Should we still call it ‘commuter’ rail?

The MBTA is launching a fairly radical change to its commuter rail operations on April 5, running fewer trains at the traditional morning and evening peaks and spreading service out at regular intervals over the course of the day – what some call regional rail. 

On the Framingham-Worcester line, trains currently depart from Worcester for Boston at 5:30 a.m., 7 a.m., and 8:50 a.m. and then run at roughly two-hour intervals the rest of the day. Under the new approach starting April 5, the first train from Worcester will depart  at 4:15 a.m., the next train at 5 a.m., and then trains will depart every hour on the hour for the rest of the day until 7 p.m. The three late-night trains will depart at 8:20, 9:20, and 10:20.

 The idea behind the scheduling experiment is that COVID has disrupted ridership patterns. No one is quite sure what riders will want in the future, but the feeling is that they will no longer rigidly commute into work in the morning and return in the evening. They want more flexibility and greater frequency. And they want schedules that are easy to remember.

 The new approach is also more efficient to operate because trains aren’t bunched together at certain times of the day. It was this efficiency that allowed the T to “permanently furlough” nearly 40 conductors and assistant conductors, a move that was reversed late last week after pressure from US Rep. Stephen Lynch and the rest of the Massachusetts congressional delegation. Lynch was outraged that the T was laying off people and cutting service after receiving $1 billion in federal aid under the American Rescue Plan.

 “We’re trying to put people back to work and they’re laying off people,” Lynch said on WBUR.

 While MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak agreed on Friday to halt any layoffs, he was less forthcoming about restoring all services that had been cut. He said he would ramp up service initially by adding unscheduled subway trains and buses and adding staff to replace those workers lost through attrition. But he was vague about what will happen with ferry service and weekend commuter rail service, which has been canceled on all but five lines.

 “This is an overall approach that will ramp up MBTA service as quickly as possible, preserve staffing levels, and maintain the MBTA’s commitment to offer appropriate levels of service as the public returns to transit in a post-pandemic world,” said Poftak in a letter on Friday to Lynch.

 What is an appropriate level of service is unclear. Overall, the T’s bus, subway, and commuter rail ridership is roughly a third of what it was prior to the pandemic while service levels are much higher. Commuter rail is perhaps the hardest hit MBTA service. As of April 5, the T will offer 89 percent of the commuter rail service it did prior to the pandemic even though ridership is only 12 percent of pre-pandemic levels. 

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

When a St. Louis company bought the massive coal-fired Brayton Point power plant in Somerset in 2018, the firm was viewed far and wide as a white knight riding to the town’s rescue. Commercial Development Co., which bills itself as North America’s leading brownfield developer, promised to raze the shuttered power plant and convert the 306 acres along the Taunton River into an outpost for America’s emerging offshore wind industry. But the white knight quickly got knocked off its horse. Read more.

Lawmakers find common ground on unemployment insurance bill, allowing UI recipients to deduct up to $10,000 in benefits on their taxes at a cost to the state of $126 million.

What it costs to be the “official” airport of the New England Patriots.

Opinion: The 3 percent cannabis impact fee is covering costs that don’t exist. Jim Borghesani says it’s time for the fee to go. 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Costs skyrocketed at the state call center for booking vaccine appointments after the initial rollout faltered, one of several topics likely to be raised with Baker administration officials at a Beacon Hill oversight hearing called by legislators. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The US Senate confirmed Marty Walsh’s nomination to be labor secretary and he resigned as Boston mayor last night, with City Council President Kim Janey taking the reins as acting mayor. (Boston Globe) The Globe looks at the record Walsh leaves, deeming him an empathetic figure who made a lasting mark — but left unfinished projects. Janey writes a Globe op-ed vowing “bold, courageous leadership and a citywide agenda of recovery, reopening, and renewal.”

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

New studies indicate nursing homes were in tough shape in terms of employee turnover even before COVID. (WGBH)

Parents of athletes complain about an order requiring a youth cheer gym in Weymouth to stop operating after a COVID-19 cluster was tied to the gym. (Patriot Ledger)

Some people who experience mild COVID cases are developing more serious symptoms weeks after their apparent recovery. (New York Times

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Ten people, including a police officer, were killed in a mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado. (Washington Post )

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

People buying furniture are experiencing long delays in getting it delivered due to supply chain problems. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

Boston will ask the state for a waiver from the order to bring all elementary school students back to schools five days a week starting April 5. (Boston Globe

ARTS/CULTURE

The city of Salem and the Peabody Essex Museum partner on a new visitors center. (Daily Item)

TRANSPORTATION

A controversial roundabout in Great Barrington will take two years to complete, according to the state Department of Transportation.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A plan to bring Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts is still facing lots of obstacles, courtesy of plan opponents in Maine. (Salem News)

Some lawmakers question whether Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget bill includes enough money for environmental agencies to implement a new climate change bill. (Gloucester Daily Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The US Supreme Court says it will consider whether to reinstate the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (Associated Press) The Supreme Court will not hear a case brought by a fishing group challenging former president Barack Obama’s establishment of a federally protected area in the Atlantic Ocean off New England. (Associated Press)

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins says she’ll drop thousands of cases tied to the state’s scandal-plagued drug lab. (Boston Globe

The former director of METCO in Marblehead will spend a year on probation and pay restitution for stealing money from the education program. (Salem News)

MEDIA

With former president Donald Trump gone, news websites are feeling a downturn in visitors. (Washington Post)