Take long view, build N-S Rail Link

Take long view, build N-S Rail Link

Don’t throw good money after bad S. Station expansion

DESPITE THE SORRY STATE of Greater Boston’s commuter rail system, it manages to function well enough to carry nearly half of the city’s suburban commuters to jobs and other destinations. This is less a testament to the efficiency of the rail network and more a reflection of the hours-long gridlock on the highway network every day. The trains are frequently crowded, yet the network’s capacity to add more service is constrained, in many cases less by line operations and more often by the two unconnected terminals at North and South stations. There, trains are required to slowly pull in to discharge passengers, and then reverse direction and pull out empty, simply to clear space for the next train to arrive. All of this is inefficient and expensive, but is required by the configuration of North and South Stations.

One way to mitigate this would be to build a bigger station. New York’s Grand Central Terminal is able to process 51 inbound trains between 8 and 9 a.m., but does so with approximately 60 tracks: Many trains drop passengers and then sit idle until the evening. At rush hour, three of the four tracks leading into Grand Central are used for peak-direction service, so there is an imbalance of capacity. In essence, Grand Central is a huge, underground rail yard. The South Station Expansion project in Boston attempts to replicate this (albeit on a much smaller scale), spending $2 billion to double down on an inherently inefficient system, just to squeeze a bit more capacity out of a terminal.

For more than a century, commuter rail service in Philadelphia looked much like it does in Boston: a legacy system with downtown terminals developed by separate railroad companies. There, much like in Boston, two separate terminals served commuters, as trains pulled slowly into stations through a complex series of tracks and switches, discharged passengers, loaded new passengers, and then pulled out. Given this setup, each track can serve about 1.5 trains per hour: in the peak hour at South Station, 18 trains pull in and out, utilizing 11 of the 13 tracks (the other two are used by Amtrak); the 10 tracks at North Station serve 12 trains per hour. In the 1980s—at the same time Boston was rerouting and extending the Red and Orange Lines—Philadelphia was busy, too, digging a connection between its two stations. Today, trains there pull into the downtown stations, drop and pick up passengers, and then keep going on the other side of downtown.

The tunnel built was not particularly wide. There are just four tracks between the two sides of the Philadelphia system. Those four tracks, however, serve 44 trains per hour, or 11 trains per track, an efficiency an order of magnitude better than what is possible for each track in a terminal-based system.

This is important. Increased downtown station efficiency is the biggest—if least-understood—benefit to the North South Rail Link, bigger than cross-regional connections or better destination access.

The benefits of a proper North South Rail Link are certainly substantial:

  • The rail link would allow direct trips between suburbs, say, from Framingham to Haverhill, which would help many commuters who currently would have to grapple with both an anemic reverse-peak commuter rail schedule and a three- or four-seat ride, squeezing aboard the Red and Orange Line at rush hour downtown to get between rail terminals. (Currently, few commuters brave the transit system for this trip, instead clogging the highways or losing out on access to jobs altogether.)
  • The rail link would provide much better access to workplaces which are not near the train stations downtown. If you live on the North Shore and work in the Back Bay, you have to transfer to the Orange or Green Line for a jam-packed, slow ride through downtown. The North South Rail Link would allow for a one-seat ride to most of the major employment centers in Boston, while at the same time lessening the burden on the already oversubscribed subway system.
  • An extreme, but certainly realistic, example would be for workers who live in South Acton and work at the Longwood Medical and Academic area. Right now, this is a two- or even three-seat ride which, if you make perfect connections, takes more than an hour. The first 20 miles of that, on commuter rail, take as little as 26 minutes. The final five miles? Close to an hour. The North South Rail Link would allow trains to run straight through from Porter to Ruggles or Yawkey, with the whole ride taking 35 or 40 minutes, faster than driving even without traffic (with rush hour traffic on Route 2, driving generally takes much longer). By distributing regional passengers directly to their destinations, the rail link would provide faster, more reliable trips and take pressure off the core capacity of the subways, improving conditions for passengers there as well.
  • The North South Rail Link would be layered upon and integrated with the current transit system, and could be designed to be complementary and act as a second subway system. In addition to the aforementioned connections to workplaces, it would allow a variety of new trips within the city to be made directly or with, at most, a single, cross-platform transfer downtown. The subway system today is already full approaching downtown and then has to run double duty filling the last mile for many commuter rail passengers. (A monorail between the stations, which has been suggested as a solution, wouldn’t integrate with service on either end and, for most trips, require multiple transfers. It would get little use.) With proper improvements to railroad operations (widespread use of high-level platforms, fare integration, electrification, EMUs –electrical multiple units, or essentially self-propelled train cars — and frequency and schedule improvements), even trips which require a connection downtown will be convenient via the commuter rail system. This happens regularly in Philadelphia—passengers change between trains in Center City as easily as, or more easily than, connecting between two subway lines. This process would transform the commuter rail system to (borrowing exactly from Philadelphia’s terminology) a “regional rail” system.

