Thursday, January 31, 2008

Train Stopping Blog Update

I am going to be traveling out of the country for a few weeks on an extended business trip. Tomorrow will be my last day riding the commuter rail trains until I return in mid-February.

Since I am dedicated to this blog and because I'm going to be in a time zone that essentially puts me almost a day ahead of EST time, a friend of mine who loves to stay abreast on a medley of current events, will be posting news or blog articles about the MBTA/MBCR/Commuter Rail trains during my absence.

Watch for submissions from Commute-a-holic. Commute-a-holic once rode the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line into Boston, so we have a person sympathetic to the travesties of daily commuter rail commuting in our corner. However, during my absence it would be fantastic if everyone could provide updates on what is happening (commuting wise) on the commuter rail lines.


Train Rider

Today's Commute and WiFi Buzz

My commute this morning:

Took the P508 out of Grafton. We got into Back Bay Station at 8:23 a.m. The scheduled arrival time is supposed to be 8:18 a.m. I took the Orange Line from Back Bay to my office.

Apparently a lot of riders on the Worcester-Framingham line are intersted in the Wi-Fi. I heard at least three people ask about it. But the conductor in my car said "he had no idea about the details surrounding and the MBTA didn't tell them anything," so it's like trial and error to figure out which car actually has it. Once again - the T rolls this thing out in a half-a$$ way.

The MBTA/MBCR Blame Game

Both BostonNOW and The Boston Globe ran articles over the past 24 hours about the broken bridge that connects Beverly and Salem together on the Newburyport-Rockport commuter rail line.

I particularly enjoyed BostonNOW's snarky title: "It takes a train to cry." The BostonNOW article cut to the chase - instead of working together in a professional manner to try to fix the bridge and restore service, the inbred MBTA and MBCR (the agencies charged with public transportation and the commuter rail system) are just pointing fingers at each other. Sure, as Americans, this is what we've become used to in terms of what the Democratic and Republican parties based in Washington, DC do. But is it so wrong to expect a bit more out of two public-serving agencies?

To quote a quote, this is what BostonNOW highlighted:

Scott Farmelant, spokesman for the MBCR, says the fleet is just old. The MBTA has ordered 75 new coaches, but they take years to manufacture and won’t be up and running until 2011.

And then there are the locomotives. Farmelant says the average age of the MBTA’s locomotives is 18 years. Most locomotives have a shelf life of 12-13 years before they need a major overhaul to keep them in service for a while longer. And that work just hasn’t been done.

But MBTA spokesman Pesaturo says if that’s the MBCR’s story, it’s just nonsense. Pesaturo says they knew exactly what they were getting when they signed their $1 billion contract.

Nice! Obviously these people never watched Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and they don't know diddly abut cooperation.

The article published today on The Boston Globe/ is more "just about the facts." But this quote, from commuter Jason Rose, is outstanding:
"I just can't understand why the fares keep going up when service just hasn't improved and the T still complains about losing money," Rose said.
Well said!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Boston Herald: MBTA Lost $55 Million in "Interest Rate Swaps"

Memo to the T: Instead of engaging in "interest rate swaps" to decrease your budget deficit, how about just trying to run the commuter rail lines, transit trains and buses on time and to a budget? Would that be THAT difficult to do?

Read more about how the T spent $86 million in making "investments" at firms including Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, yet only netted $31 million from the Wall Street money houses.

Now will the legislator and the governor do something to reprimand the T? Who knows!!

State Auditor Joseph DeNucci said that the T got a little "too creative" with their financing.

Of course, since the T cannot admit that they make ANY mistakes, they're defending their investing practices. However, DeNucci had this to say:
The rate swaps were highly speculative, risky and complex, and have proven costly to riders who are paying increased fares and taxpayers who subsidize the MBTA.
What utterly stupid shenanigans.

Our elected officials should be investigating this AND cleaning house at the MBTA. There have got to be better financial managers and better transit leaders out there.

Inbound Commute and WiFi

The commute was fine this morning.

I took the 7:49 a.m. train (P512) out of Grafton. We were at Back Bay at 8:57 a.m. I think this made us a few minutes behind schedule.

Interesting observation/comment. . . my seat mate was asking the conductor about Wi-Fi . I guess it's only in certain cars on certain trains. Anyhoo, the conductor kind of went off . She said something like "why do you think the T is spending this money? To appease you when the trains are late! Why not use the money to fix doors that are broken or update the HVAC units? It's a waste."

