MBTA Board Endorses Ambitious Slate of Upgrades For Commuter Rail System

Christian MilNeil | StreetsBlog Mass

The MBTA Fiscal and Control Management Board has endorsed an aspirational vision to electrify the MBTA commuter rail network to provide all-day, rapid-transit-style service throughout eastern Massachusetts, with an initial phase focused on upgrading Boston’s Fairmount Line, the Boston-Providence line, and the Rockport line through Chelsea, Revere and Lynn.

The vote caps off a year-long effort to study upgrades to the commuter rail system in the the MBTA’s “Rail Vision” planning process, which evaluated six alternatives for upgrading the region’s commuter rail system.

TransitMatters Report Asks State to Cancel South Station Expansion

Christian MilNeil | StreetsBlog Mass

Advocates from TransitMatters are asking the state to cancel a multi-billion-dollar expansion plan for South Station, arguing that instead of building more platforms to support expanded service, the MBTA could instead make cheap organizational changes to move more trains more quickly in and out of the station – strategies that would also improve speed and reliability for riders.

Those ideas came with a detailed plan to implement faster, higher-frequency service on the MBTA’s Worcester commuter rail line in a “proof on concept” report that TransitMatters released on Thursday.

The concept lays out an incremental strategy to improve frequency and operating speeds between Boston’s South Station and Worcester, a route where ridership demand is expected to increase dramatically over the next decade thanks to disruptive construction projects on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

TransitMatters: South Station expansion unnecessary

Bruce Mohl | Commonwealth Magazine

THE ADVOCACY GROUP TransitMatters says a number of relatively simple changes in commuter rail operations could increase the number of trains moving in and out of South Station and make a planned $2.5 billion expansion of the facility unnecessary.

South Station has 13 tracks that currently serve 20 trains per hour in and out. By increasing the speed of trains coming in and out of the station, dedicating specific tracks for specific train lines, and changing crews more swiftly, TransitMatters said in a report that train throughput could increase to at least 26 to 30 trains per hour in and out.

“South Station expansion is completely unnecessary. The billions of dollars [saved] can pay for an electric fleet,” said Josh Fairchild, the president of TransitMatters, which is known for its pro-transit advocacy and the willingness to dig into the nitty gritty of transportation.

Transit advocates call for electrified 'regional rail' during Mass. Pike reconstruction

Cyrus Moulton | Worcester Telegram and Gazette

Anticipating a decade of traffic delays during the reconstruction of a key portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike, a new report proposes the Worcester commuter rail line be converted to electrified, frequent, subway-like service to ease traffic jams and prove the concept of regional rail.

“The need for frequent and reliable transit and rail mobility along this corridor is urgent,” said the report, “Regional Rail Proof of Concept: How Modern Operating Practice Adds Capacity to the Current Commuter Rail Network,” by transportation advocacy nonprofit TransitMatters. “The MBTA should immediately increase off-peak frequency, and invest money in electrification and new rolling stock to commence high-quality Regional Rail operations as soon as possible.”

The nonprofit group estimates the cost of the Worcester line at $500 million. It proposes paying for this - and the conversion to a full regional rail system - by reallocating money from the $2 billion to $3 billion proposed expansion of South Station.

MBTA is urged to shield bus riders, seniors, students from fare hikes

Adam Vaccaro | Boston Globe

Bus riders, senior citizens, and students may yet see a reprieve from the MBTA fare hike, after members of the transit system’s board of directors asked it to consider keeping rates stable for those riders.

Monday’s discussion about the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s proposed 6.3 percent fare increase also sparked sharp words from one director, Brian Lang, who said the state must consider other sources of revenue to invest in the T rather than repeatedly raising rates.

T board wary of go-it-alone fare hike

Bruce Mohl | Commonwealth Magazine

FACING PUSHBACK FROM THE PUBLIC  and transportation advocates on a proposed 6.3 percent average MBTA fare increase, some members of the transit agency’s oversight board signaled on Monday that they may not rubber-stamp the increase.