But these benefits pale in comparison to the improved conditions for railroad operations. Thus, we come back to Philadelphia (and, it turns out, several other cities abroad which have built through-running connections out of formerly stub-ended stations). The MBTA proposes to increase capacity by expanding South Station, at the cost of $2 billion for 7 more tracks, allowing it to run at most 30 trains per hour to South Station. This strategy is misguided for several reasons, not least because it doubles down on the current inefficient terminal, which requires hundreds of out-of-service (or deadhead) movements to take trains in and out of storage yards to serve rush hour. And even for a train running to the yard, it’s much faster to run it straight through the city rather than pulling slowly into a terminal, unloading passengers, and then pulling back out, occupying a platform for 15 to 20 minutes or longer. (Railroad regulations require crews to perform a brake test when changing ends in this manner, which can take several minutes.)

A 1998 study estimated that the MBTA spends $62 million (adjusting for inflation, $93 million today, and likely higher given the increasing costs of transit operation costs and fuel since then, plus additional rail service added to some lines) on this inefficient terminal operation. Every year the commuter rail system runs with its current layout, it costs $100 million more than it should: 25 percent of the total cost of the system’s operation. Building on this already inefficient operation will bake in these extra costs for decades to come, and every new train operated will simply add to the cost and complexity of the system. No matter what improvements are made to the outer stretches of the lines—like the much-needed $200 million Fitchburg Line upgrades and the improvements to the Fairmount Line—the current downtown stations will continue to inhibit capacity and drive up costs.

South Station expansion uses capital funds but does nothing to improve operational expenses. Yes, the North South Rail Link is expensive to build—more expensive than expanding South Station. But in the long run, it’s a lot cheaper and more efficient to operate, allowing more and better service with minimal public subsidies. Despite many inefficiencies, the commuter rail network already covers about half of its operating costs from fares. The North South Rail Link is the linchpin of a more efficient regional rail system that would be faster and more convenient for passengers and cheaper and more efficient for operators.

Downtown Boston and adjacent employment centers continue to grow, with billions in new investment planned (the Government Center Garage redevelopment, the Volpe parcel in Kendall, and the continued development of the Seaport—despite its transit unfriendliness—to name a few). Yet the city runs the risk of being strangled by a gridlocked roadway system and an inefficient rail system. Rather than throwing good money after bad, South Station expansion money should be funneled towards a full study of the North South Rail Link, and the future operational savings used as a down payment for construction. (In addition, in the long run, the rail link would allow the consolidation of maintenance facilities further out from downtown, opening dozens of acres of prime real estate in the Fort Point and near North Station for development.)

Meet the Author

Ari Ofsevit

Guest Contributor

About Ari Ofsevit

Ari Ofsevit is a transportation planner with the Charles River TMA in Cambridge, which runs the EZRide Shuttle. He has won hackathons examining data from Hubway, late night MBTA service, and MassDOT real time highway traffic.

