrain means you're generally on the worse ends of the estimate.

That's the biggest problem with the US: our cities are just simply too far apart for HSR to be viable in most of the country. And where they aren't, they tend to be in the worst pattern for utilizing HSR effectively.

We put a man on the moon, and you're telling me we can't make a train go faster than the Shanghai maglev?

There is not much point; the engineering and construction is extremely expensive (and more so in the US [1][2][3][4][5][6]), and there's perfectly good sunk-cost airports that let airlines operate this route at a variety of price-points today.

[1] https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/6/4/this-is-why-inf... [2] https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-04-08/why-u-s-i... [3] http://fortune.com/2017/01/23/us-infrastructure-renewal-buil... [4] https://www.citylab.com/life/2014/04/7-reasons-us-infrastruc... [5] http://theweek.com/articles/449646/why-expensive-build-bridg... [6] http://marroninstitute.nyu.edu/blog/is-u.s.-infrastructure-m...

Sounds like the US needs to stop sucking at this.

In terms of fixed railway track, 350 km/h (220 mph) does appear to be a rather hard limit. The higher you boost your top speed, the more difficult it is to build track configurations that don't make passengers puke, and that filters down to things like "being able to build high-speed switches."

Maglevs have reduced physical infrastructure limitations which give them higher theoretical top speeds. The problem is that the fixed infrastructure costs are way too high to be feasible for low-volume routes, and they are completely incapable of sharing their tracks with those low-volume routes, which means you need to carve separate approaches through the very high land values of large, dense cities.

Well we have some great hucksters that tried maglev here in Norfolk and we got robbed. https://pilotonline.com/inside-business/news/municipal-gover...

> That's the biggest problem with the US: our cities are just simply too far apart for HSR to be viable in most of the country. And where they aren't, they tend to be in the worst pattern for utilizing HSR effectively.

Naw, the biggest problem is lack of strong centralized authority and planning. The California HSR debacle is a perfect example: death by a thousand cuts. Places like Belmont want to kill HSR with a variety of faux concerns (e.g. opposing electrification and grade separation due to noise concerns). Meanwhile in San Francisco politicians are still bickering over how to extend the tracks to the new transbay terminal (which is currently just a billion dollar bus station). And, of course, the California Republican delegation is trying to tank Caltrain electrification because one of the consequences is that electrification will help HSR. See Also: BART's Oakland Wye clusterfuck.

Or take a look at New York. The high speed train, Acela, is being strangled by Connecticut and MetroNorth. Average speed along the Acela route is 70 mph, give or take.

Meanwhile in Spain, RENFE is second only to China for amount of high speed rail. They're even in the process of switching from Iberian to "standard" gauge track (and even have trains that can switch track gauge without stopping). Meanwhile in New York... Penn station is… a mishmash of electrification projects (Amtrak, LIRR, NJT).

In fact, I think you're putting to much emphasis on time in motion versus time door-to-door. The big advantage that rail has over air travel is that you can build the stations in very central locations. New York is a great example with JFK all the way out in the boonies (unless you live in / are going to Queens) and Penn Station right in midtown. Being able to go from Penn Station to Union station right on the Loop could easily shave an hour off of your travel time... and the hassle of unpacking your bags and taking your shoes off. New York is also at a disadvantage with no easy options to add more flights to either of the New York airports (LGA, JFK).

> When you exit the train station in most of the above countries, you are greeted with a properly air-conditioned/heated waiting hall, delicious food, hotels within walkable distance, and buses/subway to anywhere you would need to go.

Are you thinking of regional or long haul service? My experience was that the regional/commuter stations (RER, RENFE Cercanias) weren't particularly extravagant. Air conditioning, in my experience, is much less of a thing in Europe than the US.

In terms of American stations, Boston's Back Bay station (well, the platform for the commuter rail) is just gross. It's hot, dark, and sooty due to the diesel trains. IMO the San Francisco, and to some extent the rest of the Bay Area, does pretty well by American standards. Powell station has underground access to a variety of shops and whatnot, the SF ferry terminal is its own little posh mall, and even BART's latest mistake, the Warm Springs station, is actively being targeted for complementary development. Even Marin has the multi-modal station right in downtown San Rafael with a bunch of restaurants and shops within a two block radius.

