regional rail

Media Statement - NSRL Feasibility Reassessment

The MBTA’s cost estimate for the North South Rail Link (NSRL), released yesterday, is the most recent in a series of estimates for this project.  Those estimates, from under $4 billion to over $20 billion, run the gamut of construction methods, infrastructure choices, and cost assumptions. These huge disparities underscore that cost estimates for major infrastructure projects have to be assessed based on their underlying assumptions.  TransitMatters believes that there are many reasons yesterday’s cost estimates are as large as they are, not least the assumptions and selective comparisons employed by the MBTA’s consultant. 

In our report on Regional Rail (excluding the NSRL) we estimated the cost range of systemwide electrification, high platforms to enable level boarding, and strategic capacity improvements at bottlenecks to be about $2 to 3 billion. We stand by that estimate and do not believe the electrification and rolling stock costs estimated in yesterday’s MBTA presentation are consistent with the most relevant and appropriate comparative examples of which we are aware.  

We read yesterday’s presentation to the Fiscal Management and Control Board as an affirmation of our view that South Station expansion (SSX) should not move forward – it is, by any measure, too little bang for way too much buck.  The MBTA’s consultant now estimates SSX will cost $4.7 billion, money that simply does not need to be spent in order to improve the functionality of existing tracks at South Station. There are other, much lower cost approaches to improving operations at South Station as we indicated in our Regional Rail report, and we will offer more a more detailed roadmap to doing that in a follow-up report we expect to release in the early fall.

With regard to NSRL itself, we stated in our report, and repeat here: “cost estimates for NSRL, undertaken by MassDOT consultants and independent third parties, significantly vary in range. These variances often are attributable to consultants not comparing like-to-like or using different methodologies. The reality is that actual costs can vary greatly depending on the quality and complexity of project designs, labor costs, and many other factors. Massachusetts has learned valuable lessons in cost containment through its recent Green Line Extension experience, and we would expect the same rigorous approach to providing maximum value for reasonable cost to apply here as well.”

TransitMatters continues to believe that the only route forward for the MBTA is to advance a transition to Regional Rail, an electrified intercity rail system with frequent service during the day. The Regional Rail model is critical. While not critical to implementing a Regional Rail system, the NSRL would be a highly useful enhancement providing the flexibility and connectivity to which many riders and potential riders would be drawn. We hope and expect that a candid and open-minded conversation on both of these initiatives will continue.

Without a commitment to a new Business Model for intercity rail, our region will continue to experience crippling traffic congestion and people will be deprived of the kind of access to jobs and opportunity that is necessary for a thriving economy and decent quality of life.  We look forward to collaborating with the MBTA and all stakeholders as we make Regional Rail a reality.

Media Statement - Regional Rail Report

Today, transit advocacy group TransitMatters released its report calling for modernization of the MBTA Commuter Rail network and an updated business model as part of a larger reimagining of the service. ‘Massachusetts should commit to transitioning from its current Commuter Rail system to a Regional Rail system that offers frequent all day intercity rail service provided by clean electric-powered locomotives’, according to the report.

At a Beacon Hill press conference, TransitMatters President and co-founder Marc Ebuña said, “Our current Commuter Rail system is a vestige of mid-20th Century thinking, based on an antiquated assumption about the kind of mobility choices people expect to have. Many people today do not have 9 to 5 jobs; they require more flexibility from their transit system. Regional Rail offers that flexibility.”

The Regional Rail system recommended by TransitMatters is described in the report as “a reliable and more cost-effective intercity rail system based on a 21st century business model...operating more like a subway service with level platforms and frequent service all day.”  TransitMatters identified five critical components to the Regional Rail business plan: (1) systemwide electrification, (2) high platforms allowing faster and accessible boarding, (3) strategic infrastructure investments to maximize speed and reliability, (4) frequent all-day service – every half hour in the suburbs, every fifteen minutes in denser urban neighborhoods, and (5) fare rationalization, including free transfers between regional trains, subways and buses.