AMEN to that sister!

Hey MBTA - if you want to improve the commuter rail experience AND increase ridership, how about just getting us to our destination on time most of the time. We're not looking for all these bells and whistles - we just want to get to work on time and we want to get home on time.

MBTA/MBCR Greenbush Commuter Rail Line is Empty

Due to being busy at work, I didn't have time to post an article about the new Greenbush line that ran on the front page of the printed Boston Globe newspaper yesterday.

Why the Globe is writing about the underused Greenbush line instead of all the on-time performance issues plaguing other lines is beyond me. Perhaps the MBTA actually has a stellar staff of PR professionals that are good at pitching stories.

For $513 million, the Greenbush riders get to ride an empty train. How sweet for them! In December the MBTA said there were 1,368 rider. A third of the riders of this line weren't new to mass transit commuting. While the line was built to try to get more cars off of the traffic plagued South Shore highways (like Route 3 and Route 93), the riders seem to be converts who used to take the commuter boats out of Hingham.

Since the T is so fantastic at managing and initiating strategic planning, this didn't surprise me at all:
The line was projected to attract about 4,300 daily commuters within three to five years of opening, but the T says it never estimated how many riders the line would attract before that.
Fantastic!! Shouldn't they have estimated ridership before spending all the time and money trying to build a line no one really wanted in the first place?

The T doesn't want to be held accountable to any "conclusions" about the effectiveness of this line until 2010. Where can I get a job where I can launch a massive project and not be held accountable until 3 years after the projects go-live date?

Ultimately the Greenbush line's performance could impact whether communities like New Bedford and Fall River gain a commuter rail line. Honestly - the T and the state of Massachusetts should have launched a commuter rail line where (1) a line didn't exist before and (2) where the only commuting options really consist of driving a car into Boston.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Worcester-Framingham Commuter Rail Line will Pilot WiFi

I did not take the train into town this morning because I am on a business trip.

Even though I'm out of town, I'm still interested in train related issues. So when I started seeing articles about how the Worcester-Framingham line is going to pilot the MBTA's WiFi program, my first thought wasn't "Sweet! I can surf the web while riding the rails," it was "Does this mean we'll never get to Boston on time and they need to find a reason to justify poor performance to all of our companies?"

Since WiFi can attract a lot of attention, most of the major media outlets in Boston covered this announcement - The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, BostonNOW, and TV stations. Heck, even wrote an article.

The pilot officially starts this Wednesday. The MBTA is claiming they are the first in the nation to be able to roll out WiFi technology to riders. The agency has spent $260,000 - 262,000 on installing WiFi across the 45 miles of track between Worcester and Boston. Supposedly service is available across the entire 45 miles, but then again this is the same agency that can't seem to get trains into Boston on time. Posters will notify riders that they are on a WiFi car (does this mean people will be extend their fights beyond who has to sit in the middle seat?).

And now we get to the heart of why I'm not so excited about this, as written by The Boston Globe:

The MBTA says 18,000 passengers rely on the Worcester/Framingham line on a typical weekday. It has been plagued by delays in recent months, largely because it is the only line dispatched by CSX Transportation, which also runs freight on the line.

Because bandwidth is limited, the T is also looking at technology that would limit how much bandwidth individual commuters can use so the signal spreads among more people. That could mean commuters would have to wait until they get to work to download videos.

This should be interesting.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Train Stopping on Fox25 News

The Train Stopping blog was featured last night on the Fox25 News. Sweet.
Does it feel like you're waiting for the train longer lately? Have you got the commuter blues? If so, you're not alone. In fact, there's a whole community online venting about the same thing. FOX25's Jim Armstrong reports from Canton with more.
Jim Armstrong and Fox25 - thanks for reporting on the commuter rail issue. I'm venting about the issues because I want to see commuter rail service restored.


Thursday and Friday Commutes

Let's see . . .

The didn't collect passes on Wednesday night's outbound train from Boston.

The Thursday inbound P508 commute arrived at Back Bay station at 8:24 a.m. instead of the schedule 8:18 a.m. arrival time. We pulled into South Station at 8:30 a.m. instead of 8:24 a.m. The train was about 5 minutes behind schedule . . . does that count for the on time service stats for January?

