Summary

The MBTA board has been presented with six options for more frequent service on our commuter rail lines, ranging up to a “full transformation” option that provides 15 minute service to most existing stations at a cost of almost $30 billion.  In my view, we need some better options.

Without diving into each of the options that have been presented, one central observation needs to be made about all of them: Whatever higher frequency of service they propose, they propose the same frequency of service on each of the 13 existing commuter rail lines. 

This across-the-board approach would make sense if all of the lines had the same potential to attract riders.  However, the detailed data from the modeling show that many more new riders will be attracted by increased service on some lines than on others. Some lines are expected to attract as few as 10 new riders per added trip.  Adding service that will be under-used makes no sense from any perspective, including an environmental perspective – running large rail coaches empty is very wasteful.

One might argue that the potential to attract riders has been underestimated. And the projections do fail to fully account for the possibility that over the long term “if you build it they will come.” Certainly, it would be desirable if new rail service could attract new affordable housing development around it. On the other hand, it is unwise to assume that the development will materialize in every instance.

The MBTA board should not endorse any of the proposed options, but should ask staff to develop a set of options that maximize the ridership returns on investment over the next ten years and support a pathway to more improvement over the long term. Unlike the current set of options, the options presented should target the lines that are most likely to be well used.

Transportation is a field that is changing very rapidly under the influence of technology and we should be in no rush to lock in our multi-decade plans. The better approach is to choose an aggressive, high-yield plan for improved service over the next 5 or 10 years and keep thinking about our long term options. Unfortunately, no such plan has been formally presented to the MBTA board.

See the follow up post after the meeting here.

The options

The Boston area is blessed with a rich set of railroad links, mostly running radially in and out of the city. A wide variety of rail service configurations could be run on those links. The dimensions of variation are outlined in the boxed text below.

The service model: The Rail Vision team has defined and explored the feasibility of a number of different models for service. A service model is defined by which stations are served and at what frequency. One model, for example, would be “clock face” pulsed service to all stations — trains would move at fixed intervals along the line stopping at every station. Other models include “key station” service that provides frequent service to heavily used stations (bypassing others), expanded “regional” express service from the furthest out stations or subway like “urban” rail service for stations inside 128.

A service model can include more or less complex definitions of frequency of service, for example, half hourly during rush hour and hourly outside rush hour. Frequency of service could be different for different groups of stations.

Whether a given model is feasible on a particular commuter rail line depends most heavily on the number of tracks in service, which varies from 1 to 4 around the area. It is more or less impossible to mix express regional service with high frequency urban rail on a line with a single track and difficult on a line with only two tracks. In some areas, adding a track is a realistic prospect. In other areas, adding tracks would require politically infeasible property acquisitions and/or disruption of adjacent roadways. Adding track only in a short stretch of a line may be sufficient to allow additional service models if trains can be timed to pass in that stretch — whether or not the necessary timing is possible is a mathematical question that the team had the software to answer.

The vehicle power source: Currently, the MBTA relies on diesel powered locomotives. Going electric would reduce local air pollution, although modern diesel locomotives are much cleaner than our oldest locomotives. It would not change carbon emissions much today, since fossil generation plants supply most of the power our power grid. But, in the long term, if we also had a fully renewable power grid, going electric would reduce greenhouse emissions.

Electric engines are intrinsically more reliable than diesel engines. However, when the possibility of regional or local power outages is factored in, diesel locomotives may be more reliable.

Electric locomotives accelerate faster than diesel locomotives so they save time in service models involving more frequent stops. However, one finding that came out of the Rail Vision study was that given our system configuration, the acceleration time savings are too modest to make a dramatic difference in projected ridership (compare the ridership increases in alternatives 4 and 5 below).

The train model: Currently, the MBTA uses traditional “consists” — a locomotive pulling unpowered cars. We can gain service flexibility by using electric or diesel “multiple units” — self-propelled coaches. Multiple units can be easily assembled or split, allowing more flexibility in consist length. Electric multiple units can be combined with diesel generator cars to allow them to work on routes that do not have overhead power.

The North South Rail Link and South Station Expansion: These two major projects compete with each other as ways to manage more frequent service coming into Boston. Incoming trains have to dwell for a certain amount of time before they can be turned in the other direction at a terminus like North or South Station. The dwell times needed to turn the trains, together with the number of tracks and other logistical factors, limit the number of trains per hour that a terminus can accommodate. Connecting North and South station would allow many trains to run straight through, reducing dwell time and switching time and perhaps providing sufficient capacity to allow more trains without expanding South Station.