France doesn’t run many trains over the Alps and they aren’t running 200 mph. Geneva to Marseille for example is a pain in the ass trip and driving is always faster, and flying even better.

I don’t think you have any idea how much it costs to run high speed rail lines through the mountains. It’s mind blowing expensive and difficult and the environmentalists seeem to lose their minds. Look at the history of the TGV for examples of how farmers and environmentalists obstructed that project for years.

Osaka to Fukuoka in Japan is about 2.5 hours by Shinkansen high speed train with 6 stops.

Chicago to NYC is about twice that distance, so 5 hours should be obtainable

The question is what the situation on the ground looks like. The short distance for NY/Chicago is around 800mi following more or less I-80. The problem with that route is you're missing any viable station between Cleveland and NY (maybe Scranton, but that's sending you in the wrong direction), and there's no real feasible reuse of that route for any other pairings other than NY/Chicago.

The "easy" route via the Erie canal (so Chicago/Cleveland/Buffalo/Albany/NY) is 950mi or so, which is simply getting too long to capture traffic. Going via Detroit and Niagara doesn't really add any time, and cutting the trip in half via Toronto would add some time, but you'd get two viable trip corridors out of it, if you could solve border control issues.

The most logical route is the Pittsburgh/Philly route, because you get the topography in your favor east of Harrisburg, reuse of corridor (Pittsburgh, Philly, and Harrisburg are all en route, not to mention the wye at Pittsburgh gives you basically Chicago/NYC and Chicago/DC on the same corridor). But this route is still 860mi, which is hard to keep to 5 hours.

Rather that go through all that nonsense, why not focus on connecting the airports to downtown more efficiently — such as how Heathrow has done it. 15 min from heathrow to paddington.

Flying is the best mode of long distance travel in the United States — you don’t have to pay for thousands of miles of track, instead you just need to focus on connecting to airports with the cities more efficiently.

With airplanes, you can route however you want, scaling with demand. But with a train: what happens if Chicago-NY becomes unprofitable? You’ve spent billions connecting cities rather than simply improving airports. Airports can serve all city pairs, a train is a permanent connection of city pairs.

It’s interesting how people here are ok with spending billions to run track, build stations, but nobody has brought up the simplest solution: improve airports and the airport UX. That would be cheaper and benefit more people — not just those living in a major city.

That's only half the battle since you still need to get past the TSA checkpoint so if the flight is important to you, you'll get to the airport an hour early just in case the line is significantly longer than usual.

Over the past 6 months, I've spent nearly 60 minutes in security more than once due to equipment failure and/or understaffing.

Trains are a good backup to airports since airplanes can be grounded (or highly delayed) due to weather, security concerns, equipment problems at the airport, etc. Trains are not (generally) subject to the same concerns so make a good backup.

I was in Japan recently and my intercity flight to a city 300 miles away was canceled due to an incoming Typhoon. I was able to book a high speed train that got me in there to catch my flight (and depart before the typhoon hit that airport too).

When a blizzard hits NYC, all you can do is sit it out and wait for flights to resume and it can sometimes take days to find an available seat.

To expand this with more detail, NYC-Chicago is between 900 and 1000 miles on existing railroad tracks, depending on which way you go:

~910 miles through Philadelphia -> Harrisburg -> Pittsburgh -> Cleveland;

~960 miles through Albany -> Buffalo -> Cleveland;

~1000 miles through Philadelphia -> Baltimore -> DC -> Pittsburgh -> Cleveland.