Outbound P529 6:05 p.m. commute Thursday night was long. The 6:05 p.m. train is supposed to be double cars, but they were all single cars, so it took twice as long to disembark. They did not collect passes last night. The train cars were packed . We were 15-20 minutes behind schedule. The conductor must have made up time absolutely speeding through Newton/Wellesley.

This morning's P508 inbound commute was also delayed. We arrived at back bay at 8:28 (scheduled arrival time 8:18).

Just LOVE the commuter rail!!! (NOT)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Today's P512 Inbound Commute

My commute was fun this morning. Nothing to report, really.

I was tired, so I slept the whole way in.

I took the 7:49 a.m. train from Grafton (otherwise known as the P512) and got to Back Bay Station a little before 9:00 a.m. The P512's schedule states that it arrives into Back Bay Station at 8:54 a.m., so we were pretty much on-time.

From Back Bay Station, I then took the Orange Line over to my office.

In other news, the Boston Herald published this article this morning about the state's "ailing" bridges and roads. I know just in and around Central Massachusetts, there are bridges that have been shut down for a few years (and some bridges that will probably be shut down). The article noted that there are approximately 500 "structurally deficient" bridges throughout the Commonwealth. Yikes!

While the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority is "only" $2 billion in debt, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (the good ole MBTA) is $8 billion in debt. Ouch.

On a bridge-related note: supposedly the Newburyport-Rockport commuter rail line is "back to normal" service. The T made another round of repairs to the rail bridge that links Beverly to Salem. In news reports, commuter rail riders on this lined were bused at various times to ensure that the bridge repairs could be made.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

MBTA/MBCR P508 Inbound Commuter Rail Train 22 Mins. Late Today

My commute this morning can be described in one word: (it) sucked.

I think the P508 inbound train was 1 to 2 cars short, so everyone was jammed on the train.

We were 22 minutes late into South Station (the train's scheduled arrival time is supposed to be 8:24 a.m.; the actual arrival time was 8:46 a.m.). The train was going 10 miles an hour from Wellesley through Newton and into Boston.

So I'm 0 for 1 for a late commute this week. Since it is January 22nd, I cannot imagine that the Worcester-Framingham line will hit its "on time" performance guarantee for January 2008.

Tough Times on the Newburyport-Rockport Commuter Rail Line

While watching the news on WHDH Channel 7 this morning, I heard that the 6:30 a.m. inbound train on the Newburyport-Rockport commuter rail line was going to be cancelled this morning due to the ongoing issues with the bridge linking Salem and Beverly. The rest of the trains on this line are supposed to be running, albeit with 15 minute delays.

I wonder if the delays were "only" 15 minutes or if they were longer.

As a rider on the delayed-plagued Worcester-Framingham line, I feel for the Newburyport-Rockport commuters.

Monday, January 21, 2008

2009 Massachusetts Fiscal Budget and the MBTA

My company is closed today because of Martin Luther King Day. So I do not have a commuter rail update to share.

However, I thought a post regarding the 2009 Fiscal Budget for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts made this morning the Massachusetts Liberal blog was worth sharing.

In "Massachusetts Liberal: T is for Truth" some excellent points about the MBTA in relationship to the larger state budget were made.
What will be missing from what minimal media attention there might be is a look at one of the largest consumers of state sales tax revenues -- the MBTA -- and how that operation is meeting its public obligations.

Lost amid the hype of CharlieCards and the constant image of Smilin' Dan Grabauskas asking to hear from riders is a deep look at what kind of job the T is doing with our money. It's been one year since fares were raised and I continue to search in vain in the Globe and Herald for signs of what that has meant in terms of revenues and ridership.

If you dig deep enough though, it's there. But the fiscal management of the MBTA should be as much a part of the discussion the state transportation future as the Turnpike Authority and the Big Dig and not hidden away in green eyeshade documents to be used as sleep potions.
The most telling comment:
Yet despite the infusion of more than $50 million in revenue and just a $4 million jump in expenses, the MBTA's operating loss rose to $881,265,000 compared to $879,572,000 the previous year.
The MBTA needs to be held accountable for its budget and it needs to operate this large transportation system in a fiscally responsible manner.

In other news about MBTA mismanagement, The Gloucester Daily Times published an editorial today regarding how the MBTA should have repaired the bridge connecting Rockport and Ipswich in 1984 when the bridge had to be replace. This is crazy!!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Non-Train News: The Pats are Going to Super Bowl XLII

Woo-hoo . . . the New England Patriots are going to face the winner of the Green Bay/Giants match-up in Super Bowl XLII.


