Monday, December 31, 2007

Boston's mass transit system can be a useless joke"

I thought this editorial published in the December 29, 2007 issue of Brockton's The Enterprise to be very thought provoking.

The editorial was written to highlight some issues that occurred at the MBTA's Riverside Station, which is where the Green Line's D train starts and finishes. However, the comments could easily have pertained to the commuter rail trains.

Here are some gems from the editorial:
  • These are the days where the MBTA seems to stand for “misery, bureaucracy, torture and arrogance.”
  • "I could have driven through this kind of traffic on my own and at least been comfortable in my own car,” one disgruntled passenger complained. (Seriously, some days on the commuter rail, I have the exact same sentiment).
  • "The big question, though was why passengers were not warned there was no train service before they paid to drive into the Riverside parking lot."
The MBTA and the Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation need to do more to ensure that Boston's mass transit system works!!

Worcester-Framingham Line Inbound P508 Continues to Not Provide On Time Service

I was home sick on Friday. So I didn't have to commute in on the last Friday in 2007.

But I'm feeling better and even with the light snow fall, prepared to go into Boston for work today.

So, I get to the Grafton train station at 7:00 a.m., I check the T website with my Blackberry to make sure the train was on time. Even with the snow, the P508 train was running on time (as of 7 a.m.).

At around 7:30, the train still hadn't come, so I checked the website again and it said the P508 (which departs at 7:19 a.m. from the Grafton station) was canceled and that the next train (I take the P512 b/c the P510 does not service any of the Worcester-area stations) was running 25-30 minutes late!!!

So I said eff that and came home. I am now working from home on the last day of the year. Thankfully my boss is very understanding (as my boss also has to endure the commuter rail dramas, albeit on a different line).

For the last day of 2007, thus far the Worcester-Framingham line's performance is NOT on-time.

I can't wait to see what the December on-time performance rate is. It can't be good!!

New Year's Resolutions for the MBTA and Commuters

Happy Monday! The last Monday of 2007.

I thought this MBTA and Commuters Resolution for 2008 list featured today on BostonNow was appropriate to share this morning. This list provides resolutions for both commuters (such as a big pet peeve of mine - people who feel the need to share their cellphone conversation with the entire commuter rail car) and the MBTA.

This resolutions list charges the MBTA with some big tasks, including making the commuter rail trains run on time (what a novel concept), managing to a budget, and avoiding a fare increase in 2008.

I just hope the commuter rail trains improve their on-time performance rate in 2008. I want the Worcester-Framingham line to go from the worst performing line to the best. Now that would make me look forward to commuting in 2008.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bad Transit

I read about the Bad Transit blog over the weekend. While it looks like the blog hasn't been updated since October, it could become reactivated.

I thought Train Stopping followers would be interested to learn about another resource.

You Can Now Be Heard in the MBTA's Tunnels

Mobile devices will now work in the MBTA's tunnels. If you use either Verizon, T-Mobile or AT&T for your cellphone service, you will now be able to receive calls or text messages when riding on the MBTA transit trains.

Learn more about this new service in this article published in today's Boston Globe.

NJ Commuter Proposes a Viral Notification Service be Instituted within the Commuter Rail System in Massachusetts

I read this interesting article in Monday's Boston Globe (the 12/24/2007 issue).

A New Jersey commuter is trying to change that by taking the MBTA and its operator out of the equation. The idea is simple: harness the collective knowledge of each commuter and share it on cellphones and Blackberries.

What started as maybe a handshake agreement with a couple of my buddies" now involves thousands of riders who use New Jersey Transit, New York's Metro-North rail system, and the Long Island Rail Road, said Joshua Crandall, who founded Clever Commute two years ago.

This free service is being expanded to Boston! While the T just announced a similar program, Joshua Crandall said that "Official knowledge often lags behind the real-life experiences of riders on the tracks and platforms."

This is a great idea - sign me up!

Crandall says transit officials are often more concerned about making excuses for the delays than informing riders, who just want to know how late the schedules are and whether they should adjust their plans. During the Dec. 13 snowstorm that snarled Boston commuters for hours, he adjusted his trip home to Montclair, N.J., after learning from fellow travelers that it was better to take the PATH train to Hoboken. When the storm hit Boston, the MBTA website's service alerts were unavailable for long stretches.

Of course, Mr. MBTA (Daniel A. Grabauskas) said that the T's system "doesn't lag." It is hard to say if the T's service lags or not, but I feel comfortable in knowing that both the T and an unofficial resource are trying to keep commuters posted about service delays.

Here is how Crandall's system works:
  • Riders sign up for free with an e-mail address or a cellphone number on the Clever Commute website, indicating what train line they use.
  • When a rider sees a problem on the tracks, he or she sends an e-mail to Clever Commute, which sends an instant e-mail or text message to every member on that line.
Pretty easy!

Of course, the optimal solution would be to make sure that the MBTA/MBCR work to ensure that the commuter rail service operates at a 95% on-time rate. Since the commuter rail (especially the Worcester-Framingham line) has a long way to go to reach the 95% on-time percentage rate, any service that can keep commuters informed of delays is a good service.