About Ari Ofsevit

Ari Ofsevit is a transportation planner with the Charles River TMA in Cambridge, which runs the EZRide Shuttle. He has won hackathons examining data from Hubway, late night MBTA service, and MassDOT real time highway traffic.

The North South Rail Link has been misunderstood as a “one-off” improvement of the rail system in the urban core. It is much more than that. It is a central component of a regional project which would propel the current commuter rail network from a vestige of the 19th century into the 21st, give better access to employment for millions across the Commonwealth, and allow the city and region to grow without choking on chronic traffic gridlock. In that sense, the rail link is a modern idea, in stark contrast to the old-think that permeates the South Station expansion project, which, if implemented, will do nothing to reduce operational costs or improve mobility in the long term. Boston is a global city, and needs to compete on a global scale. Scalable infrastructure is an important part of this. That is the promise of the North South Rail Link: With more efficient operations, trains would move seamlessly in and out of downtown Boston, allowing sustainable, urban employment centers to forge connections with the entire region.

Ari Ofsevit is a transit advocate, a member of TransitMatters and a master of science in transportation/master of city planning candidate at MIT. He lives in Cambridge.

  • casmatt99

    You make a compelling argument Mr Ofsevit, and despite the consensus among those who study transportation for a living, the Baker administration seems adamant on pursuing the South Station expansion for reasons that pass understanding.

    In the face of this incoherent opposition, how can the commuting public make an effective case in support of this project? Surely the opinion of well-informed advocates carries more weight than a 9 – 5 office worker, yet we are the ones who stand to benefit the most, or lose the most, from how the state decides to proceed. Even the support of federal legislators like Rep. Seth Moulton is not enough to advance this proposal further than a preliminary feasibility study.

    As you correctly point out, this single project has the potential to advance or cripple this state’s economic progress into the rest of the 21st century, so it is absolutely crucial we learn from our own mistakes while taking into the account the successes other cities have had with similar projects.

    • Sisu54

      Follow the money, Ruth Bonsignore formerly of VHB and Joe Aiello of Meridian and Aecom work with developers and they increase the footprint of south station and P3 the overhead commercial space. Everyone wins, VHB and Aceom get the design and permitting, Ruth and Joe get a pat on the back by their old bosses and we the taxpayers get the bill. I remember when Needham didn’t want the train service run into their community again, now they love train service, kinda funny, the place hated bussing in the Metro students now they are tolerant, stratch the surface i doubt it haha!

  • QuincyQuarry.com

    OK, I get the operating efficiencies and improved service arguments – but where can a rail tunnel be located?

    There is already a wicked lot of underground infrastructure in place between North and South Station as well as that trains are limited to very gradual track bed elevation changes. To the latter point, take a car ride on the roller coaster roadway that is the O’Neal Tunnel.

    One also cannot help but suspect that prohibitively costly construction and land takings would be needed to effect a North/South rail tunnel link.

    Cost projections have been floated recently that have been lower to much lower on an inflation adjusted basis from past estimates given claims of greatly improved and less expensive tunneling technologies. Am I the only one who finds these claims sounding – well – familiar?

    Maybe a North/South link is a viable proposition, but so far we are still a long ways away from having sound planning and valid cost projections in place to show that building such a link makes economic sense.

    • casmatt99

      Your points are valid, which is all the more reason the state needs to concentrate more resources into determining the feasibility of the tunnel. Back in March they announced a request for proposals to commission a study to do just that, although the scope of which may be limited by the fact that the budget for said study is only $2 Million.

      We will have a very good idea about which direction the Baker administration will take when they announce who gets the contract, as supporters of the project have indeed suggested that the costs may be less than half of what previous estimates put it at: $8 Billion.

      Baker’s shortsightedness in supporting a less expensive project that will do nothing to solve the underlying problem with our rail network is exactly the opposite kind of long-term planning necessary for projects of this scale and cost. Our leaders cannot shy away from a problem just because the price-tag gives them jitters. If they aren’t willing to make the tough decisions they shouldn’t be there in the first place.