Whew! Amtrak Strike's Off.

Now for some good news . . . it is official . . . the Amtrak strike is a no go!!

If Amtrak workers called for their first strike in 36 years, 25 to 40 percent of daily commuter rail riders who use South Station lines would have been impacted.

Thankfully we will not need to witness the chaos that the strike would have caused.

Read all about how the transportation crisis was all averted in this article.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Worcester Commuter Rail Line Critics

I noticed two more blogs about the ineffectiveness of the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail trains of late, in particular the Worcester-Framingham line.

Hudi wrote a great post that not only mentioned that the Worcester-Framingham line is never even close to the "on-time-performance" mark, but how even the parking lots on this line haven't been cleared of snow/ice.

It appears as though Hudi boards the train from the Grafton station (just like me). Either on Tuesday or Wednesday, when I got to the parking lot my space was covered over with snow and ice so I couldn't determine the parking space number. Throughout the day, the snow/ice melted, so instead of getting a snow envelope (where you just pay the $2), I got the surcharge, but it's the principle. Clear the parking lot and shovel the sidewalks!

As Hudi notes:
"There are 373 parking spaces in Grafton, assuming that 350 spaces are used per day at $2 each that's $700 per day x 20 days per month x 12 months per year = $168,000. There should be more than enough money to pay for the upkeep of the parking lot and pay the attendant who picks up the money."

The other blog about the Worcester-Framingham line has a great title (that should pull up in search engine results): MBCR Worcester Line - Daily On Time Performance.

I am loving all the activity around publicizing the performance issues plaguing the Worcester-Framingham line. I hope that if the noise continues, people who can make a difference (such as business leaders and elected officials) can start to institute some improvements.

In other news, the Boston Metro reports that the Greenbush line's ridership numbers lag behind other lines. The T is still so proud that this line launched. I still think they would have been better off spending money on improving existing commuter rail lines or establishing commuter rail service to New Bedford/Fall River. reported that the commuter rail delays on the Newburyport/Rockport line are probably a result of the commuter rail bridge connecting Beverly and Salem being knocked out of alignment last month. Yikes! At least those riders know why they've endured delays.

Amtrak Reaches a Deal with Its Union, Possibly Adverting the Commuter Rail Strike

Well at least there is some good news regarding the commuter rail today.

The AP is reporting that Amtrak may have reached a deal with the union. If this has happened, then the pending January 30th commuter rail strike will probably be averted.

Neither Amtrak nor the Transportation Communications International Union are officially confirming this report.

This could be a good thing for commuters! However, it might be a bad thing for the MBTA/MBCR (because they won't be able to blame the Amtrak strike for their horrible on-time performance).

"Submit a Concern" to the MBTA/MBCR About Commuter Rail Delays

I'm finally at work. Can I be more annoyed?!? It is almost 10 a.m. and I'm just arriving to the office.

I wrote a scathing email to MBCR. The email was submitted via the MBTA/MBCR "Submit a Concern" contact form. Here is a link to the form:

We'll see what happens with that ... I guess NOTHING.

I pretty much provided the same rant (rather "constructive criticism") that I shared in my earlier post. But I ended my comment with something along the lines of the following: "I'm grateful that my manager also rides the commuter rail and thus is subject to the same delays as I am. Most employers might not be that understanding."

I'll keep everyone posted on whether or not I receive an answer from the "fantabulous" Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority/Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company.


All Inbound Morning Rush Hour Commutes are Delayed on the Worcester Line

All morning trains are delayed due to a "roadway" problem. What is that? An accident?

I hate the commuter rail today!

So, the 7:19 a.m. showed up to Grafton at 7:55 a.m.. I was on my way to my car to drive in, but heard the train so booked back to the platform.

All of the doors were shut, so passengers had to open them to board the train. There were no conductors to be seen to either explain the delay or collect passes.

The biggest issue is the fact that NO ONE made any announcements the entire trip, but especially to say the train became a local, so we've stopped at every station, including all of the Newton stops. No doubt the P508 turned into a local train because the P510 was delayed due to the P508 delays.

I am beyond irritated. Sure, I'll get $15.50 back in 6-8 weeks, but really, I just want to get to work on time.

I'm curious about what the "roadway" delayed in. In chatting with friends who drive to work, the Mass Pike, 495 and 128 were all "fine" this morning.