Detailed study of either major project was mostly outside the scope of the Rail Vision process, but in the maximal service models that were explored at least one of them was included because South Station capacity may become a constraint as service frequency increases. Some analysts have argued that South Station could handle more trains without expansion through faster turning of trains.

Stations: The modeling exercise did not contemplate the closure of low volume stations, but the “Key Stations” service model recognizes that some stations do not have the surrounding density of housing or jobs needed to justify increased service. A key priority for accelerating service is to allow level boarding at at all key stations — currently, at many stations passengers board slowly by climbing up from the ground.

Parking: Parking is a constraint on commuter rail use in some locations today. The Rail Vision process did not design specific new parking locations. However, when modeling future ridership increases as a result of service increases, the team assumed that parking problems can and will be solved — in other words parking was unconstrained.

Parking needs to be expanded at selected existing stops where it is already or might become a constraint. Additionally, in an “urban rail” service model, it would make sense to create new garages at the end of the urban segment of the routes — likely somewhere near Route 128.

Fares: Fare reductions were outside of the scope of the modeling generally, but the ridership increase from fare reductions was explored in one scenario.

The variables above create dozens of possibilities. The first phase of the Rail Vision process was to winnow out models that were not feasible or did not represent important variations on other models. The team settled on the following major models to explore in depth:

Without diving into each model, one central observation needs to be made about all of the defined alternatives: They assume more or less the same level of service on each of the 13 existing commuter rail lines. For example, Alternative Six, the “Full Transformation”, delivers 15 minute service to all inner core stations and all key stations and all other stations where possible.

The need for more refined options

The detailed data from the modeling show that ridership responds much more on some lines than on others as additional train trips are added. For example, the board presentation on Models 1-3 shows that in Model 3 (page 20), adding 65 daily trips on the Franklin line would add roughly 500 riders, whereas adding only 16 daily trips to the Needham line would add roughly 2500 riders — in other words, in Model 3, the Franklin line would add under 10 riders per trip, but the Needham line would add 160 riders per trip.

Serving ten riders on a train (or adding a train trip that only nets a gain of 10 riders) makes no sense from any perspective, including an environmental perspective. Both the energy efficiency and the economic efficiency of any mode of travel depend on the average loading of the mode. Loading has to be averaged across all trips and may vary widely across trips — if a train heads into town full, but cycles back out, the return leg may be near empty. Given average loading factors, the current per-passenger energy efficiency of our current diesel-based commuter rail system is about twice the efficiency of a single occupancy motor vehicle (based on emissions per passenger-mile).

The rail vision team’s environmental analysis of the six proposed models shows that all of the diesel variations — models 1, 2, and 4 (see page 35 of presentation) — increase net carbon emissions. That means that they are less carbon efficient than the automobile trips that they are displacing. This is not just because these variations involve non-electric trains. Rather, it reflects that the diesel trains are inadequately loaded. If they were loaded even half as heavily as our current service, their impact should be roughly neutral. We can conclude that models 1, 2 and 4 are environmentally and economically inefficient. It also follows that parallel electric options (3 and 5 and likely 6) are also very lightly loaded on average and therefore economically inefficient, even if they may involve lower emissions.

The inefficiency of all of the presented options should be no surprise given that they fail to differentiate among the commuter lines each of which responds differently to service improvements and some of which respond very poorly.

One might argue that the ridership projections are low. And they do fail to fully account for the possibility that new service will induce long-term transit-oriented density increases that will increase ridership. Certainly, there is a strong case for supporting more distributed affordable housing development. On the other hand, it is unwise to assume that the necessary density increases will occur in every instance — many communities are geographically unsuited for dense development and/or adamantly opposed to density increases that might alter their community “character”.

Recommended Next Steps

The board should not endorse any of the proposed options, but should send staff back to develop a set of alternative migration paths that maximize the ridership returns on investment over the next ten years and sketch a pathway to maximal gains over the long term. Unlike the current set of options, the migration paths presented will necessarily identify particular lines for staged change.

Ridership increase is a good proxy for environmental, congestion and economic development benefits and should be used as a preliminary screen. A final decision should be based on more careful analysis of costs and benefits.