I am interested in trying out the Clever Commute!

MBTA's Charlie Card

An article about the Charlie Card anniversary appeared in the Sunday, December 23rd issue of the Boston Sunday Globe.

The article was mostly complimentary. It focused on how complaints regarding the card have decreased over the past six months. It also explained how the cards are not able to be used on the commuter rail system run jointly by the MBTA/MBCR. Apparently there are plans to enable the cards to be used on the commuter rail line at some point.

Also, some critics of the Charlie Card were quoted in the article. The critics feel that the T could do more to institute flexible fares - charging different rates at different times during the day to encourage ridership and usage of public transportation.

Of course, the T is against that idea. The T also thinks the cards (which cost $192 million to implement and didn't result in any staff reductions) are "successful."

Friday, 12/21 Outbound P529 Worcester-Framingham Commuter Rail

I have been off for the Christmas holiday since Thursday, December 19th. I heard through friends that Friday's evenings outbound commuter rail trains running on the Worcester-Framingham line were extremely delayed.

The P529 train which normally leaves South Station at 6:05 p.m. was at least delayed 1 hour. Some of my friends had spouses (or parents or friends) pick them up from Wellesley and other towns along the commuter rail line.

Since a lot of people were off for the Christmas holiday on Friday and since the weather was normal, I have no idea why the evening trains were so delayed.

If anyone had to commute on the trains on either Friday, Monday or yesterday, please feel free to contact me with updates (both good and bad).

Now it is back to work for me!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Editorial: Funding Mass Transit in Massachusetts published an editorial today written by an advocate for MASSPIRG.

The editorial, Funding mass transit requires difficult choices, provides examples of why commuter rail service to South Coast communities (such as New Bedford and Fall River) is needed. As a voter, I do not understand why the Commonwealth pushed so hard (and for so long) to re-establish the Greenbush commuter rail line (which serves towns included Hingham and Cohasset) to an area that already had ferry and rapid transit service into Boston.

If I had been a state transportation leader, I would have established commuter rail service to Springfield and the South Coast and improved the service on the Worcester, Franklin and Fitchburg lines because that is where the population growth in Massachusetts is occurring and all of these communities are not near rapid transit lines (such as the Green Line and Orange Line trains).

The editorial calls on the Legislature to approve Governor Deval Patrick's transportation bond legislation.

This is a great statement:

When it comes to public transportation, the region's transit network must expand to keep pace with its growing needs. As growth has shifted outward, new passenger rail and other forms of public transportation provide a vital role in connecting people to their workplaces and communities. Public transit allows the clustering of people together around vital centers without choking that vitality in traffic congestion and parking hassles. Anyone lucky enough to use subway or commuter rail instead of being stuck on the roads during the first snowstorm of the season knows what I'm talking about. New England's character and quality of life will be strangled if future growth simply puts more cars on the road.

The editorial also mentioned that no plan is yet in place to balance the MBTA's massive $5.2 billion debt. A third of this debt (roughly $1.7 billion) was due to the Big Dig. Also. the Commonwealth's bipartisan Transportation Finance Commission recently found that the state faces $15 to 19 billion in a transportation funding gap over the next 20 years. That's crazy, huh?

The Transportation Finance Commission has proposed that Massachusetts remove the levy currently imposed on the state's gas tax (which has not seen an increase since 1991). If the state adds a 11.5-cent tax to gas, most Mass. drivers would only seen an additional $66 increase in their annual vehicle expenditures.

As a commuter rail rider, I would not be opposed to seeing the levy unfrozen. However, I have a feeling that my fellow citizens would be in an uproar. People are already complaining about the rising cost in gas over the past two years. An additional tax could send people over the edge.

That being said, it is imperative that the Commonwealth educate its citizens on why a functioning commuter rail service serving the entire state is important. Over time, our home property values and our business opportunities could be negatively impacted if we do not have a sound and reliable mass transportation system.

I hope this is a conversation that engages other Mass. residents in 2008.

A Glorious Commute This Morning on the Commuter Rail

My inbound commute this morning on the Worcester-Framingham line was a Christmas Miracle!! Thankfully this was my last inbound commute until after the Christmas holiday!
  1. The P508 train showed up on time to Grafton at 7:19 a.m.!
  2. There were enough two decker cars for the busiest morning run!
  3. The train moved along at a nice pace, not dawdling at every single stop!
  4. The conductors collected everyone's passes and tickets!
  5. The conductors opened all of the doors!
  6. The conductors were nice!
  7. We made it to Boston almost ON TIME! HALLELUJAH!
  8. The conductors actually wished everyone Happy Holidays and thanked us for riding the crappy T!!! (Of course they didn't say crappy T, but you get the point).
For once, I actually had a better commute than some of my friends and coworkers. I heard driving around the greater-Boston area this morning (especially in and around 495 and on the Mass Pike) was not a lot of fun because of the snow and the extra traffic.