The route that touches DC is the one that passes through the most valuable intermediate stops, but most of that demand is intra-corridor and doesn't concern Chicago. Furthermore, DC is a logical place to serve as a hub to connect the two corridors: one a high-demand DC-NYC, and one a long-distance Chicago-DC. Since to go into Union Station, you have to double-back, this could be a two-segment train where you'd have one-seat travel between Chicago and NYC, but there would be a mandatory stop in DC. This all sounds good, but the segment between DC and Pittsburgh is awful: it's crowded with CSX freight trains, it's either hemmed in by populated areas or follows river valleys or narrow ravines, and there's much work to be done to bring it up to a state that can host High Speed Rail. Between DC and Pittsburgh, one would basically have to build a dedicated line for High Speed passenger rail.

The route through Albany and Buffalo avoids the Appalachians but is forced into the busy Hudson Valley. Route improvements here are expensive. East of Cleveland, the Upstate New York cities along the route simply don't generate enough Chicago-bound demand, nor enough connecting opportunities to make routing this way worthwhile.

The route of the old Pennsylvanian Railway through Philly, Harrisburg, Altoona, Pittsburgh is indeed the most logical 'direct' route, both in terms of macro and micro; most of the right-of-way is multi-tracked so even with the heavy Norfolk Southern freight traffic, it'd be competitive; and the route touches Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, all of which can generate local and connecting passengers. But even this route is substandard for High Speed Rail: most of it is in river valleys, where there isn't space for the overly broad, sweeping curves with large radii that are needed for high speed travel.

The gist is, between Pittsburgh and the Appalachian Great Valley -- home to Harrisburg and Hagerstown, on the routes going towards Philadelphia and DC respectively -- significant engineering effort (that I wrote about previously [1]) would be needed to cut down on travel time on what would become one of the most profitable segments of the route: between Western PA and the rest of the Northeast Corridor.

As for the Midwest, there are no convenient cities west of Cleveland to chain onto the route. Toledo or Fort Wayne are the most logical choices, but Toledo lacks north-south connections currently, while Fort Wayne is out of the way of the direct route and also lacks connections. Chaining them both along with South Bend would be best, but that's a complicated route that adds travel time.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13414587

On point, but some addendums:

Chicago/NEC isn't viable for HSR until 200mph at least, which means dedicated passenger rails, which means a new corridor anyways. The CSX route from DC to Pittsburgh isn't particularly great from this purpose. Of course, one of the issues with the Keystone to Harrisburg is that the wye is just north of Philly's station, so either you have to run the locomotive around in Philly or you bypass the stop entirely on the way to NYC.

In terms of engineering, the worst part is going to be the Ridge and Valley section of the Appalachians, roughly Blue Mountain to Bedford if you're following the PA Turnpike. The problem is that you have steep ridges very perpendicular to your direction of travel, which requires either detouring to find a water gap or tunneling through the base. Once you're on the plateau proper, passenger rail can easily handle the grades.

As for your final point: that's the big problem with the Midwest: pretty much nothing's colinear. In contrast, a straight line from from DC to Boston literally passes right through NYC [1] and very near Baltimore, Wilmington, Philly, Trenton, and New Haven, with Hartford, Springfield, and Providence a bit further off.

[1] When I drew it from the Capitol to Boston City Hall, the path over Manhattan was from roughly the northwestern corner of Lower Manhattan to the southeastern corner of Midtown Manhattan.

I would gladly spend the hours I spend dealing with the mess of airport travel on a train instead.

The US is a tough place to build out High Speed Rail because:

- the dense cities with good intra-metro transit are either all already in the Northeast Corridor or somewhere else entirely and too far apart from each other: Chicago is much too far from NYC, DC, San Francisco, Seattle

- elsewhere, you find big metropolitan areas that are the right distance apart (~100-200 miles) but are impossibly spread out and have bad transit, such that only a small subset of your potential customers can get to where the station would be, or to where they're trying to go within the metro once they arrive; e.g. Texas Triangle (Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston), Florida V (Tampa, Orlando, Miami), I-85 (Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh)

How long is it by car? If the only other option is by plane, I can imagine high speed rail being a good alternative, even if it takes longer than plane. See what long-distance rail looks like in places where it works, like Europe, China, even dare I say Canada.

It's a 12 hour drive.

