Sunday, May 31, 2015

Boston Globe Supports Bike Path and Rail Service on Grand Junction

CSX freight train crossing the Charles River into
Cambridge, destined for the produce market
in Chelsea.
An editorial in today's Boston Globe recommends the underutilized Grand Junction branch corridor could accommodate both a new passenger rail service and the long-proposed Grand Junction Community Path for bicyclists and pedestrians.

While the editorial frames this in the context of transportation improvements to support the possible 2024 Olympics in Boston, clearly this lower-cost transportation option could be implemented independently and long prior to the Olympics.

The good news for transportation advocates is the strong support of both the path and rail service.  Over the last 15 years, I have worked on both aspects of this proposal, so I am glad to see support for the "inclusive" vision of both the path and passenger rail.

The Grand Junction corridor is narrow as
it crosses Main Street.  The path will be built
to the right, on City-
owned land.
The "inclusive" vision was somewhat in jeopardy in light of the vision of Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) put forth in recent years that any path project in the corridor not preclude a future double-tracking of the Grand Junction.  Given the tight constraints of the corridor, particularly as it passes through the MIT campus, this position had the potential to splinter rail advocates and path advocates.

In April 2015, I was contacted by a reporter from the Globe to discuss my knowledge of the corridor.  Perhaps that conversation, at least in part, may have influenced their decision to support the "inclusive" vision of rail and path.  This vision is supported by my own rail operations analysis over the years (for projects sponsored by the MBTA, Harvard University and MIT) that has demonstrated that passenger rail service can be provided on the existing mix of single and double track.

Current Rail Operations
The rail line may see about 2 to 4 trains a day, including a CSX freight train to Chelsea and movements of passenger equipment by both the MBTA and Amtrak, which both operation out of both North and South Stations.  The next westerly connection between north and south side rail lines is over 50 miles away, between Worcester and Ayer.

MBTA (left) and Amtrak (right) passenger equipment moves pass through Cambridge daily on the
Grand Junction rail line.
The Proposals
The Path:  Back in 2001, while a member of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee, I led the effort to produce a proposal in the form of a feasibility report putting for the vision of a multi-purpose path (bicyclists, pedestrians, runners, roller-bladers, dog-walkers, etc.) following the Grand Junction corridor.  As written in a Cambridge Chronicle article, April 18, 2014:

"Rachel Burckardt has a dream.
"The Cambridge resident and bicycling advocate heard of a vision for a path that would take cyclists and pedestrians from the Twin City Plaza in Somerville to the Charles River at MIT in Cambridge. The route would cut through the fastest growing region of the city, connecting thousands of residents to the economic engine of Kendall Square and adding green space in areas that have long been dominated by industrial buildings and cement parking lots.
"That was 15 years ago."
The Grand Junction path would connect with other regional paths, including the Charles River paths and the Community Path in Somerville. This year the first section of the path will be built between Main Street and Broadway by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.

The Grand Junction path would connect with other regional paths, including the Charles River paths and the Community Path in Somerville.

Passenger Rail Proposals:  In recent years, MassDOT has presented two options for possible passenger rail on the Grand Junction branch.  The first, dating from 2011, called for redirecting some trains on the Worcerster Line from the crowded South Station to North Station via the Grand Junction and Fitchburg Line, with a possible stop near Kendall Square in Cambridge.  After considerable local opposition to this proposal, MassDOT put the proposal "on hold."

Two rail proposals:  Left: Proposal to divert some Worcester Lines  to North Station.
Right:  Proposal for rail shuttle between a new West Station in Allston to North Station. 
In 2014, the MassDOT website included a visionary map of possible rail system expansion, including a service between a new West Station (proposed to be built in the former Beacon Park freight yard in Allston) to North Station via the Grand Junction, with a stop near Kendall Square.

This service is often described as being operated by "DMUs" (diesel multiple units), which would be short trains of self-propelled rail cars operating frequent service.  The last local example of DMUs was the rail diesel cars (RDCs) used into the early 1980s on the commuter rail lines around Boston.
Examples of EMUs (left, on MetroNorth in Connecticut) and DMUs (right: artist view
of car being built for a west coast commuter operation).

The advantage of this equipment would be the use of shorter trains (say 3 cars) which would require shorter platforms, which would be easier to accommodate along the Grand Junction corridor.

While the proposal of "through service" where trains from Worcester would pass along the Grand Junction were locally opposed, a "local service" might have better acceptance among the abutting communities.

The other issue with diesel services is air quality.  To eliminate the mobile emissions source that DMUs are, one could consider the use of EMUs (electric multiple units).  EMUs operating on Northeast commuter systems including MetroNorth, Long Island Railroad, NJ Transit and SEPTA.

A shuttle service between West and North Stations
could include three local stations:
Cambridgeport, MIT/Mass. Av., and
Broadway/Kendall Square.
My Analyses
With the concern over the possible "rail vs. path" binary that the "double-track" vision could create, I ran additional analysis of a possible DMU/ EMU type shuttle service between West and North Stations.

My work for MIT providing an inde-pendent analysis of a possible Worcester Line service on the Grand Junction in-cluded consideration of where stations could be sited.  We looked at both a station for a full-length commuter rail train (requiring a platform 850 feet long) and a DMU/EMU service (requiring a platform of 300 to 350 feet).  Obviously, it was easier to site a shorter platform, and we found three locations, as indicated in the figure at right.  (For the full-length commuter rail train, the only place the platform could be accommodated would be at Massachusetts Avenue.)

My analysis indicated that a rail shuttle service between North Station and West Station via the Grand Junction Branch could be operated at headways in the range of 15 to 30 minutes without completely double-tracking the line.