Thank you MBTA and MBCR for such fantastic service!

Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Device

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Commuter Rail Buzz . . . from the Blogsphere

I noticed that Helen of "The Importance of Dessert" continues to keep her elected officials updated regarding the performance issues of the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line. In a post last week, Helen noted that she received a letter back from her state representative, Alice Hanlon Peisch.

I encourage everyone (whether you ride the Worcester-Framigham line or another commuter rail line) to send a letter or an email to their own elected officials, telling them that the on-time performance for the commuter rail lines is not acceptable.

In other news, commuter rail riders on the North Shore were again impacted by the rail bridge in Beverly. This is the third time this month that the bridge had issues. Third time this month - third time this year. . .either way you look at it, this is pretty bad. We've only had 12 business days this month. From that standpoint, the bridge is breaking every four days!!

Finally, The Newton Tab published an article on Tuesday about the pending Amtrak strike. From an information standpoint, the Tab's reporters didn't really provide any new details about the strike. But, as a local paper, the Tab did find some great quotes made by Newton-based commuter rail riders.

However, I hope officials do not listen to one of the Newtonites quoted:
But, the delays won’t change much for Newton resident Bill Hartner.“It is not so terrible,” he said, standing next to the track. “There are other ways to get to Boston. People will go another way.”

Maybe Mr. Hartner doesn't think the strike will be "so terrible." However, for those of us who live more than 10 miles from downtown Boston, the strike could have serious consequences.

The Amtrak strike doesn't really give options to commuters west of Newton . . . nor people on the Providence line. I don't think driving is an option. Everyone knows how busy the highways are now, especially the Mass Pike, 95 North from Providence, and 128. I would be concerned if there's residual effects on the T because of Amtrak (such as a loss in revenue). I think no one wants to talk about it, but I think this strike can happen.

Worcester-Framingham Commuter Rail Performance

Last evening NatickDweller posted a great comment to yesterday's "Recent Outbound/Inbound Trips on the Worcester-Framingham Commuter Rail Line" post. NatickDweller mainly rides the P508 in the morning and the P521 during the evening.

This is what NatickDweller had to say:
I have taken 18 trains so far in January, mostly P508 (the morning "express") and P531 (departing S. Station at "6:20 pm").

Here are the stats so far, and they aren't pretty:

13 trains late (5 minutes or more) out of 18, for an on-time performance of 28 percent. Total delay minutes: 188 (over three hours of my life gone forever...thanks to this joke of a system we call the commuter rail).

NatickDweller went on to comment that the MBTA/MBCR counts all the trains running on a particular line throughout the day, so what should really be a 28% on time performance record (based on mainly rush hour commutes), actually appears to be a lot higher.

I know that when I've taken the train during non-rush hour commute times, such as late morning or early afternoon trains, these trains "miraculously" run on time. Shocking.

Based on NatickDweller's comments and my own lousy commutes, I was thinking about on time performance this morning. Especially since this morning's inbound P508 train was about 8 to 10 minutes behind schedule AGAIN!

Obviously the non-rush hour trains and the weekend times help contribute to the uptick in on time performance. I wish MBCR was forced to track rush hour performance, because really, that's what matters to most of us commuter rail riders. They could provide two numbers - overall line performance and performance based solely on rush hour commutes.

Here is an update for last night's commute. I took took the 6:05 p.m. train last night (the P529) home. Got to Grafton around 7:10 p.m. (scheduled arrival time 7:04 p.m.).

As I mentioned earlier, this morning, I took the P508 which departs Grafton at 7:19 a.m. and got into Back Bay at 8:24 a.m. (for scheduled arrival time of 8:18 a.m.). Due to the cold weather, I got off at Back Bay Stationand took the Orange line to my office.

So ... at least the train is consistent this week in its lateness!!

I'm really wondering - have any of the rush hour trains on the Worcester-Framingham line arrived into their destination on-time (or within the 5 minutes "on time" window)?

NatickDweller . . . thanks for sharing your experiences this month. I just hope this isn't a long year.

Switching topics ever so slightly, yesterday Anonymous provided some great insight into how Amtrak's structure impacts Massachusetts-based commuter rail lines in a comment made to the "For the Sake of Commuter Rail Riders, Amtrak Can't Strike" post. This is why South Station-bound trains will be impacted by the strike:
The T owns all of the physical track over which the commuter rail runs except the Framingham-Worcester section (owned by CSX) and the Allston freight yard (owned by Harvard University). However, Amtrak handles the dispatching at South Station itself and along the Providence line. If Amtrak strikes there would be no dispatchers so no trains could enter South Station.
Anonymous also mentioned how individual lines may operate.