At least one migration path that ultimately achieves full electrification with its potential environmental benefits should be among the alternatives presented. The major project alternatives — North South Rail Link and South Station Expansion are both long term projects and do not need to be included in medium term migration paths, although they should remain on the table.

Many transportation advocates, including me, have been limited in our thinking by the compelling vision of “regional rail”. Our default right answer has from the start been to just do it all — to choose option 6, “full transformation”, regardless of its economic and environmental return on investment. However, there is nothing desirable about large vehicles running around near empty. Even if powered by renewable energy, large vehicles have large environmental impacts in their fabrication and operation. We should not think of Option 6 as a progressive vision.

Ultimately, our focus on “full transformation” is an historically limited vision. A 21-st century vision of how to use our extremely valuable right of ways might look completely different. Commuter rail service, meaning rush hour service from the suburbs to the core, is an early 20-th century vision. Regional rail, meaning all day frequent service which supports reverse commutes and a variety of commuting schedules and non-commuting trips, is actually a late 20-th century vision. Rail service, since it requires running large vehicles to handle even a small load, is often intrinsically inefficient.

A 21-st century vision might involve using the rail right-of-ways to support non-rail forms of mass transit that we have yet to fully envision. As John Moavenzadeh has pointed out, a paved railroad right of way might be a perfect conduit for somewhat smaller, autonomous shared vehicles that could pack together tightly to achieve the efficiency of rail, but depart from the right of way to complete local trips. As the Governor’s Transportation Commission on the Future of Transportation recommended: “As today’s roadways and travel corridors are maintained and modernized, MassDOT, municipalities, and other owners of roadway and travel infrastructure should update and redesign them to accommodate mobility of all kinds.”

Transportation is a field that is changing very rapidly under the influence of technology and we should be in no rush to lock in our multi-decade plans. The better approach is to choose an aggressive, high-yield migration path for our rail system for the next 5 or 10 years and keep thinking about our long term options. Unfortunately, no such migration path has been formally presented to the MBTA board.

Transportation Equity

For me, the most compelling aspect of the full transformation vision has been that we could connect the affordable housing distributed across our gateway cities to the vibrant job market of Boston. This is especially important as rising rents push more and more people out of the core MBTA service area. As we consider our migration path, this consideration should remain front and center. In particular, consideration of the fare structure should be part of our analysis of alternatives.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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38 Comments

  1. This is a very well written, fact based article. Fully support any initiative that drives for more options than the ones currently listed. We need to have metrics driven conversations, how many $$, how many passengers, how many minutes saved, how many accidents prevented etc. Fully understand that some trade offs will be needed between metrics but absolutely need to see the math.

    1. What’s interesting about Will’s vision of a 21st century system is that it allows the system to “see the math” by itself, on the fly, using machine intelligence to optimize dispatch in a way a centralized heavy rail system cannot.

      It’s also more open to the possibility of adding ring and north/south routes without digging up the whole infrastructure.

      I think it’s harmful for the MBTA’s final proposal as full transformation when it is absolutely not. A system designed to bring commuters in during rush hour into a financial district where nobody works anymore is not transformative.

      The MBTA always seem to be starting with an astonishing number of assumptions about how little is actually possible. You can argue about pragmatism all you want, but even after you win the argument, you can still watch the person you were arguing with turn around and not get on the train.

  2. I appreciate your analysis of this challenging issue. Recently someone pointed out that the decades long incredibly complicated plan of land taking, construction, disruption of lives is what brought us Quabbin Reservoir and our excellent MWRA water. Now with private property rights, the drive of property owners to cash in asap and the rapid uncoordinated development of the downtown waterfront area, the building of the North/South Station link would be a huge challenge: how and where, considering the foundations of the skyscrapers that are sprouting up like weeds after a rain. There is no apparent plan and we are paying the price as each shiny tower goes up limiting other options.

    Satellite parking for commuters is limited and definitely affects ridership but how to develop a master plan for increasing parking also bumps into property rights.

    Emissions are certainly a factor to consider in future plans. You pinpoint the challenges of long range plans vs immediate action. We have already lost control over large areas of land, thus over many options.
    Thank you for your wise analysis and laudable goals!

  3. I appreciate your analysis of this challenging issue. Recently someone pointed out that the decades long incredibly complicated plan of land taking, construction, disruption of lives is what brought us Quabbin Reservoir and our excellent MWRA water. Now with private property rights, the drive of property owners to cash in asap and the rapid uncoordinated development of the downtown waterfront area, the building of the North/South Station link would be a huge challenge: where and how, considering the foundations of the skyscrapers that are sprouting up like weeds after a rain. There is no apparent plan and we are paying the price as each shiny tower goes up limiting other options.

