Pollack not comparing apples to apples

Pollack not comparing apples to apples

N-S Rail Link study is too watered down

WE DISAGREE with Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack’s “apples-to-apples” comparison of the South Station expansion and North-South Rail Link projects, especially with the corresponding studies currently being prepared. What the secretary fails to note is that the projects are not being given a level playing field. MassDOT has spent nearly $40 million studying South Station expansion, yet is offering a mere $1.5 to $2 million for the North-South Rail Link study. That is only “apples to apples” if one is fresh and the other is plastic.

The other major difference between the two studies is how MassDOT watered down the scope for the North-South Rail Link. For example, as currently specified, the North-South Rail Link study does not include updated ridership models (instead using highly dated estimates from 2009-2011) or a health and environmental analysis. Nor does it include an updated cost analysis using modern technology for both construction and operation, which is critical in arriving at a realistic estimate, as well as alleviating concerns over another “Big Dig.”

We strongly urge Pollack, MassDOT, and the Legislature to require a more comprehensive scope for the North-South Rail Link study. The only way the two projects can be given equal footing is if the state starts to take the rail link seriously.

Boston is on track to be the only city in the world without an integrated rail network. We cannot allow the state to remain so historically shortsighted.

Joseph Anton Aiello is a council representative with the National Association of Railroad Passengers and Thomas J. Girsch is northeast division leader of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Aiello is not related to Joseph Aiello, who chairs the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board.

  • Dr. Ed Cutting

    I think the communities that are going to get screwed by this ought to have a say in it.

    Creating a new “Wilmington” line and sending those trains all the way to Worcester is outrageous! The MBTA has repeatedly cut service on this line while the communities have permitted high-density residential development near the RR stations. There currently is high-density construction within a few hundred yards of the Melrose, Greenwood & Wakefield stations — construction based on expectation on an existing level of service that has already been reduced.

    Sending the Haverhill trains through Woburn not only doubles service there at the expense of the other communities, but well may reduce it below the critical mass necessary to keep it viable. Yes, people can drive over to Woburn (and pay to park), but at that point, one might just as well get onto I-93 and drive straight into Boston. I thought the goal was to get people to ride the train into Boston…

    The existing Haverhill line is the old “Main Line” of the Boston & Maine RR — it’s the shortest route to Boston. Routing them over the Wildcat Branch and then via what was once the Boston & Lowell RR adds 10 miles, each way — for each train! (The same is true for the Downeaster, the Bangor/Boston Flying Yankee went through Reading.) This not only involves a longer ride with more fuel burned (equal to an additional trip from Reading to Boston), but the related pollution and maintenance costs. It makes the Haverhill trip more expensive , with us having to somehow having to pay for it.

    However the MBTA gets 20 more passenger-miles for each Haverhill round-trip commuter and the cynic in me wonders if that’s what is behind this….

    • Dr. Ed Cutting

      Also, how many tracks will this tunnel — and new station — have?!?

      The map appears to indicate 18 Tracks — nine in both directions — and if one reflects on the number of tracks needed at both BON & BOS, where there aren’t trains coming in the opposite direction, this isn’t unreasonable. A highway lane is 12 feet, the clearance needed for a train is about the same, so we’re talking a very wide tunnel — three times the width of the old Central Artery — with an even wider station due to platforms. (NY Penn Station has 21 tracks, and that’s the model being presented here.

      With fewer tracks, there will be congestion. If there are only two tracks, all I believe there is land for, this will be a complete bottleneck, even without station stops…

      • Thomas J. Girsch

        The graphic included here is intended to show the connectivity that would be provided between North and South, and is not a literal representation of how many total tracks would be included in the tunnel. The most viable plan — and there’s plenty of space for it — would be a four-track tunnel. Even a double-track tunnel could easily handle more than 20 trains per hour. Each additional track more than doubles the hourly capacity.

        I encourage you to visit http://www.northsouthraillink.org/ for more details on the project.

        • Ed Cutting, Ed. D.

          One other thing about trains — they can’t go uphill like cars & trucks can, that’s why railbeds make such nice biketrails. The BigDig Tunnel isn’t level, not close to it. No train could ever deal with the grade of the road by BON.

          Trains also don’t do well with sharp curves.

    • Thomas J. Girsch

      The question of which North Shore commuter lines should be connected to which South Shore lines, and what specific routes they take, need not be settled prior to the construction of the tunnels, and there’s nothing stopping it from being revised after the fact to meet changing needs. The included graphic is just one proposal, by no means finalized, nor close to it.

      But the capacity improvement that comes from having the stations be THROUGH-stations rather than terminals is tremendous. At a terminal, an incoming train must sit at the terminal for many minutes (and sometimes many hours) before making its scheduled return trip. Alternatively, the train must be dead-headed to a nearby holding facility, and such facilities represent a tremendous waste of valuable downtown or near-downtown real estate.

      By way of comparison, at a through-station, the train stays in the station (and occupies the platform) just long enough to drop off disembarking passengers and pick up new ones who are boarding there before continuing on its way as scheduled. Dwell times are typically well less than a minute.

      Contrast that against, e.g., North Station, where there are ten stub-end tracks. At any given time, how many trains are sitting idle at the station, occupying platforms? How many of them are actively boarding or detraining at any given time?

      • Ed Cutting, Ed. D.

        Stand at BON some evening with a stopwatch, those trains aren’t boarded in one minute — it takes more like 15. Nor do trains sit idle very long — they really can only announce one at a time for crowd control reasons.

        • Thomas J. Girsch

          That’s because BON is a terminal, where it’s an everybody-off, everybody-on situation. Contrast that against through-stations like BBY or even NYP. For all of NYP’s faults, and its high levels of boarding/disembarking, dwell times aren’t remotely close to 15 minutes.

          Point taken, however, that dwell times would be longer than a minute at major transfer stations. But again, BBY, NYP and PHL are better points of comparison.

          • Ed Cutting, Ed. D.

            All Amtrak, including Acela, has a 15 minute dwell at NYP.

    • Thomas J. Girsch

      Communities *do* get a say in whether or not they get commuter rail service. Look, for example, at the ongoing back-and-forth to take daily commuter rail service to Foxborough. Whatever the MBTA might want, the town selectmen must approve, or the plan goes nowhere.

      With that in mind, I fail to see how the construction of the rail link “screws” any community.

      • Ed Cutting, Ed. D.

        Do communities get a say in reduction of service?

        • Thomas J. Girsch

          Exactly the same say as they do today. But I’m not sure how this is relevant to the question of whether the rail link should be built. Nothing about the construction of the rail link necessitates a reduction in service, and in fact, it’s more likely to encourage *increased* service, since it’s well-documented that increased connectivity increases ridership.

    • Thomas J. Girsch

      Here’s the thing: Whatever we personally believe about the likely impacts of the NSRL is ultimately irrelevant.Study is needed to determine what the costs and benefits are, as well as what the adverse impacts might be. To that end, it’s critical that MassDOT does a fair and honest study to determine whether or not it makes sense.