NatickDweller and Anonymous - thanks for the comments.

MBTA GM Grabauskas Jets Away

Setting: Your the head of a large transit authority. One key component of your transit authority may be interrupted due to another entity's strike. What do you do?

Well, if your the MBTA's GM Daniel Grabauskas, you decided to NOT cancel your vacation plans, even when your boss (Governor Deval Patrick and the MBTA's Advisory Board) ask you to cancel your plans.

The Boston Herald is always good for exposing outrageous behavior made by public officials. Today's edition features an article about Grabauskas and his decision to go on vacation. "MBTA boss takes off on Boston" is pretty outrageous. As a commuter and a Massachusetts taxpayer, I can't believe that Grabauskas did not cancel his plans.

The MBTA, living in their la la land, had a spokesperson quoted as saying that "the strike appears 'very unlikely'," and that Grabauskas left "detailed contingency plans, including travel instructions for passengers on each rail line that could be impacted."

Grabauskas is vacationing in Thailand and he is supposedly coming back to Massachusetts before the targeted January 30th strike date.

I'm not sure if Grabauskas made the most professional move by going on vacation before the strike. He should have seen if he could have postponed his plans by a few weeks to make sure the strike isn't going to happen.

OR, perhaps, Grabauskas isn't really needed at the helm of the agency. If that is the case, maybe he should be cut free and his hefty salary should be used to fund other transportation entities.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Recent Outbound/Inbound Trips on the Worcester-Framingham Commuter Rail Line

Let's see. I haven't given an outbound commute update in a while.

Last night's commute home was uneventful and fairly on time. I took the 4:58 p.m. train (otherwise known as the P523) from South Station. I got to Grafton at 6:03 p.m. (the scheduled arrival time is 5:57 p.m.). So, 6 minutes behind schedule.

Today's inbound commute update: 10 minutes or so behind schedule again this morning. I don't think I've been able to take an inbound train in 2008 that has arrived on time. Seeing that today is January 16th, we're at the midway point for the month. The Worcester-Framingham line is looking as though it will not be hitting the on-time performance mark yet again.

This morning I took the 7:19 a.m. from Grafton (this is the P508). We got to Back Bay Station at 8:27 a.m. The scheduled arrival time to Back Bay is supposed to be 8:18 a.m. So we were 9 minutes behind schedule. Since I got off at Back Bay and took the Orange Line to my office, I have no idea what the P508's actual arrival to South Station was.

For the Sake of Commuter Rail Riders, Amtrak Can't Strike

First the Hollywood writers decided to go on strike. This has interrupted my evening television viewing and it led to the cancellation of the Golden Globes Awards. The Globes may be shallow, they may be absurd, but they're fun to watch on a winter's evening.

Next came word that Amtrak was going to go on strike. Then word came out that Amtrak was going to try to avoid striking. Now it appears that there is an ominous possibility that Amtrak will go on strike.

Ai Caramba! Train Rider will not be happy if Amtrak goes on strike.

So here is the run down on the strike rumors:

The CBS-affiliate out of Providence, RI posted an Associated Press story to their website yesterday afternoon. The AP article noted that 17,000 riders rely on commuter rail service between Providence and Boston.

Also, "the MBTA says any contingency plan could only accommodate 25% of the 47,000 passengers a day who use South Station." I don't know why North Station passengers weren't factored into this equation. Maybe the North Station-bound trains don't ride on Amtrak rails? Maybe the towns that rely on service to North Station are too far for a Rhode Island TV station to care.

Boston Magazine's "Boston Daily" published a tongue-in-check article about the pending strike that basically contained most of the information from the AP story.

Even the Harvard Crimson got in on the action (that the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, and Worcester Telegram & Gazette, not to mention the Boston TV stations all seem to be ignoring). The Crimson's "Updating Amtrak" article noted that in the past 36 years, Amtrak has never gone on strike. This well reported article provides some details as to why Amtrak workers are thinking about waging a strike.