…Many of the advocates, including TransitMatters, said fares should only go up if T service improves and other modes of transportation (ride-sharing apps, personal vehicles) are also facing higher charges…

Pollack prioritizes Red-Blue rail connector

Bruce Mohl | Commonwealth Magazine

TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY Stephanie Pollack revised the state’s vision for 2040 on Monday, listing a rail connection between the Red Line and the Blue Line as a “next priority” and scrapping an earlier proposal to link the two lines with a pedestrian walkway.

The announcement was a huge victory for transit advocates and public officials who were dismissive of the pedestrian walkway and insisted the rail link was a Big Dig promise that had never been fulfilled.

MBTA takes a run at overnight service

Bruce Mohl | Commonwealth Magazine

THE MBTA, which scrubbed its previous incarnation of late-night service in March 2016, is trying again, but this time using a cautious, incremental approach that will rely exclusively on buses and target employees working odd-hour shifts at the airport, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and other businesses that work through the night.

The new service is the outgrowth of discussions that have been going on for nearly two years. The advocacy group TransitMatters pushed for overnight service initially, and was joined by the communities of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Revere, and Chelsea.  A key pitch of the advocates was that the service should target low-income residents who want affordable transportation to get to and from jobs at off hours.

MBTA boosts late-hour bus service

Adam Vaccaro | Boston Globe

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will run more buses during late-night hours, building on an increase in early-morning service that started in April.

The MBTA’s oversight board on Monday approved a $1.2 million plan to extend late-night hours on certain routes, while adding buses to other routes that are often crowded during nighttime runs. The agency described it as an “incremental” approach to overnight transit service for night owls and off-hour workers. The new service will start in September.

The new service grew from a suggestion by advocacy group Transit Matters in 2016 to run buses all night to replace the late-night, weekend subway service the T had shut down.

MBTA approves targeted early morning, late night service pilot

Andy Metzger | WCVB

Early-morning bus trips and more frequent late night trips are scheduled to begin in September under a $1.2 million pilot proposal that the MBTA Control Board approved on Monday.

The new service would primarily serve cities north of Boston, including Chelsea, Malden and Revere, and neighborhoods in the southern part of the city, including Dorchester and Mattapan, as well as East Boston.

The expanded service could transport people in the hospitality and medical fields, said MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez. He said, "We really want to give them an option."

The MBTA’s Late-Night Bus Pilot Will Start in September

Spencer Buell | Boston Magazine

Late-night buses on the MBTA are a go.

The T’s oversight board voted on Monday to approve a $1.2 million pilot of a system of buses that will shuttle passengers after the rest of the system has shut down, which is intended primarily to give people who work late in the city an affordable way to get home. It will launch in September and add late-night stops to an area that stretches from Dorchester and Mattapan up into East Boston, Revere, Chelsea, and Malden.

The nonprofit advocacy group TransitMatters, which pitched the concept of a “NightBus” in 2016 and has rallied support for the idea, cheered the news on Monday. “Overnight bus transit in Greater Boston, open to all but designed primarily around the transit needs of the late night and early morning workers, needed to keep our city running; in short: NightBus will respond to the economic realities of a city and region that functions on a 24/7 basis,” the group said in a statement. “We look forward to continued collaboration to provide the transit service people need, want and deserve in a city and region that never stops working.”

State Senate backs study on electrification of T rail system

Adam Vaccaro | Boston Globe

The state Senate is backing activists’ efforts to electrify the MBTA’s commuter rail system.

proposal in the next fiscal year’s draft budget released by the chamber last Thursday would require transportation officials to study transitioning two MBTA lines — the Providence and Fairmount services — from diesel to electric power and report on the proposal by next March. The T would need to present a plan for running electric service on those two lines by September 2022.