Dare I hope that the commute home will be as smooth and seamless?!? We shall see.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Worcester-Framingham Line - More Terror Tales from the Blogsphere

I've said it once and I'll say it again . . . boy was I lucky that I had to drive into work yesterday. It sounds like the Tuesday, December 18th inbound commute into Boston on the Worcester-Framingham line was a nightmare.

Not that this morning's commute was fun, but at least it wasn't as bad as yesterdays.

Here are some more comments from the blogsphere about this week's commuter rail escapades:

Feel free to send along more posts.

Would anyone care to wager on how late the trains will be for tonight, tomorrow and Friday? The weather people are forecasting snow for tomorrow. Should I work from home? Call in sick? Will I get into Boston on the train? I have no idea.

BostonNow: You can't trust the MBTA

I'm glad that I drove into work yesterday (sorry Anonymous!). However, I still had to deal with this morning's ordeal on my inbound commute into Boston.

Anonymous - those of us on the Worcester-Framingham line are not, unfortunately, the only commuters who are dealing with such horrendous service. I read this post on BostonNow. I don't know who is, but rustoleum, Train Rider (and Anonymous) share your pain.

MBCR/MBTA - when are you going to start running the commuter rail system like professional entities? Both agencies look like political hack-o-ramas!

Today's Worcester-Framingham Line Train P512 Ordeal

This morning I rode into the city on the train that left the Grafton station at 7:49 a.m. (otherwise known as P512). Big mistake!

The train was as pleasant as ever this morning ... no heat in two cars, 15-20 minutes behind schedule, went sloooooowly from Framingham through the Wellesley's.

We arrived at Back Bay at 9:04 a.m. and none of the doors were opened (still part of the working strike?), so the passengers had to do it. I got off at Back Bay and took the Orange Line over to my office. I couldn't stand to sit on the train outside of South Station (Which is what usually happens).

Who even knows what time the train rolled into South Station? Considering it is supposed to reach South Station at 8:59 a.m., no doubt it was late.

The other night, the trains were a mess on the ride home. One of my co-workers said that it was due to lack of conductors.

I wonder if something is still going on?

There were only two conductors on my train this morning. Only one of them was collecting passes and he only did that through West Natick (so that means they didn't collect fares at four stops).

Of course, the Welle$ley people get off scott free for the T fare.

I'm getting fired up! Is anyone else? This is crazy - why should I even bother buying a T pass if (1) the fares aren't getting collected and (2) the train is operating so poorly? I'm tired of subsidizing other people's commutes!

What is the MBTA going to do about it? What is the MBCR going to do about it? Does Governor Patrick even care or is he only concerned about chasing down casinos? What about Worcester-area elected officials - do you care that your constituents are dealing with such a poorly run commuter rail system?

Raise your voice and speak out! We deserve a better commuter rail system.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Monday Outbound to Grafton

I drove into Boston this morning.

The train home last night was about 20 minutes behind schedule. I was on the 5:30 train, so I should have arrived to the Grafton station at 6:45 p.m. Instead I got there at 7:05 p.m., which is only about 10 minutes earlier than if I took the 6:05 p.m. train (assuming that the 6:05 train actually left at 6:05).

South Station was a nightmare last night. ALL the trains were late. I didn't hear an announcement, but someone in my office said that they were told that the commuter rail line was waiting for conductors.

I wonder what the MBTA/MBCR "he said, she said, let's point fingers at everyone" story is on last night's performance? Gee, the story is either (1) union issues with the employees or (2) equipment issues.

So annoying.

Now that we're 18 days into December, I wonder what the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line's on-time performance rate is? Will it be better than November's 58.1% on-time performance rate?

We're at the half-way point for the month, with the Christmas and New Year's holiday approaching. I've got to believe that there will not be a lot of commuters taking the train into town the week of 12/24.

So the Worcester-Framingham line just might generate a decent December on-time performance rate.

Of course, the Q4 performance rate for this line is shot, thanks to its dismal performance in October (a mere 48.4% on-time rate) and December.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday's Horrible Commuter Rail Commute

Well, I'm back on the train gang today.

I had a crappy commute this morning. The train was 15 minutes late to Grafton and by the time we got to South Station it was 9:14 a.m. … when the train should have been there at 8:24.

That's right, we were 50 minutes late in our arrival to South Station.

Thanks MBTA/MBCR for such great service this morning.


You would think the MBTA/MBCR would have been more on top of it considering the roads in Massachusetts were still not so great after yesterday's snow storm, so more people would likely take the train. Especially since the snow turned to ice because of the dip in the temperature.

I'll be submitting for yet another refund.

Friday, December 14, 2007

South Station Train Stop

Hola fellow commuter rail riders! I actually haven't taken a train into town since Monday, due to business trips, personal days, and other engagements. I'm glad I didn't have to commute on the train during yesterday's December snowstorm. I'm sure I didn't miss a good time!

There was an article about South Station posted today on Boston Now. Basically the article touched upon the fact that when one South Station train runs late, it seems to impact all the lines that rely on this transit hub.

Boy, as a Worcester-Framingham commuter rail rider, I've experienced those delays!