    Satellite parking for commuters is limited and definitely affects ridership but how to develop a master plan for increasing parking also bumps into property rights.

    Emissions are certainly a factor to consider in future plans. You pinpoint the challenges of long range plans vs immediate action. We have already lost control over large areas of land, thus over many options.
    Thank you for your wise analysis and laudable goals!

  4. Improving greater Boston’s air quality should be a number one goal for us all. I am opposed to any transportation solutions that use diesel fuel. Additionally, I am greatly distressed that the 71 and 73 trolley bus lines are changing to diesel fuel until newer electric engine buses can be purchased in the distant future. I understand the issues of taking the lines down during road construction, but I do not condone the use of diesel once the roads are repaved.

  5. You are right the “T” should not take sides on what to do but be the executor of the plan handed down to them decided by and for the public. For our rail lines, consider not having traditional trains and consists but replacing them with something akin to electric trolley cars on steroids “Budd cars” or what 100 years ago called interurban ‘s. A 5 car commuter rail train runs every 1 hour gets replaced with 5 electric “Budd cars” spaced every 10 minutes thereabouts.

  6. I am disappointed that nothing in this list of ideas mentions circumferential transit. It is always difficult to travel without a car between suburbs, given the necessity of traveling inbound to a hub and then going out again. Has anybody surveyed possible demand for such routes, for example a line connecting the Wachusett and Lowell lines or a train linking stations in the 128 loop? A North Station-South Station link would certainly be helpful, but far more circumferential routes, whether by bus, light rail, or train, are needed.

  7. I agree that the proposal needs to reflect differing usage on different rail lines. However, there is one obvious (to me) gap in regional rail planning. The most efficient way (in speed and energy) to move people into and around the city appears to be the subway. Washington DC has pushed it’s red line fairly far into the western suburbs and so should we. Community opposition has ben a barrier in the past but we should make every effort to try again if the models support such a move. Specifically, the red line should be extended down the middle of route 2 from Alewife to Rt 95. A multistory parking garage could perhaps be built in unused land near the cloverleaf interchange, including within the cloverleaf loops if necessary. As a next phase, the red line should follow route 2 as far as Concord, where the Fitchburg rail line and route 2 converge. Concord is a lovely town and probably opposed to an unsightly parking garage, but could we envision putting a Concord parking structure underground for the most part? In terms of ride time, remember that the Fitchburg train takes a big dog leg east of Concord to serve Lincoln, Silver Hill, Hastings, Kendall Green, Brandeis, Waltham and Waverly before rejoining the general path of route 2. Rail riders transferring to the red line at Concord would probably have a quicker trip and would avoid the need to transfer to another transit mode at Porter Square or North Station.
    If the median of route 2 is too narrow for a pair of red line rails, then we could elevate the tracks as done in Washington DC and Chicago. Adding red line stops at Rt 95 and at Concord would then allow feeder bus services to develop to those hubs, with routes and frequency tailored to demand. This could also enable mamy urban dwellers to get to the high tech office park jobs stretched out along Rt 95 without having to maintain a car for commuting.

  8. I would like to applaud you for fully recognizing the irrationality of a plan that equalizes the frequency of all routes without any attempt to tie it to estimates of the level of demand that this uniform service may or may not fulfill. The current plan seems deeply irrational in that regard, and also in tying us down to a long term solution which may be surpassed by innovations which could be developed over a long time period. Thank you for approaching this rationally. It seems more like whoever proposed the $30 billion plan just wants to maximize assets under the organization’s long term control, rather than craft a plan which serves the state’s residents’ transportation needs.

  9. I cannot imagine another “big dig” to link North and South Stations. Subway or train links would probably be outdated as soon as they opened at great cost to the tax payer. Just as the big dig has done
    little to improve automobile travel thru the city.

    1. The Big Dig transformed this city. Even if it did nothing to improve auto travel (which I don’t perceive to be true), it is amazing what it did to make this city more livable. Was it worth the cost? I won’t comment.