Board member Jarred Johnson explained that the recommendations for a new approach to providing intercity rail service “responds to the way people live today. We are doing our economy and our residents a disservice by continuing to operate and plan for an outdated Commuter Rail system. Our Regional Rail plan takes lessons learned from proven best practices across the US and globally, and offers a highly cost-effective approach to transitioning to a new system.”

According to the group, Regional Rail can begin with affordable pilots projects on the Providence Line — the Commuter Rail’s only electrified line — and the Fairmount Line. The group’s plan proposes cost-effective pilots for these lines as a way to prove the efficacy of the approach and to provide better service and social and environmental justice to Fairmount Line riders and corridor residents.

TransitMatters Board member Tim Lawrence observed that the report responds to the legitimate concern of the MBTA’s FMCB, that the current Commuter Rail system, carries too few riders at too high a cost. “We agree with that assessment,” said Lawrence. “Our plan for Regional Rail addresses this head on — by offering not just a vision, but a new business model. It’s that business model that will be a game changer, moving us away from the unacceptable status quo, and making our intercity rail system operate in a cost-effective, rider-responsive manner.”

The Regional Rail report can be downloaded from regionalrail.net.

Podcast 28 - Commuter Rail Modernization & why the North South Rail Link matters

We're joined in studio by Brad Bellows in this conversation to talk about the state of Commuter Rail and what the North South Rail Link can do for our region. Brad is an architect, board member of the Association for Public Transportation, and a member of the North South Rail Link Working Group which is leading a renewed push to see the connector finally built. 

This episode was recorded on April 19. [Our apologies for the long break, we've been busy advocating for better transit. More shows are in the pipeline. If you're interested in helping with podcast editing and blog posting, please email feedback@transitmatters.info.]

TransitMatters advocates for fast, frequent, reliable and effective public transportation in and around Boston. As part of our vision to repair, upgrade and expand the MBTA transit network, we aim to elevate the conversation around transit issues by offering new perspectives, uniting transit advocates and promoting a level of critical analysis normally absent from other media.

Like what you hear? Share it around, tell your friends and colleagues, and subscribe to the blog and podcast (on iTunes) to be notified of new posts and episodes. Support our work by becoming a member, making a donation or signing up to volunteer because we can't do this alone. Let us know what you think: connect with TransitMatters on Facebook or Twitter. Follow Jeremy Mendelson @Critical Transit, Josh Fairchild @hatchback31, Jarred Johnson @jarjoh, Marc Ebuña @DigitalSciGuy, or email us here.

Podcast 23 - Alon Levy, Pedestrian Observations

We sat down with urban transit student and author of the popular Pedestrian Observations blog, Alon Levy, well known among advocates for his knowledge of best (and worst) practices in urban planning and transportation.

In a time of short-sighted cost-cutting and privatization efforts, it is refreshing to hear smart and effective ways to use our existing transportation assets. We spend some time debunking the myth that new technology like the Hyperloop or personal rapid transit will solve our problems. Instead, we know how to address our challenges using existing technology, for example, modernizing commuter rail, increasing core system capacity and upgrading the network to serve modern travel needs. Using electronics before concrete. And of course, we cover the MBTA's Control Board and the ongoing mess, including privatization, late night service, the Green Line Extension, North South Rail Link, and try to learn why construction costs so much.

And much more.

The Transit Matters Podcast is your source for transportation news, analysis, interviews with transit advocates and more. By offering new perspectives, uniting transit advocates and promoting a level of critical analysis normally absent from other media, we can achieve a useful and effective transportation network because Transit Matters.

Like what you hear? Share it around, tell your friends and colleagues, and subscribe to the blog and podcast (on iTunes) to be notified of new posts and episodes. Support our work by becoming a member, making a donation or signing up to volunteer because we can't do this alone. Let us know what you think by connect with TransitMatters on Facebook or Twitter. Follow Jeremy Mendelson @Critical Transit, Josh Fairchild @hatchback31, Jarred Johnson at @jarjoh, Marc Ebuña at @DigitalSciGuy, and or email us here.