South Station is used by both MBCR commuter rail trains and Amtrak trains. Eleven commuter rail lines go into South Station for their Boston stop. While only 1 of North Station's 6 commuter rail lines had a November on-time performance rate of less than 69%, 7 of South Station's 11 commuter rail lines saw on-time performance rates of 69% or worse.

That's right - only 4 of the commuter rail lines that go into South Station exceed 69% on-time performance rates!!

The state claims it is going to be doing something about the problem:

Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen is working to broker an expansion of South Station by taking over the post office next door, but that is likely about six years out, Deputy Secretary Thomas Cahir said.

The article noted that the MBTA meets with Amtrak twice a year to discuss schedule adjustments. What's that - the T actually does something?

But space and schedule adjustments may not be the issue. The issue could lie with the commuter rail dispatching system.

"The dispatching system will help to improve the amount of information available to the train dispatcher so movements can be better planned to avoid conflicts at South Station," Pesaturo said.

That could alleviate the strain, said Himanshu Patel, director of rail market development at Bentley Civil, an international railroad operations consulting firm.

"It's not necessarily a space issue, it's a timing issue," Patel said. "The only way it can be resolved is changing the signal configuration of the network."

Why can't someone figure out what the issue is and fix it?

Oh, that's right, it is a funding issue. In order to fix the dispatching-thingy, the T needs to allocate funds towards it. According to the article, the funding request is not set to go in front of the MBTA's board until February 2008. If the funding goes through, construction on the final phase of the project won't commence until late 2008.

Himanshu Patel noted that, until the project is complete, delays can still occur.

Well, MBTA Board. What are you going to do? When are you going to resolve this issue?

Does this mean that the on-time performance rates are now a MBTA issue instead of a MBCR issue? It seems like the T was heaping a whole lot of blame on the MBCR over the past few weeks. Perhaps the MBCR needs to hold the T accountable to maintaining their end of the deal (whatever that is).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

MBCR/MBTA Commuter Rail News Update

Time for some Train News updates from Train Stopping.

To help spread the word about the ongoing commuter rail issues faced by the riders of the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail lines, I've added links to the following blogs in the "Train News" section:
In the spirit of trying to improve commuter rail service in Massachusetts, feel free to notify me about other relevant news sites and blogs.

Happy Commutes!

Train Rider

"No excuses. It's our responsibility."

The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail's general manager James F. O'Leary was quoted as saying "No excuses. It's our responsibility," in today's Boston Globe article about the contract extension. The article was essentially a longer version of the announcement that appeared yesterday on

The new three-year deal that the MBCR has to run the commuter rail system will cost the MBTA $700 million.

The Boston Herald did not publish an article about the MBCR's contract extension, but Boston Now did. The Boston Now article even had a great headline "Better late than not at all."

That's right, everyone. The MBCR is getting awarded a contract extension, even though commuter rail service can best be described as "tardy." Fantastic!

And the MBTA went to bat to make sure the MBCR received their contract extension, even though the T acknowledge that the commuter rail overseer did not live up to their initial contract expectations.

One state rep (who represents a town impacted by the Worcester-Framingham line that I ride) was quoted in the Boston Now article.

State Rep. Alice Hanlon Peisch, D-Wellesley, said she "is frustrated with trying to explain delays to angry constituents."

"There seems to be some mystery here," she said. "The trains used to run on time."

I absolutely agree. I challenge my state rep (Jennifer Callahan) and state senator (Richard Moore) to work with Rep. Hanlon Peisch to start holding the MBTA/MBCR accountable to the ongoing commuter rail delays. Unless, that is, our elected officials like to explain why the commuter rail is constantly delayed to their angry constituents.

So in return for the contract extension, the MBCR is now required to submit quarterly performance reports to the MBTA. Quarterly - what about monthly? The MBCR is also going to be required to refurbish coaches and increase their workplace diversity.

The Boston Globe article noted that only one MBTA Board Member raised significant reservations about extending the MBCR's contract. Baron H. Martin, a retired judge, did vote to renew the contract despite his concerns. However, he went on record as saying:

"Isn't that the same thing they agreed to in the beginning? (referring to the original MBCR contract) They didn't do it. What's changed?"

I would love to know who the MBTA Board members are and how they got their appointments.

Since the vote took place yesterday afternoon, MBTA commuter rail riders were not present at the meeting to voice our concerns over the commuter rail system. That is probably because we were at work.

The MBTA board can decide before 2011 to either solicit new bids or extend the MBCR's contract another two years. The T feels the MBCR should receive more time to improve service delivery. Why? Because they've shown they've done such a fantastic job since they acquired the contract from Amtrack? I don't want to sound like Howie Carr from the Herald, but what is the MBTA? A hackarama?

Perhaps both the T and the Patrick administration are hackaramas. The Globe article closed with this:

Bernard Cohen, the transportation secretary who chairs the MBTA board, left the room during yesterday's debate and did not vote because he worked for Mass. Bay Commuter in 2003, just after it took over the service. He also worked for O'Leary in the 1980s, when O'Leary was general manager of the MBTA.OK, MBCR. You got your contract extension. Now prove to the 72,000 commuter rail riders (and the tax payers of Massachusetts) that you deserved this extension. I'm looking forward to a better commuter rail experience.