  10. Is there a joint opportunity For communities, lagging in growth, and where housing could be built, and where the commuter rail serves significant job growth such as Cambridge.
    Once, super highways were built and promoted suburban housing. Now, at greater distance, and limited by climate change, transportation would best promote high speed commuter rail.
    Given the models you describe, there could be less than one hour service from such towns as Fitchburg and Gardner (said to be last served in the 1980s). Electrify the 57 miles to Fitchburg, and keep diesel train sets for the distance to Gardner.

  11. Senator, thank you for your work and your commitment to improving our Metro Boston mobility network. Your leadership is sorely needed. That’s why your post disappoints me because, with respect, the last thing we ought to be doing is sitting idly by while waiting for “non-rail forms of mass transit that we have yet to fully envision.” That is a recipe for inaction. Massachusetts can’t afford to wait, our economy doesn’t remain stagnant, nor can the people who require access to jobs and affordable housing wait. Nor can we enable the MBTA to continue bad operating practices & doubling down on highly inefficient, expensive and environmentally bad diesel locomotives. It’s time to decide, time to act, time to invest in proven best practices systems that will help people in the short and mid term. Waiting for some future unknown & unproven new tech simply does what we have been doing for far too long – kick the can. People across the region need frequent reliable all day intercity rail service now. We have the rare opportunity to give it to them. Let’s work collaboratively to make it happen. Jim Aloisi

    1. Thanks, Jim. I certainly agree with your statement that “the last thing we ought to be doing is sitting idly by while waiting for “non-rail forms of mass transit that we have yet to fully envision.” That is not what I am advocating. I am advocating an “aggressive, high-yield migration path for our rail system” over the next decade.

  12. This is very a thoughtful and welcome analysis. I wonder if there are zoning/tax/other options available to incentivize those suburban communities concerned about losing their “character” to approve development that will result in long-term transit-oriented density increases that will in turn increase ridership (e.g. see the recent Boston Globe article re anti-growth candidates in Revere and Braintree). Certainly allocating service to those lines and those stations where demand is the greatest is an obvious one, but I’m guessing there are other ways as well.

  13. Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. In this time of scarce financial resources we ought to be focused on where our limited funds could accomplish the most good in increasing ridership and promoting smart development. Nonetheless, as you noted, some of the big-picture expenditures need to be factored in as well to account for the limitations at the North and South Station Terminals. The North-South Rail Link, South Station expansion, and, the West Street Station and shuttle to Cambridge (and possibly beyond) need to remain a part of the equation. You are correct in seeking additional alternatives to those presented. In response to an earlier comment, I, too, am dismayed by the replacement of trackless trolleys by diesel buses while we wait for battery technology to improve so that electric buses can efficiently take their place. Thanks again for your continued interest in our transportation system.

  14. “It would not change carbon emissions much today, since fossil generation plants supply most of the power our power grid. But, in the long term, if we also had a fully renewable power grid, going electric would reduce greenhouse emissions. ”

    Does this long term fall before 2050 (when we should be at net zero CO2 eqv. emissions)? It seems like the clean grid is getting double or triple booked. We need it for the electric cars, the retired nuclear plants and for electric rail. But that only further supports your idea to concentrate on the most promising lines and technologies. I worry about “21st century” transit though. Just let’s be sure we’re doing something and not waiting for those options to materialize.

    So much for regional and commuter rail. How can we get more construction/conversion of dense housing at all affordability levels within the inner core and adjoining towns, so that we can use subways, buses, bikes and feet to get around without cars? It may be kind of worthwhile to use the so called gateway cities for slightly more affordable housing, but already these places aren’t that much more affordable. Seems to me when I looked at Worcester or even Framingham rent, once I factored in travel expenses, I was better off where I am.

    The trouble with this metro is that the land that should be our Queens, Bronxes, Brooklyns, etc. is held by the likes of Newtonians, Belmontions, Arlingtonians, Lexingtonites and most notoriously Westonites with their “Weston Whopper” style campaigns and their need to live in massive houses full of empty rooms surrounded by woods and large lots. There’s more than enough space in and near Boston for housing supported by efficient short distance transit, but somehow the density levels in Somerville and Cambridge won’t be allowed in other nearby places. It’s funny because a lot of the inhabitants of those places very likely fancy themselves environmentalists of some fashion and charitable people concerned about the less well off.

    1. I agree with you. It is the life style. We want to live work and entertain with big city convenience but also want the privacy and vibes (large lot, low density) of a small town. (Such as the small town requirements in so many elite town’s zoning code).
      It is really funny, people are talking about electric cars, solar panels but their life-styles are the biggest block of pollution reduction.