NY-Toronto-Detroit-Chicago is possible in theory, which has much closer connections between four very large cities. But international cooperation is low right now for dotard-related political reasons.

I'm not sure that makes sense as a single rail route. If Toronto and Detroit are intermediate stops on a line from NY to Chicago, that would mean the train either goes the long way around Lake Ontario (pointlessly adding travel time) or it goes to Toronto via Niagara and then doubles back west (pointlessly adding travel time for NY-Detroit-Chicago passengers).

Really, Lake Ontario makes any NY-Detroit train line much longer than it could be otherwise.

New York to Chicago via Toronto and Detroit is certainly not the most direct route, but it does make a lot of sense in the context of what is already in place.

VIA Rail advertises that its Toronto to Windsor service is a great alternative to driving and flying. It is 1 hour slower than flight and about equal to driving. Surely they can make some good improvements. EDIT - I just discovered that Ontario has committed to bring the Toronto to Windsor line to 200 km/h by 2025 and 300 km/h by 2031.

A brand-new bridge between Windsor and Detroit has already been approved. Canada is paying for 100% of it, why not add rail capabilities (like the Øresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark)?

The Detroit to Chicago Amtrak line runs at > 100 mph for almost the entire length already (paid for by the "car-friendly" state of Michigan). The major bottlenecks are two counties in Indiana that Pence hates. With him in Washington, he might still find a way to block construction, but then again he might be too busy to get involved in such piddly things anymore.

So basically, you just need to find a good way to speed up the current New York to Toronto Amtrak, which is 12.5 hours to go 350 miles!

Putting rail over the new Detroit/Windsor bridge isn't a particularly good idea (you're not really connecting the stations), but actually crossing the river (neither the Saint Clair nor the Niagara) isn't the problem. The hard problem is solving the border control issue.

You could just put the Toronto HSR station in Hamilton and connect from there to the Toronto metro system assuming it has one. That saves you the "jog". Also I think that the second time you mention Lake Ontario you mean to mention Lake Erie which is the real NY-Detroit obstacle, which is what motivates going through Canada.

Reaching the absolute minimum NY-Chicago travel time isn't necessarily the highest priority because at that distance you're not going to beat a plane and you're probably not going to see same day round trips. Instead making the line economical by including as many people as possible would make the trip cheaper for people who can't afford flying. You could even add stops in Philadelphia and Toledo, which aren't too far off course.

Yes, that was a typo on my part. Lake Ontario lengthens any NY-Toronto train line. Lake Erie lengthens any NY-Detroit train line.

I'm traveling to Norway soon for a short vacation and I'm looking forward to using Oslo's public transit and regional rail network. Apparently it's an award-winning, world-class system.

Most Northern European systems are absolutely amazing. Not only do things just work, but their attention to detail and design is also top-notch. In most places the fonts, kerning, colors, lighting, everything is just very pleasing to the graphic designer eye. Sometimes you feel like you've stepped into an app.

Indeed. Take for example the City Tunnel in Malmö which finished ahead of time and a million dollars under budget[1]. At Triangeln it has dancing lights on the walls that are somewhat mesmerizing[2].

1: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Tunnel_(Malmö)

2: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=k6tJb9TwY1k

> a million dollars under budget

A hundred million, surely? 1e9 SEK under the projected cost of 9.5e9 SEK.

Whoops you are correct, dropped a zero or two there. Makes it even more impressive.

This is all fine and good. Just don't improve it between Boston and any city you expect people to be able to afford to buy a house in.

I'm 100% against new tracks being laid or any more capital expenditures to the MBTA (anyone who goes on the Red Line during rush hour, or the commuter rail during the winter knows it sucks). The current system needs better maintenance, first.

Here's one solution: create a new express lane on existing highways by removing a lane or repurposing the existing HOV lane. Make this new lane have a 80mph speed limit. Only allow buses. There you go.

This would have a higher average speed than all existing public transportation systems in the United States. No need to build any rail.


As long as "undesirables" can easily go to your town via public transportation, NIMBYs will shut it down. See the Red Line extension to Arlington. Those folks are regretting that now.