Monday, December 10, 2007

MBTA Board Extends MBCR's Commuter Rail Contract

This just in . . . from MBTA board extends commuter rail contract despite train delays.

I'm not surprised. The news coverage from the past few days all but implied that the MBTA was going to renew the MBCR's contract.

Even though 3 out of 10 trains were late in October and November 2007, the MBCR is getting another three years to run the commuter rail trains in Massachusetts. The original contract was supposed to expire in July 2008.

A priceless quote:

The rail company has vowed to improve service and officials have said that many problems were beyond its control -- including delays on a set of tracks dispatched by another railroad company.

The MBCR is going to improve the commuter rail service? Really? What's their incentive? They performed less than mediocre in regards to the original $1.07 billion contract. So now they're actually going to try to "improve" the performance. I'll believe it when I see it.

This sounds like more of the same for Massachusetts politics. I'm really disappointed that the MBCR got to continue their contract, without firm improvement goals set into place. Well, if there are improvement goals, no one yet knows what they will be.

I really hope that the Patrick administration, the current Mass. state House and Senate, and federally elected officials hold the MBTA/MBCR accountable.

I also hope that I'm not going to be receiving a nice fare hike in 2008. That would not be optimal.

I'm sure there will be more news about the contract extension in tomorrow's newspapers.

Monday's Commute

Another Monday in Massachusetts, another day of inclimate weather.

Last night's rain turned into freezing rain this morning. The roads weren't too bad ... the worst one was my driveway and the T parking lot. I nearly fell flat on my face at the Grafton station's parking lot, it was so icy. Nice job sanding there T staff!!

Why do I have to pay for parking if the parking lot can't be maintained? Plus, with the icy roads, more people rely on the train because they don't want to drive unless they really have to.

Oh, the train was LOVELY today ... NOT.

Let's see ... we got stuck behind another train out of Framingham, so we were practically crawling through MetroWest .... we got to South Station at 9:35 (for a 9:00 arrival).

Oh well, at least another $15.50 in reimbursements will be coming my way.

At least I won't be taking the train again until Thursday. I have a business trip in NYC tomorrow. Let's see - will the Shuttle get me to NYC faster than the commuter rail gets be to Boston? We'll just have to wait and see.

Reimbursement Bonanza

I have gotten 11 envelopes in mail from the T over the last two weeks ... at $15.50 a pop, that's almost $170 in reimbursements.

When I turned in 6 of them last week, the T employee said "this is ridiculous, how about having the trains on time instead of wasting money by reimbursing passengers."

Um, heck yeah!

Letters to the Editor

File under "better late than never."

The following "Letter to the Editor" ran in Saturday's Boston Globe.

Paul Konstadt of Salem and Penny Vaugh from Needham wrote a letter in response to the 11/29/2007 article titled "COMMUTER rail firm vows better service" and the 11/30/2007 article titled "Engineered Delays."

Both Paul and Penny voiced some sound concerns.

Let's make some noise! We deserve better, more reliable commuter rail service.

Continued Commuter Rail Coverage

Much like the Boston Globe, yesterday's Boston Herald also ran an article about the Commuter Rail.

Boston’s suburban commuter rail service one of least reliable pretty much said everything noted in the Globe.

There was also a post this morning on Boston Now regarding the poor performance.

Any news is good news if it gets the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to issue some changes. I just hope the changes aren't a fare hike.

Boston Sunday Globe Cover Story

In yesterday's Boston Sunday Globe, there was a cover story about commuter rail service in Massachusetts.

In "Mass. rail cheaper, but less reliable," Globe reporters compared the reliability and cost of the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail service against Chicago's Metra, New York's Metro-North, New Jersey Transit's commuter rail, and the Long Island Rail Road. Commuter rail service in Massachusetts trails the service of these other major transit systems.

While other states experience an on-time performance rate of 94% or higher, commuter rail riders in Massachusetts are more likely to only get an 84.5% on-time performance rate.

The MBTA is expected to vote today on the long-term contract status to the MBCR, the private

"According to two sources familiar with the negotiations, the MBTA staff is prepared to recommend a three-year extension, two years less than the company is seeking but more than the minimum necessary to make the transition to a new operator.

Even if dissatisfied with the service, the MBTA board will have to extend the contract at least another two years, because it would take that long to solicit and evaluate competitive bids on a new pact and then turn over the complex operation to a new operator, according to MBTA general manager Daniel A. Grabauskas."

I love this quote. No doubt, the rider experiences the Worcester-Framingham line, albeit from one of the closer stops. I've experienced this many times in my attempt to commute on the commuter rail:

"They're going to give these guys an extended contract? It's unbelievable," said Ned Abelson, 51, a Wellesley resident who said he drove to work Tuesday after 25 frustrating minutes on the platform that included two different posted reasons for train delays and a train that sped by without stopping.