      • QuincyQuarry.com

        No argument, a $2 million study isn’t enough to fund merely but a cocktail napkin of a study for such a large proposed project.

        Also no argument: opting to go with a half-priced and half-assed plan usually ends up costing at least as much as doing things right in the first place.

        At the same time, what if even with sound cost projections doing things right does not make sense economically?

        Plus, and while I am a skeptic about much of the hype about autonomous vehicles and especially shared Zip car sorts of operations, even but some sort of partial autonomy future could yield some nice incremental enhancements for relatively short money. Just reducing distracted driver accidents during commute times would improve traffic flow.

        Next, as nice as efficient and comprehensive public transportation system would be for ANY community, I have never seen any feasibility study that has duly considered the fact that a lot of people opt to choose where they live with their work commute in mind as best they can.

        Simply put, “satisfying” rather than maximizing is still a perfectly valid economic notion.

        In turn, not duly considering these and other fundamental verities often make feasibility studies look better to far better than what is actually viable.

        • casmatt99

          “At the same time, what if even with sound cost projections doing things right does not make sense economically?”

          Well I suppose that is what the feasibility study is for. Using the numbers in this article, The MBTA would theoretically stand to benefit as much as $100 million annually from the tunnel, meaning the project would pay for itself in only a few decades if it can be accomplished at the price supporters claim it can ($3-4 billion range).

          This is only the most visible benefit of the project though, as workers who use the commuter rail stand to gain both time and energy from an interconnected system. Since this is a hidden cost it is much more difficult to accurately estimate, but it’s safe to say that the benefits are more than substantial.

          These hidden costs are what make huge infrastructure projects like this one so polarizing. On one hand you have the conservative argument that usually fails to account for the intangible benefits to the public while liberals emphasize the human factor. After all, the nature of public infrastructure is to facilitate the expedient delivery of people from one place to another.

          As far as the autonomous vehicle concept goes; while the technology is certainly promising and has the potential to completely change how we travel intermediate to long distances, maximum efficiency is achieved when every single vehicle on the roads utilizes the same system. Even if Tesla or Uber can develop and sell millions of autonomous-capable cars, we will still have millions more traditional cars that are competing with the self-driving computers. Many people are impatient and aggressive drivers under heavy traffic conditions so the gains to be had from a small percentage of self-driving cars is negligible. Right now the technology is still a gimmick, but over time it will inevitably be adopted by every automobile manufacturer as customers demand safer and more convenient automobiles.

          “I have never seen any feasibility study that has duly considered the fact that a lot of people opt to choose where they live with their work commute in mind as best they can.”

          I definitely agree with that, and Boston is the perfect example of how a poorly designed rail network can exacerbate that naturally occurring phenomenon.

          As a coastal city, Boston is already limited in one direction, east, as far as where people can live. This puts an even greater emphasis on north-south travel because there is only one route you can take, I-95/128, to bypass the downtown area. As a result, the south shore and north shore are very much economically isolated from each other in addition to their geographic separation, though they share relatively good access to downtown Boston.

          The most important aspect of the N-S link is the connection of these two regions. Someone living on the north shore would have to think long and hard about taking a job on the south shore, and visa versa, whereas that decision would be made much simpler if they had the ability to take the train directly from one end to the other. If someone has a mortgage in Revere but their best job prospect is in Braintree, the only compelling transportation option is driving. Imagine how much traffic would be reduced if that person, and the tens of thousands like them, suddenly had the option to take a one-seat trip to work instead of driving through downtown and wasting hours in traffic every week. Ridership would skyrocket, traffic would see a significant reduction, and the average commuter would have more free time at their disposal.

          If we look to other similar projects in the recent past, evidence suggests that Boston would enjoy the benefits of this project for many years to come, in ways that a feasibility study simply cannot predict. We owe it to ourselves and the future residents of this city to provide infrastructure enabling sustained growth and economic stability.