Disclaimer: I live in Massachusetts -- both the above, and the OP will never happen. It's just too hard to justify the capital expenses. In the case of improved service you would think it's easy, but once you consider the commuter rail is already underutilized it's hard to imagine.

Heck, they were even going to end weekend service for the commuter rail.


The point is that the rail is already there, and the rail line is already pretty much the best in the US, and already has electrification, that the commuter rail trains don't use for entirely stupid reasons. And sure, buses are great, but one comumter rail train carries the same number of passengers as literally 20 buses. Given that the tracks to Providence are already there, some relatively minor improvements can make the trains suck much less. Your bus idea on the other hand seems like a good alternative to the South Coast Rail boondoggle.

Improvements in the public transit network in Mass are a non-starter right now.

Massachusetts has a republican governor that refuses to spend on public transportation until the some of the waste at the agency is eliminated through reform. The public transit agency in MA does have some issues but the conept that the governor of who claimed lots of business experience can't "improve things at the same time." means we're stuck.

We have ballot question to allow the state to raise taxes on the very wealthy to pay for transportation and education. Be interesting to see how that direct governance works

So when you raise taxes on the very wealthy, won’t the very wealthy just move to New Hampshire? What happens when you run out of very wealthy? I remember John Kerry has his yacht docked in a neighboring state because he wanted to avoid the high taxes. Why should the very wealthy pay for transportation if they rarely use it? Shouldn’t that be funded by riders?

A few might move, but most wont. Despite no income tax property taxes are really high in NH. The state is getting its money somewhere.

Plus the advantages of living close to where you need to be when traffic can be just terrible. I worked in an office in Bedford which moved north to Woburn MA half way between the Mass and NH borders. All of a sudden living in NH was an option. I think a lot of people considered it and like 2 moved, one had family up there and one was kinda a libertarian.

Its worth noting NH bid to amazon points out the close proximity to Boston for food, schools and theater. It close then you factor in traffic...

Being from the London, where EMUs are pretty much the norm, this the improvements seem like a no-brainer.

And not having high level platforms in this day and age is bizarre I can only remember once in my life in the UK ever having to use a non high level platform and that was on the Bedford to Bletchley line (mostly used to transport rubbish to landfills)

Sure, but why should the MBTA care about the Providence Line in particular, as opposed to say, Worcester or other parts of Massachusetts?

It's the most traveled line.

Sure, but by that logic, why not extend rapid transit -- it's far more traveled than all of the commuter rail lines combined.

Probably because it earns the most revenue, given its usage and distance.

Given that the MBTA is a money losing organization I'm not sure revenue maximization is necessarily the strategy that should be sought.

It's how you measure whether you're doing something useful.

No, because then it's what's optimized for. It's like if you run a hospital "like a business" -- it becomes optimized for making money at the expense of patient care.

It's not like a hospital at all -- not that many hospitals couldn't benefit from being run better.

The revenue of a train line is proportional to passengers served and forms a baseline for the total value the passengers received from the service. There's no problems with stuff like quality of passenger care.

Hospitals ARE a business.

The majority of US hospitals are not for profit.


>As long as "undesirables" can easily go to your town via public transportation, NIMBYs will shut it down. See the Red Line extension to Arlington. Those folks are regretting that now.

I live in Medford right now, near the border with Malden. The "undesirables" are already here. And by "undesirables", I mean holy hell the Boston area is racist as fuck. The rest of this area is fine with black people living on the Orange Line. Hell, we might as consolidate the southern end of the Red Line with the Orange Line into a brand new "Line of Color", with the Green being the Finance and Colleges Line, the Blue being the Outer Suburbs Line, and the Red being the Yuppies Line.

Boston: get over yourself and desegregate!

>Heck, they were even going to end weekend service for the commuter rail.

If the Commuter Rail ran more than once an hour or so on weekends, maybe people would use it, or even be ok with living far away from a non-Green train line and just using Commuter Rail instead.

