Commuter Rail

Media Statement - Rail Vision FMCB Resolution

BOSTON, November 4, 2019 — 

TransitMatters applauds today’s action by the FMCB to advance Regional Rail in Massachusetts. We began this journey in February 2018 with the publication of our Regional Rail report and we are pleased to see its progress from plan to policy. Since the initial release of our report in 2018, we have worked tirelessly to write op-eds, hold outreach events around the region, especially in Gateway Cities, analyze the system line-by-line, and release a follow-up Proof of Concept whitepaper this fall laying out the practical first steps to be taken. We are grateful for the support and feedback we have received from politicians and elected officials, key stakeholders, the Rail Vision group, our media partners who have helped us get the message out, and most importantly our supporters who have written letters and testified at FMCB meetings in support of our initiative. This comprehensive outreach and support is why we are at this critical point today.

We believe that this is an important first step toward transforming our current antiquated Commuter Rail system. We will continue to push hard for a new service delivery model based on frequent all day service, replacing today’s dirty diesel locomotives with more cost effective electric multiple units and providing better service with high level platforms at every station. Today is the beginning of making the vision we laid out in our 2018 Regional Rail plan actionable. We look forward to a close collaboration with the T and other stakeholders to keep this critical initiative on track. 

For media inquiries, please e-mail media@transitmatters.org

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Media Statement - MassINC Regional Rail Poll

Courtesy of MassINC Polling Group, 2019

BOSTON, September 26, 2019 — 

Today’s MassINC poll (topline results, crosstabs) of Massachusetts residents affirms that there is overwhelming public support for the Regional Rail vision and business model that TransitMatters has proposed as a better way to provide “Commuter Rail” service throughout Metropolitan Boston and the Commonwealth. It also underscores that the vast majority of Massachusetts residents understand that Regional Rail is vital to their quality of life and to the state’s economic future.  

Our vision for Regional Rail – a fully electrified system with high level platforms and frequent all-day service, which offers trip times faster than presently – is one that can become our reality sooner than later. The Providence Line is already electrified and the Framingham/Worcester line requires substantial near term improvement as mitigation for the upcoming disruption of the reconstruction and relocation of I-90 in Allston. Additionally, the Fairmount Line is the shortest line and travels through an environmental justice community that has campaigned for rapid transit service for decades. These three lines represent the obvious beginnings of what should be a phased implementation of Regional Rail across our current Commuter Rail system. 

Knowing that there is such strong public support, Regional Rail must move from aspiration to implementation during the lifetime of the current administration.  We call on Governor Baker and House and Senate leadership to join us and the overwhelming number of Massachusetts residents who support this transition to a modern, reliable Regional Rail network. We stand ready to roll up our sleeves and provide support to all stakeholders as together, we make this vital modernization program a reality. 

For media inquiries, please e-mail media@transitmatters.org

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Press Release - Regional Rail Proof of Concept

TRANSITMATTERS RELEASES NEW “PROOF OF CONCEPT” REPORT TO ADVANCE REGIONAL RAIL VISION WITH PRACTICAL NEXT STEPS AND $3 BILLION SAVINGS

BOSTON, MA (September 12, 2019) – Today, TransitMatters hosted a launch event for its new report “Regional Rail Proof of Concept: How Modern Operating Practice Adds Capacity to the Current Commuter Rail Network”. The report is a follow up to last year’s Regional Rail report which laid out the vision for a fast, frequent, electrified intercity rail network. That report showed that through embracing world best practice Metro Boston could have a transformative rail network. The new report focuses on how relatively modest changes in both operations and track layout at South Station can have significant benefits to train capacity in the short-term.  

The new report questions the wisdom of the long-planned South Station Expansion (SSX) project as a wasteful $2-3 billion project with little transportation value. The report also calls into question the MBTA’s reliance on bi-level coaches with inefficient passenger flow. The report instead calls for operational changes first: regular “clockface scheduling”, quicker train turn times, and dedicated tracks, all of which also add to the passenger experience and increase capacity at terminal stations. The report also advocates for relatively modest changes to the track layout of the approach to South Station; these changes would allow for faster speeds in the station (up to 50% time savings in some cases) and allow for flexibility by allowing trains to reach all platforms. 

“We believe that Regional Rail has the potential to solve many of the Commonwealth’s biggest challenges- congestion, inequality, Gateway Cities reaching their full potential, housing availability, and climate change. We have to make smart decisions about what projects not to do and start taking steps towards achieving the service improvements necessary to respond to our economy and to rider needs”, said Jarred Johnson, COO of TransitMatters. “Today, we found an extra $3 billion for the Commonwealth to spend on making commuter service across Eastern Massachusetts better. 

The new TransitMatters report, which was authored by a dedicated team of volunteers, is the first in a series of follow-up reports that will focus on each Commuter Rail line, as well as topics like electrification. Today’s report will be available online at regionalrail.net. You can also watch a live stream of the event on the @TransitMatters Twitter account. The TransitMatters team also announced an upcoming press event focused on the second part of the report, “How to Provide Frequent, All-day Service on the Worcester Line”. This event will be hosted in conjunction with the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Sept 17 at 2 PM at the Worcester Regional Chamber. 

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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.

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 25 - Fare Increases, Transfers, Late Night and how to advocate for better transit

"Trust your money to Charlie and save"

The MBTA Control Board voted Monday to raise fares by 10 percent or more despite disruptive protests by community advocates. The extra revenue will be dedicated to infrastructure upgrades, prompting many questions. We'll discuss the bright spots (student pass, transfers, Commuter Rail zone study) and see where we go from here.

Federal regulators object to the elimination of late night service without a proper civil rights analysis and mitigation. What does this mean, and what might mitigation look like?

Boston held a City Council hearing with the T General Manager on Commuter Rail fares, a small step toward realizing our vision for an integrated regional rail network that becomes the preferred travel option. Community feedback and the responses of the GM say a lot about the current state of the Commuter Rail. Look out for an upcoming City Council hearing on transit signal priority for buses and trolleys, and let your councilors know you want better transit.

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 24 - Rich Davey, Former MBTA GM & Secretary of Transportation

Former MBTA General Manager and MassDOT Secretary, Rich Davey joins us to reflect on his experience and share insight into the current challenges and opportunities facing the T.

Why has the service become so unreliable? Will we ever plan for and implement system upgrades? How can we better use our existing services and resources? Are the labor and management needs being met? How can the T communicate more effectively as well as advocate for itself and the needs of riders? Can we do effective regional planning and forge a working relationship with advocates and cities? How do we raise revenue, and should that be a priority? We finally put to rest the argument over the word annual: whether fares are legally allowed to rise by 5 or 10 percent. And much more.

Prior to running the MBTA, Rich Davey was the General Manager of the Commuter Rail operator. We talk about activating the Fairmount Line and some other ways to improve the Commuter Rail. How might more effective regional planning enable the Commuter Rail to address local and regional transportation challenges?

Transit Matters is a non-profit organization working for fast, frequent, reliable and effective transportation in Boston by elevating the conversation on transportation. 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: 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.