        • casmatt99

          just so you know i drafted a lengthy response to this comment but the stupid platform marked it as spam for some reason.

          • QuincyQuarry.com

            casmatt99 Thanks for the FYI.

            I saw your response c/o a Disqus email notice copy of it and wondered why it didn’t post to this article.

            Let’s just say that software happens.

            In any event, your comments were sound and reasonable.

            Do note re financing, a truly valid cost saving of $100 million a year in operational can in turn be used to finance “around” $2 billion in debt to pay for the capital improvements needed to effect the operational savings.

            At the same time, this 20 to 1 ratio is subject to downgrading the longer it takes to complete the necessary capital improvements before the savings might be realized – essentially, the old time is money conundrum.

            Also, don’t count much benefit arising AFTER the bond debt is paid off as typical life cycle renewal and renovation work are usually necessary on a major infrastructure project by the time its bond debt is retired.

            Additionally note that a dollar thirty years from now is currently worth but pennies on the dollar if discounted to present value.

            Simply put, a proper North/South rail connection feasibility study is even more complicated than one might imagine – arguably way more so.

            Personally, I find a well-done and comprehensive research project that comes up with unanticipated findings as one that is more likely to be a sound research effort.

            Further note that I usually can find the flaws and or weaknesses in most any such study as well as spot those those that were pretty much per-ordained to support the goals of those commissioning it. At the same, as well as in all modesty, such are really not all that difficult skills to develop.

      • pto

        $4 billion and its clearly a good investment. $8 billion less so good. The devil is in the details give or take a billion.

        I am concerned that people are exaggerating the benefits to justify the potentially higher spending… like the bogus Green Line extension ridership projection numbers being used to justify the bloated numbers there.

        • QuincyQuarry.com
        • Newtonmarunner

          Per MBTA data, there are around 12,000-25,000 people who take the Cambridge St., Somerville Ave., Highland Ave., and Broadway buses where the GLX goes. There are 280,000 who take the Red Line and another 200,000 who take the Orange Line. GLX will consolidate those bus routes into faster, more frequent, more reliable transit in Somerville (and a one-seat ride to the central business district), which will greatly increase ridership while relieving the Red and Orange Lines. Maybe the figure isn’t 52,000, but it’s definitely not 20,000. [South Coast Rail, in contrast, has higher capital and operating costs than GLX but a fraction of the ridership.]

          Also, the costs are what they are because FRA turns everything to $hit.

          • pto

            25k would be optimistic ridership for GLX compared with ridership on the other green lines. And those are established routes with settlement and commute patterns long established.

        • Newtonmarunner

          P.S.: With electrification, urban infills, level boarding, and all the other things consistent with current international practices (essentially forming express subway lines), I’d argue $8-10B is well worth the costs for NSRL given all it does in terms of land use, operational efficiency, etc.

    • michaelc181

      Luckily, the link’s tunnel would mostly run along the I-93 right-of-way, which (as anyone who experienced the Big Dig will know) was thoroughly, thoroughly investigated for obstacles, unmapped infrastructure, historical artifacts, and soil conditions. Tunnel-boring machines would likely be used for the tunnels, cutting through soil already once-excavated during the Big Dig and minimizing surface disruption. And, not to mention, most of the land is already taken. These elements of the NSLR relieve some, though not all, of the concerns that remain from city’s previous experiences with large infrastructure projects.

      I’m excited to see what comes of the feasibility study, and Ari’s point about efficiency is indeed something important to consider when we weigh the NSLR against the South Station Expansion proposal. Odds are that voters wouldn’t approve of both.

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a50ff7546eafdba653932be0e72f4289d6a7c4bd2d2edf0100208f3196626a6e.png

      • QuincyQuarry.com

        michaelc181I am generally aware that North/South rail link.route studies were done in junction with building the Big Dig.

        In turn, such is no small part of the reasons why I am still concerned as to the cost and feasibility of building a North/South link.