  15. Shouldn’t fares and increased train speed be a consideration? Besides more frequent trains shouldn’t we see quicker service as a result of all this spending?

  16. The proposal to run trains down rt. 2 from Fresh Pond ignores the very steep hill where the road runs along the Arlington-Belmont border. I suspect this section is significantly steeper than the world’s steepest conventional railroad (~5%); steel wheels on steel rails have limited traction. A line down rt. 2 would also go _between_ town centers, requiring extensive bus service and/or parking for any stops between Concord and Fresh Pond.

  17. Thanks for the thoughtful approach that generates this enlightening discussion. I, for one, advocate N/S rail link, and dedicating financial resources and political support for mass transit, which means commuter rail, but recognize the foolishness of applying it across the board and appreciate the notion of improving service where it will generate new riders and transit oriented growth. Thanks for the thought you — and all the respondents here — have put into this. We have lots of work to do.

  18. We need a better crystal ball. If the problems we have now we’re foretold in 1952, we would have few overcrowded freeways and much better mass transit. I do not know who to rely on to forecast telecommuting and the demise of brick and mortar retail due to drone delivery. I am confident that expanding Uber and Lyft is a bad an idea as is private ownership of autonomous vehicles. A computer-scheduled, ride-share use of various size autonomous vehicles as the heart of mass transit to replace all groundlevel current options may be prophetic. In the meantime, cheap mass transit on existing lines would get the maximum ridership.

  19. Unfortunately there are factual errors in this opinion piece. I believe that public policy should not be based on the wrong information. One major constraint with most rail transportation policy is that it assumes we have to use the existing rail corridors. And the populations served don’t necessarily align with those rail corridors (why would they?) Another major constraint is funding. And good economic analysis is required. Let’s not assume too much. After the controversies with spending $15 bn on the Big Dig, I don’t think the public will tolerate a $30 bn price tag on rail improvements. If you want to spend that kind of money on something the public needs to buy into it rather than be robbed.

    An example of factual error is failing to realize that diesel locomotives are actually diesel/electric locomotives. The electric motive force is no different than an all-electric locomotive. The convenience of the diesel/electric locomotive is taking advantage of the much better portability of the power source. That is diesel fuel is far more portable than electricity. So having the electric generation on board is far more convenient than building the infrastructure to power all-electric locomotives.

  20. Thanks, Will, for this thoughtful analysis. I agree that we should focus now on speeding service on commuter rail lines that would increase ridership the most. Couldn’t that happen fairly fast? What we learn from one or two lines will help us plan other changes.

    What are the prospects for the commuter rail generating its own electric power? It has all those rights of way. Can’t they be used to create power?

      1. To the extent that they run east-west, we could put up solar panels. There’s an example of a Korean bike path where this was done. However, (from MBTA Blue Book) one locomotive is 2200 kW, if we were optimistic and said a square meter of panel got us 220 watts (in full sun), we’d need 10 km (6.25 miles) by one meter, in the sun, to power one locomotive.

        That’s not completely nuts — we could run rows that were 2 or 3 or 4 meters wide — except that we run the most trains when the sun us not high in the sky, so there’s a need for storage.

  21. I do agree that this one-size-fits-all approach is not the most efficient use of either fiscal or carbon budget. If it were up to me, I think I would pick one or two experiments that we could do quickly and that were very likely to win — so likely that we could commit to running them for at least 10 years, even if they don’t pan out completely, so that people can make serious plans around the new schedule. I.e., in the beginning, don’t bother to electrify, because that doesn’t make the transit that much better for the people using it, and we’d not see that big a win for our efforts.

    The three lines that look like good bets to me are Providence, Worcester, and Lowell. All three lines have a lot of people using them already, and they have a lot of their boardings near their endpounts — i.e., those are long trips in cars avoided, not short trips. City endpoints also insulate us somewhat from the parking-lot problem; people can arrive on foot, bike, or bus.

    One other metric that might be interesting is “which line’s upgrade would have the largest effect on traffic into the Boston area?” That is, is traffic worst coming from the north on I-93, the west on I-90, or the south on I-95? Ideally we want to minimize use of single-occupancy vehicles, but in the short run it also wouldn’t hurt to be able to point to a traffic win for the “what’s in it for me, there’s no train I can use” crowd.

