// MODERNIZING COMMUTER RAIL
Regional Rail envisions a new business model for Commuter Rail centered around a modern, electric network and fleet of vehicles to bring rapid-transit like frequent & reliable service to the entire Metro Boston region.
status: report issued
Next Milestone: Pilot (fairmount & providence lines)
What is regional rail?
MBTA Commuter Rail operates as a mid-20th century service with a mid-20th century business model. It reflects out of date biases about where people and jobs are located, and about how people desire to get from one place to another. Many people no longer work on a strictly 9 am to 5 pm weekday schedule, and many more want convenient and frequent train schedules that respond to the needs of their daily lives.
Our current approach to Commuter Rail, as a business model, fails to offer its rider/customers the service they want and need. As a result it contributes to the region’s worsening traffic congestion, keeps Gateway Cities isolated during most of the day, and exacerbates income inequality since the inadequate service compels many to drive – for lower income people, the high cost of owning, maintaining and driving an automobile can have a crippling effect on their ability to make ends meet.
Public transit must be frequent all day, not just at rush hour. A Regional Rail system would have trains running at least every half hour all day in the suburbs and at least every fifteen minutes in Boston and other Inner Core communities.
Regional Rail requires both frequent all day service, accessible platforms and smarter equipment to provide the service. That means high-level platforms at stations to simplify and speed up boarding and alighting. It also means electrification of the system, enabling use of Electric Multiple Units to replace the current push/pull diesel fleet. EMUs will be more reliable and less expensive to maintain, will provide riders with speedier trips, and will provide better service without polluting the air around them.
A highly functioning Regional Rail system includes five critical components:
- Systemwide electrification and the purchase of high-performance electric trains.
- High platforms, providing universal access and speeding up boarding for everyone.
- Strategic infrastructure investments to relieve bottlenecks.
- Frequent service all day: every 30 minutes in the suburbs and every 15 minutes in denser neighborhoods.
- Free transfers between regional trains, subways, and buses, and fare equalization with the subway in the subway’s service area.
And one useful component that will complete cross-region mobility:
- While not critical to implementing a Regional Rail system, the North-South Rail Link (NSRL) between North and South Stations, allowing service between any two stations with either a direct trip or a single, seamless transfer, would be a highly useful enhancement providing the flexibility and connectivity to which many riders and potential riders would be drawn.
A NEW VISION AND BUSINESS MODEL
FrequenT All Day ScheduleSPublic transit must be frequent all day, not just at rush hour. Commuter Rail is stuck in a “chicken-and-egg” dilemma today: trains running every two hours off-peak are not reliable enough for people to choose to depend on them, so people drive when they might otherwise use transit. Regional Rail solves this dilemma. Trains would run at least every half hour all day in the suburbs and at least every fifteen minutes in Boston and surrounding suburbs like Newton, Waltham, and Lynn.
Fare IntegrationPassengers should be able to get on a bus in an outlying city like Worcester or Lowell,
take it to the train station, ride a train to Boston or another city, and connect to their final
destination by bus or subway, on one fare.
ELECTRIFICATION AND STEP-FREE ACCESS
Electrification makes the trains cleaner and quieter; self-powered electric trains, called electric multiple units (EMUs), also accelerate much faster than diesel locomotives and are significantly more reliable than current equipment. Level boarding and wider doors provide ADA-compliant access for wheelchair users and also let able-bodied passengers board faster, reducing the amount of time a train has to dwell at each station. We estimate that on most lines, electrification and level boarding can cut travel time by 40%.
REGIONAL AND SOCIAL EQUITYExpansion of rail service can expand opportunity and strengthen ties to our Gateway Cities. Regional Rail holds special promise for the wide variety of lower-income communities across the Boston region, which are often rich in underutilized rail infrastructure, a legacy of their industrial past. Regional Rail would move stations back to town centers, walkable to working-class residents—precisely the sort of strategy that grows ridership and improves access to jobs.
regional rail Timeline
- May 10 2018 - The MA Senate budget calls for electrification of the Providence & Fairmount Lines including a schedule "leading to completion of design, construction and commencement of passenger operations not later than September 30, 2022."
- May 7 2018 - The City of Newton openly advocated for a Regional Rail approach to the 3 Newton stations during an FMCB meeting
- April 27 2018 - We met with the Newburyport Energy Council, by invitation, to discuss our report.
- February 27 2018 - We released our Regional Rail report during a live press event to stakeholders, policy makers and the public.
2018 February 27 —
Boston, MA — 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.”