        You might also care to note that I love riding trains – a grandfather worked for the old Santa Fe and I thus rode all over the Southwest. That and how rail systems are complicated.

      • Sisu54

        Read the one VHB (Ruth Bonsignoire) and Aecom (Joe Aiello) did before they got on the MassDot Board and non -fiscal control board, same circus and same clowns, just add more billions to the numbers,

        https://static1.squarespace.com/static/561e6ed5e4b039248a6a94aa/t/5646a941e4b0a4a3eef11385/1447471425380/NSRL+Tech+Report+No.5-Operations+Study.pdf

    • pto

      yes…but that detailed planning costs millions to do in a serious way. Right now South Station expansion has most of the money for planning. Unless you can combine the two projects then NSRL doesn’t have enough money to come up with a viable plan.

      • Sisu54

        Baker needs to conflict out VHB and AECOM on the project and I bet it dies in a week.

      • QuincyQuarry.com

        Per my read of Mr. Ofsevit’s proposal, he is suggesting to more reconfigure South Station via a North/South tunnel link than expand the number of platforms at South Station. This, in turn, one can only assume changes how much is proposed to be spent on what.

    • Sisu54

      Maybe if you want to increase operating efficiencies the T needs to figure out how to run trains on time from Worcester to South Station without breaking, the private sector was able to do it for 150 years before the boondoggle T was created and took over the operations. No plastic snow shovels from Home Depot, no GM’s from outside the snow belt, just basic railroading without computers, taxation budgeting or private gain for public pain.

  • anthonyx26

    Why are we even considering more improvements to the CR system??? People are moving to the city not the suburbs….so key investments in our core urban transit is where capital investments should be. Not to mention the CR system already enjoyed a long period of expansion and investment while the urban core rotted and has changed very little. I’d advocate that a CrossRail-style tunnel extension of the existing Blue Line (ultimately replacing GL D branch service to Riverside) would be a FAR more worthwhile investment of taxpayer dollars….relieving GL congestion, providing faster/more frequent service to Riverside, finally create a Red-Blue connector, increase corridor capacity, increase usage on the underutilized BL, provide for increased economic opportunities for underserved neighborhoods in East Boston, Revere, and consolidate operations to decrease overall operating costs.

    Plus, one thing not mentioned about the North-South link, is that it would also likely require a very expensive conversion of the CR system to all electric, as diesel fumes in tunnels don’t mix well. Also, the required slow decline/incline for locomotives/train-sets to go down in to a deep tunnel would make it a very complex undertaking. It would likely force you to tunnel under the city as well as tunnel under the Charles.

    • QuincyQuarry.com

      All legitimate issues to consider via a proper feasibility study.

      For example, extending the Blue Line to at least the Red Line has at least some opening appeal.

      The bigger problem with the subways, however, is the utter lack of interchangeability of the Blue, Orange and Red Line trains across these three subway lines. Whoever allowed this to happen should be drawn and quartered.

      That and don’t get me started on the Silver Line rolling stock.

      At the same time, the cost of addressing the diesel fumes issue could potentially be substantially mitigated via a well-timed retirement of old locomotives with new low or no flume locomotion. Oh dopey, I forgot that we’re talking the MBTA.

    • Patrick

      People are moving to more urban locations, but that’s not just the city proper. That includes the inner, more urban suburbs that are served by CR but not by rapid transit. Places like Melrose, Medford, Waltham, Newton, Allston, outer Boston neighborhoods served by Fairmount, etc. If we’re going to solve Boston’s housing pricing problems, we can’t only build within the super small urban core served by the rapid transit lines. We need better service on the inner commuter rail with EMU/DMU trains on regular (read 15-20 minute peak hour frequency) schedules. None of that is possible or logical without having a through connection freeing up capacity at the terminals and allowing through trips like north side to Back Bay, south side to North Station, etc.