Of course, you get what you pay for (or in this case - what the MBTA will pay for), It costs 29 cents per passenger mile to run the commuter rail in Massachusetts, while the same cost per passenger mile in Chicago is 31 cents, NJ is 33 cents, NY Metro-North is 46 cents, and the LIRR is 49 cents.

The article noted that Boston, in comparison to other metro areas, also has a lower commuter rail ticket price. I hope this means that the MBTA/MBCR aren't going to raise fares yet again to try to "improve" performance. I'm paying more than I have ever paid, yet the performance continues to decrease.

Our regional commuter rail service, which carries 72,000 passengers round trip every day, is the largest US service run by a private company. The article discussed the political/personal ties between the MBTA and MBCR. The MBCR's general manager, James O'Leary, is quoted as saying:

"(The) Massachusetts Bay Commuter has performed well over the life of the contract, despite workforce problems and an old fleet of trains.

You need to look at what we've accomplished over the last 4 1/2 years," O'Leary said. "We basically have achieved what the T has asked for."

Wow! How do I get a job where a poor performance is considered a good performance. If the trains are old, Mr. O'Leary, then where is the plan to replace them?

As for the delays, they're blamed on the same revolving cast of characters - old trains, worker retaliation (i.e, the silent strike), the completion of the Greenbush line, CSX, and maintenance problems.

I found it interesting that the NJ Transit system must use tracks owned by Amtrak, yet on-time performance issues don't seem to occur with the frequency that they occur on the Worcester-Framingham line. I think the MBTA/MBCR needs to hire some of the NJ Transit leaders. NJ Transit was quoted as saying:

The key to keeping those trains on-time is slotting them correctly so they do not lose their spot in the order to an Amtrak train.

Wow! What a concept!!! On-time slotting. Wow!

The article closed by remarking that fares went up in January 2007, right when performance started to really hit the skids.

Come on train riders, let's start voicing our outrage. We are paying too much money (both in fares and in taxes) to have substandard service.

If you care to become involved in the discussion, is running a message board focused on commuter rail performance. The message board can be found at

Get involved - voice your opinions!!!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Petition to the MBTA

I just found a Petition to the MBTA on the Importance of Dessert blog. This is great. This is something I would definitely sign because I agree with the petition's points.

Commuter Rail Riders - we need to unite to improve the service!

Brrr for the Inbound Ride

Well, at least it is Friday!

This morning's inbound train ride in was okay.

NO heat in my car again. Brrrr.

I think we were close enough to our schedule, maybe 5-10 minutes off. I remember looking at my watch, it was 8:19 a.m. and we weren't quite to the Back Bay Station yet. Our scheduled arrival time at Back Bay is supposed to be at 8:18 a.m. So I think we were at South Station by 8:30-ish a.m. or so.

It is really cold out.

Missed Editorial

I missed an editorial that ran in the Thursday, November 29th edition of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. This particular editorial suggests that the Worcester City Council work to promote an expanded commuter rail service.

I would agree with that and take it a step further - the Worcester City Council along with the town governments of area towns (such as Grafton, Sutton, Millbury, Shrewsbury, Westborough, Southborough, Northborough, Hopkinton, Upton, Northbridge, Auburn, and Boylston) should all be working in conjunction with state elected officials to demand that the commuter rail service on the Worcester-Framingham line (1) improve a dismal on-time performance rate and (2) increase the number of trips servicing this line.

This was the best quote from the editorial:
The Patrick administration has been fully occupied with the launch of commuter service Southeastern Massachusetts recently. Now, it should concentrate on concluding the long-running talks with CSX and providing Central Massachusetts and MetroWest commuters with the 20-train schedule they need.

I absolutely, 100% agree. As a Massachusetts tax payer, I have no idea why the Commonwealth focused so much on adding a commuter rail line to an area that (1) didn't want a commuter rail line and (2) ddn't need it.

Governor Deval Patrick certainly campaigned hard in Central Massachusetts. Why is he ignoring us now? And Lt. Governor Tim Murphy is a Worcester native and currently lives in Central Mass. What about doing something for Worcester and the surrounding towns?

Wrong-way trend

There was an editorial in yesterday's Worcester Telegram & Gazette regarding the poor performance of the commuter rail line that services the Worcester area.

While I think the editorial could have been stronger, at least it was the lead editorial on yesterday's Commentary page.

The editorial highlighted the following:
  • The decline in on-time performance for the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line.
  • CSX's maintenance work for the line concluded on October 10th, yet the November 2007 on-time performance was at 58
  • The Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line is one of the most used lines in the system and that more commuters than ever are riding on this line.
  • That the line needs more than 10 trips a day.
I thought this particular comment was very educating:
The state has conducted extended negotiations with CSX to acquire the right-of-way so that more trains can be added to the inadequate 10-train schedule that has prevailed for years. Officials familiar with the talks say liability is the sticking point because the freight hauler has insisted on being indemnified by the state for any accident, regardless of fault.
The editorial closed with this line:
But the slumping on-time record on the Worcester line underscores the need to wrap up the negotiations with all prudent speed.
Agreed. I hope the elected officials from Central Massachusetts can help expedite the negotiations. The Worcester-area is dependent upon a well performing mass transit system.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Happy Birthday, Charlie Card

The MBTA's CharlieCard program celebrated its first birthday yesterday. According to the Boston Herald, the CharlieCard is going to be rolled out to commuter rail trains and T parking facilities.