Therefore, there does not have to be any split among transportation advocates in regards to rail service vs. the path.  Both are possible.

The vision for the Grand Junction must be inclusive of both the path and a possible local rail service.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Advocates push for Grand Junction Path plan in Cambridge

By Erin Baldassari 

Posted Apr. 18, 2014 @ 8:01 am 

"Rachel Burckardt has a dream.
"The Cambridge resident and bicycling advocate heard of a vision for a path that would take cyclists and pedestrians from the Twin City Plaza in Somerville to the Charles River at MIT in Cambridge. The route would cut through the fastest growing region of the city, connecting thousands of residents to the economic engine of Kendall Square and adding green space in areas that have long been dominated by industrial buildings and cement parking lots.
"That was 15 years ago.
"At the time, Burckardt, a member of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee, took it upon herself as a civil engineer to begin drafting a "pre-feasibility" study."
(Quoted from article by Erin Baldassari in the Cambridge Chronicle/"Wicked Local")

Read entire article.

More about the Friends of the Grand Junction Path.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Boston Connection for the Knowledge Corridor

Today the Federal Government announced an "award of $70 million for final design and construction of the “Knowledge Corridor” along the Connecticut River rail line in western Massachusetts," as reported in the Commonwealth Conversations Transportation blog. (The "Knowledge Corridor" is highlighted in yellow at the right.) The blog goes on to note: "The competitive grant award is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program."

The "Knowledge Corridor" refers to the Sprinfield-Northampton-Greenfield corridor which is Connecticut River line of the former Boston and Maine Railroad, now known as Pam Am Railways. Conditions on the line deteriorated to the point that the only passenger train, Amtrak's Vermonter, was rerouted by Palmer onto the New England Central Railroad. The reroute added a stop at Amherst, replacing the original stop at Northampton. (See Amtrak's map at left.)

The current Amtrak service is a single round-trip between St. Albans, VT and Washington, DC. While the Vermonter route crosses the Boston-to-Albany route of Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited at Springfield, the schedules are not set for convient service between Boston and the "Knowledge Corridor."

Restoration of passenger service to Northampton and Greenfield is a significant step in creating a true Massachusetts regional passenger rail system. With the accompanying grants to Connecticut and Vermont, this will improve the current Vermont-Springfield-New Haven corridor. It will restore passenger rail service to Northampton and Greenfield.

However, I believe that once these improvements are in place, a study should look into ridership for Knowledge Corridor service routed through to Boston. Namely, this would be Greenfield - Northampton - Holyoke - Springfield - Palmer - Worcester - Boston true trains. When I discuss this folks I know in Northampton, they see a real potential for such service to be used.

In conjunction with this idea and in the spirit of a single statewide transportation agency, my vision is seeing the MBTA "commuter" rail system become a statewide "Massachusetts Regional Passenger Rail" system, connecting together all of our state.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Bike Path for the Boston Urban Ring (Part 1)

Background on the Urban Ring.

Boston's Urban Ring is a proposal for adding circumferntial transit services just outside the central urban core. It is intended to provide direct connections and transfers for destinations in a fast-growing corridor located roughly one to two miles outside the downtown Boston core.

The current stage of planning and environmental review for the Urban Ring is Phase 2. This phase would add a series of bus rapid transit (BRT) routes through the Urban Ring corridor, along with expanded bus routes in the corridor and new transfer connections where the Urban Ring crosses commuter rail lines. The BRT services would connect to all of the MBTA's radial rapid transit lines and commuter rail lines, as well as major bus hubs.

It is estimated that Phase 2 start-up would be about 5 years from now (about 2014).

Proposal: Bike Path Following the Urban Ring

Using existing paths and completing some "missing links" it is possible to create a series of bike paths connecting all the major nodes of the Urban Ring.

In this post, I will focus on the path in the southwestern quadrant of the Urban Ring. See the map below.

    Why a Urban Ring Bike Path?

    Many of the trips within the Urban Ring corridor are relatively short and suitable for biking, if a direct and convenient facility were present.

    In the southwestern quadrant of the Urban Ring (Harvard to BU, MIT to BU and BU/Kenmore to LMA), there are a number of existing paths that can be used for a starting point. This leaves a number of relative short "missing links" to fill in, some of which are already in the planning stages.

    With relatively small segments to complete, this becomes a very "doable" proposal.

    Other supporting arguments include:
    • The Urban Ring will connect a number of colleges and their associated research facilities and hospitals. College students, as a group, are more likely to travel by bike.

    • With all these universities, facilities and hospitals, should not the administrations, faculties, staffs and students "lead by example" and demonstrate how you can get where you're going and get exercise at the same time by biking!

    What Need To Be Done

    The following table summarizes the existing and proposed segments, as shown in the map above.

    Most of the route uses two existing multi-use paths:

    • Paul Dudley White Path (Harvard Sq. to Blandford St.)
    • Park path along the Muddy River from Park Drive south

    Two missing links are needed to connect these existing paths:

    • Blandford Street: possible upgrading with bike lanes or a cycle track; also need an accessible ramp to replace the stairs from Blandford Street up to Beacon Street
    • Parcel 7 Path: this has already been proposed. It would connect Beacon Street near Yawkey Station to Fenway Station (Riverside Line at Park Dr.) and then connect to the existing park path just south of the Park Department's Back Bay Yard.

    Post to be completed at a later date.......

    New Initiatives in Transportation

    This blog will contain practical proposals for improving transportation, focusing on the more "sustainable" modes: walking, bicycling, public transit, and other rail transporation.