      Following up on that last piece, NSRL does a huge service to people in the city by taking a big chunk of suburban transfer trips off of the rapid transit core.

      • MoChaMan

        A little off topic but on your suggestion about housing pricing problems, Massachusetts needs to move companies to Worcester where they can pay current Boston salaries. This will make many people move from Boston to Worcester thus bringing down rents and housing prices here. A good, fast commuter rail or maybe a HyperLoop would help bring that about.

        • Newtonmarunner

          I think electrification + level platforms + infill stations @ Newton Corner, Faneuil Gardens, West Station, and Hynes + 15 minute headways from Worcester to Boston (7.5 from Auburndale to Boston) + etc. will do the trick for the Framingham/Worcester Line. Hyperloop has too little capacity to work.

          • pto

            hyperloop is better for intercity connections… but remember you increase capacity by increasing speed.

        • QuincyQuarry.com

          FYI: after a number of missteps in the past, downtown Worcester is already well along towards enjoying an economic renaissance as the center of an affordable regional sub hub to Boston, with UMass Worcester Medical Center and area colleges some of the key catalytic factors. Think Cambridge lite.

    • Newtonmarunner

      For the BL, instead of getting new stations/rail tracks on the D&E branches, let’s consolidate the D&E via a Blue Line Extension via MGH, Esplanade, and Copley Junction (then down Huntington Ave. until Riverway, then taking the D path). The old D will go to LMA/Riverway, then down Huntington Ave. and Centre Sts. (killing the 39 bus). Meaning Green will have three branches rather than four, Cambridge Red will transfer to Copley/LMA/Airport at MGH, and Eastie and Revere will have one-seat rides to Copley and LMA and two-seat rides to Harvard and Kendall Sq. This also paves the way to extend the Green Line from Boylston to Seaport via Chinatown and South Station. We’re essentially adding service while maintaining the current system. Of course, this does not negate the need for NSRL, etc.

  • Clay Schofield

    Great article but one of the things I do not hear much discussion about is the prime Seaport area real estate that will be used for tracks and train layover facilities. Buildings can be built over tracks but that adds significant costs. The Seaport district is an area targeted for development and this is augmented by the proximity to South Station. I would like to see an analysis of what the South Station expansion will cost the City in lost economic development potential and the consequences the barriers to local mobility the expanded rail facilities will pose.

    • Sisu54

      How come VHB/Aecom didn’t get the NS Rail Link study, they already sold all the data to the T in 94-98. Clay you can photocopy that study, add 2 billion and mail it to Ruth Bonsignore at MassDot, she was the planning manager that did the study at VHB and now she is on the MassDot Board or Joe Aiello from FR Harris, DMJM, Aecom he was the coordinator with the T on the study and is now head of the non-fiscal control board. You have a zero carbon footprint living on the cape instead of dreaming to turn all the western suburbs into west boston like the Newtonian above. Also the Seaport is all built on filled land so the state taxpayers actually own the fee and the tenants lie the federal courthouse should be paying the 1898 Harbor Commission remainder main an annual fee to have buildings built on land they don’t own haha

  • Sisu54

    any 10 citizens of Massachusetts could file a railroad location plan with the legislature to build a cheaper rail connection from North to South Station via a surface route on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Both stations used to be connected this way via a street railroad and the 4F RKG would not be protected under federal environmental laws from having this connection approved by the surface transportation board as you can’t interfere with interstate commerce.

    Probably save 3-4 billion and fix the problem.

    • Newtonmarunner

      Except you’re not fixing the problem. Your idea doesn’t increase capacity by very much. Your idea retains the brutal modal transfer penalty; people won’t take your LRT. Your idea also doesn’t lower operating expenses — it raises them. Your idea doesn’t save Widett Circle or the Beacon Rail Yard from diesel trains being stored there — it kills nearly $10B of economic activity. It also destroys green and property values (read: more economic activity). It also doesn’t pave the way to form express subway lines from the edges of the urban core (e.g., Waltham, Newton, Lynn, Salem, Hyde Park). For all these reasons and more, NSRL is easily worth the $5-10B in costs as LRT on the Greenway solves 2% of the problems that NSRL does.