Your bus solution ignores what makes transportation networks slow. It's the intersections, not the roads between them.

A dedicated bus lane wouldn't help anything if those buses are getting on and off every exit through regular traffic.

True, however:

1. A single bus represents dozens of cars that would otherwise be on the highway in the case that all passengers previously had car based commutes.

2. As long as the average speed is greater than or equal to the car it would still be a net win. The system, combined with disincentives for car commuters would eliminate non high occupancy or industrial vehicles in the long run.

3. A bus solution would result in other improvements such as bus lanes, bus prioritization, etc as they become more ubiquitous.

> I'm 100% against new tracks being laid or any more capital expenditures...the current system needs better maintenance, first.

Maintenance of the current system requires capital expenditures. It becomes expensive to run old trains on old signaling systems, which is why both are being upgraded for the Red and Orange lines. It's expensive to be poor, and watching the MBTA operate try to operate is a heart-wrenching example of this. The downtown transfer stations are expensive failure points in part because they're handling the demand of Red <> Blue commuters who don't have a direct transfer at Charles/MGH because that would be "capital expenditures". It costs the MBTA more than $100 million in operational overhead yearly because the northern and southern halves of the commuter rail don't connect. [1]

> Here's one solution: create a new express lane on existing highways by removing a lane or repurposing the existing HOV lane. Make this new lane have a 80mph speed limit. Only allow buses. There you go.

The problem of urban transit is very rarely just how to move people quickly between stations — it's about how to insert them efficiently within walking distance of their destination. Previous generations were kind enough to leave us with a commuter rail system that is remarkably good at doing that across many towns in the region, and the solution — run more and better trains — is blindingly simple.

> but once you consider the commuter rail is already underutilized it's hard to imagine

The commuter rail carries 42% of passengers bound for Boston at rush hour so "underutilized" is a relative term. [2] The infrastructure (trainsets and railyards) makes it hard to run more efficiently at off-peak hours, which is again an operational cost that can be offset over time with capital expenditure.

[1] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/561e6ed5e4b039248a6a9... (table EX-3 on page EX-10)

[2] http://amateurplanner.blogspot.com/2017/03/how-many-people-u...

The main opposition in Arlington was they were afraid then proposed Red Line extension out to Bedford/128 wouldn’t happen fast enough (or at all) and the city center would become a commuter hub, not that they were afraid if the kind of people it would attract. The majority were for the extension through Arlington so long as it were done as one continuous project, guaranteeing the terminus wouldn’t be in the town center.

I'm not entirely sure I get your argument.

The MBTA faces a bunch of horrible infrastructure limitations:

1. Only two rails for all subway lines, so a lot of the maintenance requires downtime.

2. The green line is on horribly dated signaling mechanisms, and also has to deal with traffic at various points.

3. The commuter rail has terrible stations, often requiring a very long time boarding, and single tracks at many points.

Alot of that would make your operational complaints better. Sure, there are problems with the MBTA, but likely the solution isn't to avoid fixing anything.

I'd say my argument is that rail based transport is inherently flawed given the politics surrounding funding its maintenance. Using the highway is better and more politically digestible, IMO.

1. Buses would encourage better maintenance of roads -- roads that are used by regular people. Other people like that.

2. Buses can go anywhere cars can. They can be swapped out in a more modular fashion, and are more resilient to delays as rerouting can happen instantly.

3. Buses, finally, can be scaled more easily. A single small town in the South or North Shore that wants public transportation? They now have access with a single double decker, high speed bus.

Point of fact: `regular people ‘ use trains too.

Buses get stuck in traffic jams. This is the main advantage of a proper metro system: it bypasses all of the idiots that mess up the roads.

If you are talking about a small town then buses are the correct solution, but when you're talking about big cities the calculus changes considerably. A 15 minute train ride can take over an hour in a bus easily.

What if it actually was a high speed rail? Maybe more people would use it, or even expand towns around a highly available rapid transit resource.

The article didn’t mention new tracks. What do you think about the suggestions?

It's not bad. EMUs are a net-new capex, though.

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