I can't wait to see how this works!

The Herald said:
The MBTA’s goal is to allow customers to drive to a commuter rail parking lot, take a commuter rail train into North or South Station and then hop onto the subway or a bus - using a CharlieCard to pay for each leg of the trip.

That sounds good in theory, but how is it going to work? Does this mean we'll slide our CharlieCards into a card reader before getting onto the commuter rail train platform? How about when we board the trains at North or South Station? Will they eliminate conductors because of the CharlieCard?

Of course, we don't know how it is going to work or when it is going to be rolled out. That is b/c the T doesn't know.
The exact timetable for the full rollout depends on what systems the MBTA comes up with to accept CharlieCard payments, but the expansion will start with a single commuter line for testing purposes. The MBTA is soliciting the help of a consulting firm to oversee design and implementation of the new systems and their integration with current CharlieCard technology.

This is going to be very interesting.

Rail officials say service improving

An article from today's Boston Now about rail service in Massachusetts.

The article's lead was that commuter rail trains have had three consecutive months of "worsening" service. Indeed!

But the best part of the article: "However, state transportation officials say they want results, not excuses. At an MBTA Board of Directors meeting Monday, officials say they plan to seek a commitment from MBCR to meet specific standards of service."

Let's hope the state pushes the MBTA and the MBCR to improve the commuter rail service.

Supposedly performance for the later part of November 2007 improved slightly for the commuter rails.

The Worcester-Framingham line had a 48.4% on-time performance rate for October 2007, while the November 2007 on-time performance rate increased slightly to 58.1%.

Sure, the on-time performance rate increased in November, but it didn't even increase by 10%. Plus I wonder if the low-volume of rider traffic on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving and Black Friday contribute to the increase? And does it matter that November has one less day than October?

In reviewing the stats in the Boston Now article, it looks like the Lowell line's riders have it the best. Their on-time performance rate for October and November was 93.0% and 88.0% respectively. The Lowell line was the best performing line in both months. What I wouldn't give for on-time performance stats like Lowell's.

Still, not one line even reached the MBTA's/MBCR's guaranteed performance rate of 95%.

So which line was the worst performing line? Surprise, surprise, it wasn't the Worcester-Framingham line (which came in 3nd). It was the Franklin via Fairmount line with a dismal 36.2% which gets the honor for October, while the Needham line (with a 47.3% performance rate) earns the victory for November.

It looks like the Needham line's issues have been resolved. The MBTA/MBCR needsd to resolve the issues for Worcester-Framingham, along with Fairmount, Fairmount via Franklin and Fitchburg lines.

Hmm. Is this some type of Central Massachusetts conspiracy? How come the Central Mass. lines are in the bottom of the heap from a performance standpoint? Our towns are all paying the requisite MBTA fees. So give us better service!

Chilly Willy

This morning's inbound commute was OK.

I think the heat wasn't working in the first car, although I can't be sure. I just noticed everyone who was standing to board the first car had to come to my car.

We ended up sitting outside of BU for about 10 minutes because we had a red signal for some reason. Random delays.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Money, Money

One good thing. I got four more refunds in the mail yesterday. When I turn them in, I'll be receiving $93.00 back for 6 round trips. Sweet!

I received two refunds the other day.

Although, I still would like the trains to arrive on-time.


It is a brisk 20 degrees outside, so I don't know why I thought that today's commute wouldn't be extra long.

I'm blogging from the train. We're stopped in Framingham. There are two trains ahead of us, one of which is broken down at Natick. So we're sitting and waiting ... Going to be a lovely day on the train. NOT!

Joy oh joy, we get to pick up two trains full of people (the broken down ones). Yay!

If the T knows that trains are broken, why can't they coordinate efforts with their buses and bus people in from the other stations (such as Natick). But noooo, instead they'll just keep on loading up the train I'm on and move people slowly into the city.

It is going to be a long commute!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Just a quick note . . . I finally received my refunds in the mail the other day for service delays from a few months ago. Going to turn those puppies in for cash on my way home tonight. At $15.50 a pop and with all the delays, that is money that I'm not going to turn away.

Also, I'm wondering where the big report is that the Lt. Governor alluded to last week? I'm dying to read it.

Surprise, Surprise (well, not really)

Today's Worcester Telegram & Gazette ran an article about how the Worcester-Framingham line had the worst performance out of all the commuter rail lines in 2007.


Well, not really. As a commuter on this line, I do not find this shocking or surprising. I've lived through the delays this year.

Just for the month of November 2007 alone, while all the other lines had 69% on-time performance (which is pretty bad), the Worcester-Framingham line experienced a dismal 57% on-time performance rate.

