Thursday, February 08, 2007

After Greenbush - what should the T do next?

On Tuesday the T celebrated the end of the construction phase of the Greenbush Commuter Rail line that will complete the reconstruction of the Old Colony routes that were abandoned by the New Haven Railroad in 1959 when the Southeast Expressway opened. The cost of restoring these 3 lines is close to ONE BILLION DOLLARS with Greenbush alone costing $510 million.

BAD TRANSIT writes about Greenbush this week and I understand where the rage is coming from. Unlike the other 2 parts of the Old Colony Division that were restored (Plymouth/Kingston Line and Middleborough/Lakeville Line) Greenbush was fought very heavily by the residents of the towns it will serve. The T HOPES that by 2010 they will have 4200 inbound passengers every weekday.

We could debate if Greenbush was a sound transit idea for decades to come but the fact is the money is spent, construction done and the line will operate starting this summer. What is more important is what the T does next.

Politicians in the New Bedford and Fall River area are pushing for the restoration of Commuter Rail to their areas. The State of New Hampshire wants to work with the T in extending Commuter Rail back to Manchester and Concord which was done briefly some 20 years ago. These are noble ideas but it is time for the T to focus on the transit needs of riders inside Route 128 (I-95).

It is time for the T to finally end 50 years of promises by itself and the former MTA and extend the Blue Line to Lynn and Salem. This is a project the old MTA wanted to do in the mid 50’s when the line was extended to Wonderland but was stopped at the State House by supporters of the former Boston & Maine Railroad which operated the commuter rail then. The project has been talked about, designed, talked about, redesigned over and over again.

2 years ago U.S. Representative John F. Tierney (D-Salem) announced the reauthorization for the Blue Line extension project to Lynn as part of the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (TEA-LU). The $286.4 billion legislation passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 412-8 and was signed by President Bush on August 10, 2005.

What happened??? I can’t track it down. There seems to be more interest in extending the Blue Line to Charles-MGH because of heavy pressure by Partners Healthcare to do so. I have no problem with that connector as it would finally connect the Red and Blue lines but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of extending the Blue Line to at least Lynn.

Then we have the proposed extension of the Green Line from Lechmere to West Medford which now appears to be getting some traction. But what project does the T have on the front burner?

Silver Line Phase 3 which would be a one mile bus tunnel connecting the Silver Line-Washington St with the Silver Line Waterfront busway at a cost of $1.2 billion. Honestly compared to the Blue and Green Line proposed extensions I can not see the justification of the Silver Line project for Boston transit needs in the near future. I just can not see a united Silver Line generating the ridership numbers needed to justify the amount of money being set aside for it. The money would be better spent building a no frills trolley line between North and South Station with possibly using the abandoned portal into Boylston Station. That option certainly would not cost $1.2 billion.

The T should give a call out to Seattle where King County Metro after building an expensive bus tunnel in 1990 closed it in 2005 to convert it to light-rail and bus operation.

The T has other pressing issues to deal with. The cars on the Orange Line are over 20 years old and unlike the Blue Line there are no firm plans to replace them at this time. The Red Line also has cars that were originally built in 1969-70 ( and rehabbed in the late 80's ) that will need to be replaced soon. Even the newer Red Line cars bought in 1993 will soon need an overhaul as the T is having major problems with the on board computer system designed by Digital that they can no longer get parts for since Digital products are no longer supported by Hewlett-Packard the company that now owns what is left of Digital.

The Green Line is what it is : 110 years old and showing its age.

Please offer some feedback on what the T should do next.


Adam said...

I strongly believe that given the heavy ridership of the green line routes, the T should begin the long process of converting all four branches to heavy rail and burying it where there is no dedicated right-of-way (essentially all above ground routes except for the D line).

With heavy rail comes longer trains, increased capacity, and the potential for express tracking.

Charlie D. said...

Adam, I completely agree. At MINIMUM, they should work with the cities of Boston and Brookline to reduce the number of automobile crossings of the Green Line tracks, install signal prioritization at the remaining crossings, and consolidate stops along the B line between Kenmore and Packard's Corner.

I can't imagine that improvements like this would even come close to the billions being spent and/or proposed elsewhere, yet they would make significant improvement to some of the slowest train service in the system.

Mike said...

I don't see how they could ever make the Green Line into heavy rail unless they totally redid the Central Subway and that is not going to happen until it collapses.

The Blue Line is a no brainer which is probably why it hasn't been done.

I will say that at least the Silver Line-Airport service has worked out well, as you really couldn't put trolley tracks in the Ted Williams.

But yes, not a cent more to commuter rail until they improve things in the city.

Anonymous said...

The T has already gotten started on their next project, extending the CR to TF Green Airport in Rhode Island.

Charlie said...

Anonymous said...

The T has already gotten started on their next project, extending the CR to TF Green Airport in Rhode Island.

Yes but that is being funded by the State of Rhode Island. The T will also be allowed to park trains in Pawtucket

Anonymous said...

I want to re-phrase the question.

It is not what we think the T should do next. It's what we think we need to do regarding the MBTA.

Discussions about transportation planning are nice, but investing our time, energy, and public dollar into this sink-hole is a waste.

Let's change the subject and talk about not what the MBTA should do next (I shudder to think how awfully they will F up whatever it is), but what we need to do to clean up the total mess that is public transportation wherever the (T) logo may be found.

Charlie said...

Anonymous said...

I want to re-phrase the question.

It is not what we think the T should do next. It's what we think we need to do regarding the MBTA.

For starters?

Bernard Cohen Secretary of Transportation & Construction for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Chair of the MBTA Board of Directors has to clean house at 10 Park Plaza and then find a transportation professional in a nationwide or worldwide search to run the place.

The other major problem with the T is something I'm not sure can be fixed. There is a "culture" that exists there that maybe too embedded to change.

Matt said...

Green Line to Medford/Somerville

Speed up the green line

Blue Line to Salem/Lynn would be awesome - there's some really good cheap housing up there. Why stop there? Go up to Hampton and Portsmouth!

Better service to the dot/rox area? Might help gentrification

Steve said...

Writing as a Somerville resident, we're very eager to have the Green line extended. Its been promised and if the T says they won't build it there is going to be a fight.