Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Indigo Line

The Fairmount Line is the only T Commuter rail line that stays within the Boston city limits. It's also been neglected over the years with poor maintenance and limited stations through one of the more challenged neighborhoods in Boston. However there have been recent plans by the CDCs to add five or so stations and make this line a part of the rapid transit network and use the new station construction to get better service on the line as well as more opportunities for affordable housing. Because of the patterns of parcelization and built out nature of the corridor, it would be hard to expect a major renaissance but small progress is to be expected.

Better service would definitely improve the corridor too. It will be interesting to see how it works out. Recent planning and funding put forward by the Patrick administration suggests that this will be done soon but rejoicing should wait until its actually complete. For more information on this corridor, check out the report chapter by Reconnecting America that discusses tools and policies for revitalization. (Warning, 38MB)

13 comments:

Kyle - Boston said...

This really is a great project and I hope it gets going. It looks like this project will be finished sooner than the Green Line extension and definitely before anything happens with the extremely misguided Urban Ring. Although I won't benefit from the Fairmount/Indigo Line, many will and it is definitely a worthy project; especially considering all the walkable development that will take place.

arcady said...

I think the thing to do here is rebuild the track (which the MBTA seems to already be doing), build a few more stations (which they've been planning to do for a while). The stations should have high platforms and ticket machines, like a rapid transit line. And the line should be electrified, like a proper rapid transit line. Unfortunately, the MBTA' official policy regarding commuter rail electrification is that it will not happen in the foreseeable future, and is even less likely than the North-South Rail Link. It's unfortunate, as it's not that much expense or effort to get a suburban electric system going, on the Fairmount line as well as others (Needham, Salem, Waltham) in the inner suburbs which would benefit from fast and moderately frequent electric rail.

Kyle - Boston said...

One of the most amazing things is that the Providence line already runs on the NEC, which is completely electrified, yet they still run diesels on this line and will not purchases electric locomotives or new passenger cars. That just shows the mindset of the T.

arcady said...

Kyle: it's not quite true that the Providence Line is "completely electrified". Amtrak never finished the wire on Track 3 between South Station and Readville, nor through Attleboro, both of which are pretty much required to run commuter rail service. But there's a chance that Amtrak might finish that job soon, as they'd been working on extending the wire over Track 3 last fall, and I could see why they'd want to have the option to run any train on any track if need be.

Kyle - Boston said...

My mistake. That's good to hear that they will be adding electrification to the third track; I believe some of the stimulus money is to be used for some catenary installation/repairs on the NEC. Regardless, I doubt the T would purchase electric locomotive or new passenger cars for the Providence line even if it is fully electrified. Plus, I'm not sure if the new extension to T.F. Green has a plan for electrification, due to my negative attitude, I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

Keep it as a railroad line, but string wire and run EMU's often.

Adam said...

From what my brother tells me the T doesn't do what it should do, what with you having to go from Harvard or Tufts to downtown Boston to have to change for a train to BU or the Charlestown area. And from what he tells me the Green Line is a pathetic excuse for a transit line (with stops every 100 feet he tells me, his words, not mine).

Boston could correct this with a proper urban ring which involves subways and not misguided Bus "Rapid" Transit. I could probably propose a fantasy map of Boston if I had the time, involving several new heavy rail lines (at least three) and maybe a few light rail lines.

From what I understand, the T's commuter rail is very archaic, and needs electrification desperately (my view is all lines should be electrified unless there are three or more stations that are more than five miles apart in a row, and all popular long distance corridors should be as well (Empire corridor, New Haven-Springfield, all Amtrak California routes, Cascades, etc)).

The Fairmount line doesn't even need conventional commuter rail electrification; third rail is more than adequate considering it should be run like a subway line.

arcady said...

Anonymous: yes, that's the idea. To provide something kind of like rapid transit, but with conventional railroad equipment. Unfortunately, that seems to be beyond the imaginative abilities of MBTA/MBCR, who have yet to embrace such concepts as doors that can open and close automatically.
In general though, I'd like to see the MBTA focus much more on its rapid transit system. It's vastly more useful (and well used) than the commuter rail or bus system, and can and should be the focus of greatly increased density. None of the lines are anywhere near the peak capacity of rapid transit, especially at the outer ends, and I think it makes more sense to do infill around existing rapid transit before trying to serve more outlying areas. The other major problem is that the whole system depends on the downtown transfer stations, which are getting overloaded, and require people going out of their way. An urban ring line, even if it's just a surface streetcar, would do much to alleviate the problem. And if they ever find the cash, they really should build a tunnel for the B line through the BU area and consolidate five surface stops into two underground stations.

Adam: using third rail would be stupid, given that the line connects to a 25kV line on both ends. No need to create even more incompatibility in Boston's transit.

arcady said...

By the way, if we're drawing lines on a map of Boston: why isn't the northern extension of the Green Line being planned as an Orange Line extension instead? The line is almost completely grade separated, aside from two streets in West Medford, and the Orange Line has more spare capacity in the core than the Green.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Do you mean a blue line extension Arcady? seems like the Orange line already has two destinations. I think the idea of the green is that its closest to the extension, but the blue might be better.

arcady said...

PT: no, I really do mean Orange Line, branching off just past the Community College station. It's about the same amount of track all together as going from Lechmere, especially considering that they want to move the Lechmere station itself across the street to the east, and neither option requires any tunneling. And the Orange Line should have enough capacity in the core for this: the peak headway is only 6 minutes, where a rapid transit line should be able to run every 2-2.5 minutes (at least 24 tph). The only problem is that there's nowhere to turn trains short of Forest Hills, but from the looks of it, there's enough room for a reversing track south of Roxbury Crossing.

Kyle - Boston said...

I always thought the other possibility was a blue line extension, but that would be way too expensive. The green line extension will be two separate branches. I guess they just assumed that the green line would be the easiest to extend; they are using the ROW from two different commuter rail lines. Which is kind of unfortunate, because the new stops won't be directly in the Squares that they are supposed to serve.

Ari said...

@Arcady

Re: subway capacity—green, red and blue lines are at/over capacity at rush hour.

• Green has trains in the central part of the system every 1.5 minutes (5-7 minute headways on four lines), each two cars at crush capacity (300 passengers). Stations all but preclude the use of longer cars, and there's no way to run trains faster. A conversion to heavy rail would be very costly and likely incompatible with the current tunnel.

• Red runs trains at rush hour ever four minutes or so, and the six car trains are packed full (~900 passeners at crush); at peak rush hour they actually run some cars without seats for extra capacity. They could feasibly push up headways a tad.

• Blue line has had platforms extended from four to six cars to increase capacity significantly. Still, it operates at five minute capacity at rush hour. Now, if they'd only build a (very necessary) airport spur. Headways could be pushed a tad here too.

The thing to remember is that the oldest part of the newest line (Andrew-Harvard) turns 100 in 1912; the rest is more than a century old. Any repairs and additions are bound to cost a pretty penny.

Re: Green Line to Medford—the cost of building the green line straight from the current right of way is far cheaper than building a junction from the Orange Line (under active commuter lines; remember, during the Big Dig this was not easy. The Medford Line shouldn't require more than 300-passenger trains every five minutes (3600 per hour), if it does, more trains can be extended up the corridor.

My $10b solution to this whole mess? (give or take $5b): build an urban loop from Kenmore to South Station, North Station, Kendall and back (with another branch through Harvard Square, perhaps) and run all existing commuter rail through it—having electrified all existing commuter rail. Increases utilization of rail lines (all lines serve all employment centers), takes pressure off subways (fewer commuters changing from CR to subway) and allows urban-loop-type service.