Thus far in 2007, the Worcester-Framingham line has had an on-time performance rate of 78%. In 2005 and 2006 the on-time performance rate was 86%. Yikes!!

A MBCR spokesperson gave the following quote: "Historically the Framingham-Worcester line has performed the worst and continues to perform well below the overall system."

Unfortunately for those of us who rely on this line to commute into Boston, weekday peak ridership on the Worcester-Framingham line continues to increase. Nearly 11,000 commuters took the train in October 2007 (10,991 to be exact), while in May 2005 10,094 commuters were on this line. I'm sure the increase in gas prices and the fact that the auto traffic into Boston is horrific are two main reasons why more people are commuting by train. I know that the $250 pass (for the Grafton stop at least) isn't what is drawing people to the commuter rail.

The Worcester-Framingham line is one of the best used lines in the Commuter Rail system. I love how the citizens who actually use the train and rely on this service (for lack of other options) are being forced to endure pretty poor service.

The blame game continues. During most of 2007, CSX has been replacing 33,000 rail tires on the Worcester-Boston line. The maintenance work was supposed to be done at night, so commuters weren't impacted. But for whatever reason, the worked backed up into the daylight hours, impacting commuters.

A CSX has this to say about the maintenance work: ""This was major work. We did almost all of this work at night. Normally when we do maintenance work like this - heavy work where you are replacing a lot of rail and thousands of crossties - it's work that you do during the day."

Excuses, excuses.

Supposedly the maintenance work was completed on October 12th. So if the maintenance worked finished almost two months ago, why was the November on-time performance so dismally bad?

The alphabet organizations (CSX, MBCR, MBTA) meet several times a week to "determine" the causes of the delays. No one will say what exactly is causing the delays. Wow - talk about a waste of time. I know if I had to meet several times a week on a work matter that wasn't resolved, I would be pretty upset.

If the on-time performance rate is supposed to be at 95% and the Worcester line has never really done better than an 83% on-time performance rate, why won't someone figure out why the performance is so bad?

Central Massachusetts cities and towns should be up in arms about this poor performance rate. With the declining cost of housing in Massachusetts, why would someone move to Central Massachusetts if they could purchase a comparable house somewhere else in the state? So often I see real estate ads touting a home's proximity to a commuter rail station (whether the home is near the Worcester, Grafton, Westborough or Southborough station) as a key selling point.

If commuter rail service continues to perform as poorly as it did in 2007 and if real estate prices continue to drop, Central Massachusetts could be severely impacted.

I want to see the government officials in Worcester, Millbury, Grafton, Shrewsbury, Sutton, Westborough, Southborough, Hopkinton, Upton, and Northbridge come together to force some changes for the Worcester-Framingham line. The success of the Central Mass. region is dependent on a sound commuter rail service.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Easy, Breezey Commute

Due to the inclimate weather, I am working from home today. This has been my easiest commute in months.

I made the decision to work from home early this morning, after I listened to the Boston traffic reports. Since both my manager and my company are very accommodating, I got a jump start on my work day. Instead of rolling into work late, I was able to log in and start working while I would still either be (1) waiting for the train or (2) riding on the train.

I hope everyone who had to commute in this morning had a manageable commute. I guess the winter weather has officially started. Here's to a good commute this winter.

If anyone did ride the trains in this morning, feel free to share an update about the commute.

MBTA Commuter Rail Still Running Late

An article was published in the Dec. 2nd issue of the Metro West Daily News about commuter rail delays. November was the fourth consecutive month of commuter rail delays.

In this article, the MBTA's General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said " Wet leaves on tracks result in slowed-down trains this time of year." Um, it really didn't rain that much this fall. Plus, if this happens every fall, then plan for it and make sure the tracks are cleared of "wet leaves."

Grabauskas was also quoted as saying "“I understand there have been a number of different factors leading to the pretty rapid and steep decline in on-time performance across the system,” he said. “The specifics I am not privy to.” He "defers questions to the MBCR, which says it is working hard to identify causes of the delays and to improve relations with unionized conductors and employees."

I've said it before and I'll say it again - nice way to pass the buck and extend the blame game MBTA/MBCR management.

This article also contained some quotes from union representatives. The conductors are represented by the United Transportation Union. A spokesperson from the UTU said "workers are, however, constricted by new safety regulations put into effect following a fatal train accident in Woburn earlier this year." THe UTU represents 400 conductors and 200 engineers.

George Casey, the union rep, also said " “If a train becomes late, we can’t run faster than the rules require us or provide for us to do.” No wonder people get upset at unions. Find a solution!!

Just to keep track, here is a summary of recent on-time performance stats:

On-time performance for MBTA commuter trains

  • Nov. 2007: 69.2 percent
  • Oct. 2007: 68.2 percent
  • Sept. 2007: 71.8 percent
  • August 2007: 79.9 percent
  • Oct. 2006: 90.9 percent
Check out the big decline between October 2006 (which still wasn't at the lauded 95% performance metric that the T touts) and October 2007. That is inexcusable. They should be put on a performance improvement plan.

I would love to see a report illustrating the loss in revenue tied to the decline in performance.