      • Sisu54
      • Sisu54

        NSRL is a boondoggle. It would cost billions to electrify the T, the electric locomotives would cost another billion, all the signal systems would need to be upgraded for electrification another billion, the T can’t even install PTC without drama, how do you expect them to pull off $20 billion in work when they can’t even collect parking revenues without the vendor stealing the money haha! Maybe they can hire Bechtel/PB to do it, oh PB is out of business, guess that’s out!

        • pto

          could just use battery powered locamotives and multiple units to bridge the gap between diesel service and electrification

        • Newtonmarunner

          $15-20B for 55-200K new riders; eliminated need for South Station expansion; new train tracks (which have to be replaced anyway); new trains (which also have to be replaced anyway); minimal increase in operating expenses; saving Widett Circle and Beacon Rail Yard for economic development; express subway/elevated rail lines; etc. sounds like a good deal for the price. Waaaaaaay better than South Station Expansion ($2B + no reduction in operating expenses and no/minimal increase in service and billions in economic activity at Widett Circle lost) and South Coast Rail ($3.4B capital costs + $70K/day in operating expenses for 4,700 riders) for the number of problems it solves. Solving big problems takes big money.

          • Sisu54

            South Station expansion is gonna happen because the developers, VHB, Meridian and Aecom are gonna make barrels of cash. With Ruth Bonsignore of VHB and Joe Aiello of Aecom/Meridiam on the MassDot and non fiscal control board its gonna happen. Have Baker conflict out VHB and AECOM and Meridian and you kill the deal haha! Simple math and physics.

          • QuincyQuarry.com

            No argument, doing things differently changes what is built, how costs are allocated as well as presents potential opportunities (e.g., redo South Station to interface with a N/S connection rather than add train platforms and opening up Widett Circle for redevelopment).

            At the same time, even after adjusting for inflation, we’re still talking close to Big Dig money.

            As such, do the projected metrics and benefits truly pan out?

            Also, will locals abide by another round of major construction upheaval and covering their share of the cost?

            Oh, and in the meanwhile, it would be nice if something was done to address something as prosaic as the often abdominal egress to and fro the Seaport District …

          • pto

            15 to 20 billion for a single tunnel and some tracks? that would not be a good deal and is dead on arrival. That is a big dig price with much less utility. 6 billion would be pushing it in terms of ROI, maybe 8 billion.

            I agree that South Station expansion should not happen or if it does, then it should happen underground exactly where they would need to locate the new station for North South Rail.

            Expanding South Station on to the waterfront at ground level is dumb.

          • Newtonmarunner

            I was including the costs of electrification, double-tracking, level boarding, urban infills, and other regional rail/express subway components. in the $15-20B — not just the tunnel and three stations. For the NSRL alone, I’d go with $10-$12B being my walkaway point since it does so many things.

            East Side Access in NYC is up to $13B, iirc.

    • Newtonmarunner

      Further, where would you put the storage facilities with your Rose Kennedy Greenway N-S rail connection?

  • Paul

    Plain and simple. God idea bad timing for either the rail link or expansion. We are still reeling from the big dig. Every project the taxpayers are covered but every project in the end the taxpayers get stiffed. The state government cannot even produce for the last 5 years a viable accurate budget suffering deificts every year. They do nothing to eliminate waste in state government that we see every day. They reduced the revenue projections for FY 18. No, no it is not time for this. Leave it alone. We will get by. By the way who the h–l is Dukakis to weigh in on this. He was no prize Governor. Let him pay for it. Leave the taxpayers of Massachusetts alone.

  • Lincolnesq

    A North-South Rail Link would also improve ridership going North to and from Maine, by more readily feeding Cape Codders and South Shore residents into that line. I’d guess ridership to Portland is pretty light right now.