    1. The Newburyport/Rockport Line is the second busiest line in the system, and serves a high-density region without real highway alternatives. For rail to be viable, it needs to beat alternatives in terms of time and/or cost. Accordingly, we should be looking to expand service where density is greatest and vehicle speeds are slowest.

  22. Thanks for the thoughtful update. I agree with your ideas here will. It’s important to add the service improvements where they will have a meaningful impact on ridership and reduce carbon emissions.

  23. Will: Thank you for the time and thought you put into this analysis. I think transportation dollars should be focused on the T with some limited increases for high-demand rail-lines like Needham. The key to the economic health of Eastern Massachusetts is making mass-transit work inside Rte. 128 where high-density housing is available and expandable. That is the only way to continue to attract the work-force of young millennials and the next generation, many of whom won’t want to own cars.

  24. Dear Senator,

    Thanks for sharing these proposals and your analysis.

    I appreciate your diligence in spear-heading the effort and leading the discussions for improvements in public transportation. And you are probably the most devoted advocates for better work/life quality, environment protection and economic development.
    I want to personally thank you for that.

    I still feel that we are not near the end of the tunnel before any kind of improvement be realized. Because according to the current eco-political set up, it is mission-impossible and kept getting worse everyday.

    My reasons are following:
    (1) Year after years, MBTA/DOT and research teams generated reports about traffic congestion, pollution and lack of public transit. But nobody is able to execute any major improvements year after years.

    (2) Based on my limited observations, there is always a political deadlock of which community should benefit first, or which community should benefit more, and who should not be suffering more. As much as I appreciate the thoroughness of check and balances of our democracy, I admit that we will spend most of our time on mission impossible: Design a public system that will maximize everybody’s benefit while minimizing everybody’s impact. I held a Ph.D in operation research. In mathematics terms, It is a very complex global optimization problem while considering mostly local inputs. It is almost surely infeasible.

    (3) While we spend most of time debating which community/demographic group/class or cohort( such as drivers vs riders, communities in outer suburbs vs downtown communities, seniors and low income groups), we are losing opportunities in making improvements. For an example, lands that could be used for a North-South Rail link being developed, land could be used for extend our subway system are being taken away by private developers. And such kind of development will continue to strain the system with more congestion and more pollution. With opportunity cost increasing all the time, and nobody is reminding the decision maker about it, the optimization problem will become more impossible to solve year after year.

    (4) Further more, even when a decision for a project is made, we have to face the reality of construction unions in public projects. (The big dig type, I have friends who gave me an example last week. A downtown building need to have the front facade repainted and local construction union is the only choice. After the work is finished everyday, they need to have someone to clean up the scrapes in front of the building. The cost of this miniature effort is two full time union contractors ( one to perform the work, and the other one to supervise), and both should be paid the double of about 130$/ hour because it is considered overtime. The estimated cost is about 45,000$ just to clean up the front of the building for a half month project (if it is not delayed).
    I am giving you an example and you should be able to draw your own conclusion from here. Honestly I don’t see how can we afford any major expansion of public transportation.

    Adding my points together, and as much as I wish to reduce air pollution/congestion by my effort (and that is why I partake in these discussions), I regret that I have to stick to my internal combustion engine powered car ( I will upgrade to a Tesla if I found the money by some magic), and contribute the road congestion from my home to my son’s school and work. I appreciate the opportunity for all these thorough discussions lead by senator Brownsberger. but unless there is a major improve in the current decision making system and construction bidding/oversights. I think all of our discussions are like trying to reach the reflections of moon in the river.

    I will have to stick with my pollutant generating cars as I got to go to work and take care of my family. At the same time, I can keep salivating over the public transportation systems Japanese and Chinese cities have.
    Tokyo subway and rail map
    https://www.tokyometro.jp/en/subwaymap/

    Osaka Subway map
    https://subway.osakametro.co.jp/en/guide/routemap.php

    Beijing Subway map
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beijing_Subway

    Nobody has the perfect system for public transportation. I am sure they all have lots of issues. But they are the doers and we are the talkers. They made huge improvements in their citizens life quality over the past twenty years, reduced congestion and reduced pollution.

    Unfortunately, we did not do enough in the past and it will be very difficult to do enough in the future.

  25. Please prioritize more frequent service/lower fares on the Needham line, preferably by extending the existing Orange Line from Forest Hills to Roslindale and West Roxbury along the commuter rail tracks.

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