The advocacy group Transit Matters unveiled a plan in February to electrify the system, starting with these two lines, as part of a plan to run more frequent commuter rail service throughout the day. The office of Senate President Harriette Chandler, who pushed for the language to be included in the budget, said it is directly based on Transit Matters’s “regional rail” proposal.

T notes: Budget boosts RTA funding 10%. Seeks plan for electrifying Providence, Fairmount commuter rail lines

Bruce Mohl | Commonwealth Magazine

The Senate Ways and Means budget proposal also directs the Baker administration to develop a plan to fully electrify the Providence and Fairmount commuter rail lines and build high-level platforms at each station on the lines.

The proposal calls for the plan to envision a start date of September 30, 2022, for fully electric service. The plan itself would have to be finished by March 1, 2019.

T notes: TransitMatters raises concerns on Newton proposal

Bruce Mohl | Commonwealth Magazine

A TRANSIT ADVOCATE WARNED on Monday that the MBTA’s planned rebuild of three commuter rail stations in Newton would hinder the system’s ability to provide regional rail service in the future.

At a meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday, T officials said they planned to build new, handicap-accessible stations on the north side of the tracks along the Worcester-Framingham Line in Auburndale, Newton, and Newtonville. They rejected two alternative approaches – building handicapped, accessible stations on both sides of the tracks or building one handicap-accessible station in the center of the tracks.

Frequent subway-style service between Worcester and Boston should be on the table, Massachusetts Senate leader says

Gintautas Dumcius | MassLive

Creating frequent "subway-type" service between Worcester and Boston should be under consideration, according to a top state leader.

Massachusetts Senate President Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, said Monday she backs an electrification of the state's rail infrastructure and an investment in new self-powered electric train cars that would allow for faster service between Worcester and the state's capital.

Advocates propose new Commuter Rail model

Cyrus Moulton | Worcester Telegram and Gazette

BOSTON - Saying the commuter rail system runs in a “1950s Mad Men sort of way,” a transit advocacy group Tuesday presented a $2 billion to $3 billion proposal for an electrified, more frequent “regional rail” model that the group says will bring the commuter rail into the 21st century.

It’s Time to Replace the Commuter Rail with an All-Electric “Regional Rail,” Transit Activists Say

Spencer Buell | Boston Magazine

Let’s face it. Nobody loves the commuter rail right now. It keeps thousands of people heading into Boston off the road every day, which is good for everyone. But its schedules are rigid, it moves relatively slowly, and in some cases trains arrive only once every several hours.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if we changed the way we use the eight rails that connect the city to the suburbs, and instead of loud, slow, infrequent, diesel-chugging trains, we had faster, electric ones—like a super-charged subway that could take you all around the state?

This 'shadow transit agency' has a new multi-billion dollar business plan for 'outmoded' MBTA commuter rail system

Gintautas Dumcius | MassLive

Arguing that the MBTA's commuter rail service ferries too few people for too much money, a transportation advocacy group is pushing a new business model that calls for more aggressive levels of service, and they say, would cost commuters less money.

TransitMatters, once called a "shadow transit agency" in a CommonWealth magazine profile due to their data-driven ideas that the MBTA takes seriously, on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to transform the commuter rail into a full "regional rail" system.

Transit group: Changes to MBTA Providence Line would shorten trip to Boston

Patrick Anderson | Providence Journal

Riding from Providence to Boston by train should take 45 minutes — not 70 minutes — an influential Massachusetts transit advocacy group said Tuesday in a new report aimed at reinventing commuter rail in the region.

And that service should be reliable and frequent, the group, TransitMatters, wrote, with northbound trains pulling out of Providence Station every 15 minutes and fewer breakdowns than the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority riders are now used to.

Proposed MBTA plan would reduce travel time from Providence to Boston

Lexi Kriss | WPRI

TransitMatters, a Massachusetts transportation advocacy group, released their latest report at an event in Boston on Tuesday.

The group outlined a variety of goals for an improved system: to make the Providence to Boston line all electric, to decrease times between trains and to increase train frequency, and to reduce commute time.