Finally, The Boston Herald outlined some of the cities that will be impacted by the strike. This strike will not be pretty - here is a run down on the cities that will be impacted:
  • Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority/Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail - TrainRider would be among the 47,000 daily passengers affected.
  • New Jersey Transit - 218,000 daily trips.
  • Long Island Rail Road - 85,000 passengers out of 100,000 customers. Basically anyone who needs to go into Penn Station.
  • Metro-North (New York City Area and Connecticut) - not affected.
  • Shore Line East (Connecticut) - 2,000 passengers who travel between New Haven and New London. This line actually has a contingency plan!
  • Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority - 5 out of the 13 SEPTA lines run on Amtrak tracks and a 6th line runs on both Amtrak and SEPTA tracks.
  • MARC (Maryland) - 19,000 riders who rely on the Penn line between Baltimore and Washington, DC. Two other lines will be able to run, but would need to terminate before reaching Union Station in DC.
  • Virginia Railway Express - this line would be completely shut down because it is operated by Amtrak employees. 15,000 riders would be impacted.
  • METRA (Chicago) - 80,000 riders because Union Station would be closed.
  • Caltrain (California) - Service between San Francisco and San Jose would be shut down, impacting 36,000 riders.
Based on the numbers outlined in the Herald's article, it looks like well over 500,000 people will be impacted. That's insane!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Snow Delays Commuter Rail Train

After a day of working from home because of yesterday's snow storm, I was back riding the rails this morning.

This morning's inbound commute on the P508 train was fine. Although the train didn't get to South Station until 8:40 a.m. The scheduled arrival time for this Worcester-Framingham "express" train is supposed to be 8:23 a.m. The train is "express" because it does not stop atthe stations Wellesley Square through Yawkey.

It's so irritating to be sitting outside of the station waiting for a train bay to open!

While the Worcester-Framingham line apparently ran OK during yesterday's storm, commuters on North and South of the city were not so lucky. Riders of the Haverhill, Gloucester, and Dedham lines were all impacted by delays. Here is the article round-up:
In other commuter rail-related news, Norton residents are going to be asked their opinions tonight on possible routes for the commuter rail line extension from Boston to New Bedford, also known as the "South Coast Rail" project. Here is a link to an article about the "South Coast Rail" project from The Enterprise.

It is amazing that New Bedford and Fall River, two fairly large urban areas, do not have rail service to Boston. Why the state had to restore rail service to Hingham, Cohasset and Scituate is beyond me, especially since those communities have a plethora of commuting options.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Snow Day - Amtrak Commuter Rail Strike Update

Due to this morning's snow storm, I decided to not attempt to make it into the city and am instead working from home. I hope anyone who did take the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail in this morning had an OK commute.

I noticed in the morning TV news coverage that the MBTA General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas, along with a MBTA spokesperson, were being interviewed about the now and the T's response. Could it be because WHDH/Channel 7 chooses to pre-empt the Today show and just blabbers on for hours about the snow. The same reporters give the same updates every 20-30 minutes or so, so I guess they need to interview people like Grabauskas in an attempt to make it interesting.

The Sun Chronicle out of Attelboro published an article in this morning's edition about the Amtrak strike. If Amtrak did strike, Boston, Providence and Worcester would all be impacted. One would think this would be a bigger story in papers such as The Boston Globe, The Boston Hearld, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and The Providence Journal, but there hasn't really been a lot of coverage about the strike.

The headline of the Sun Chronicle's article said it all "Rail strike seen unlikely." I sure hope the headline proves to be true! Amtrak and union officials are trying to avoid a strike. Also, since Amtrak is a federal entity, Congress could also intervene to prevent a strike (especially since most of the cities on the Eastern Seaboard would be severely impacted by a strike). Everyone is "optimistic" that the strike will be avoided.

Beyond the strike, the article contained some great quotes from commuters about the current state of the commuter rail system in Massachusetts. Here are some really great bon mots:
"Barbara Tappan, another Attleboro resident on the 6:10 p.m. train out of Boston on Friday, said the commuter rail's performance was already "really bad," with late trains and long delays, and a strike would only make things worse."
"Emarie Pope said her husband had joked about MBTA service being so bad that even if there is a strike, "How would we know the difference?" Sitting in South Station, Pope said, "It really annoys me that we don't have a better transit system." Officials shouldn't let things get to the point where train service might stop, she said."
I agree with Ms. Pope's husband. . . if an Amtrak strike happened, "how would we know the difference?" I also agree with Ms. Pope we need "a better transit system"!

Let's hope the strike is avoided!!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Status Quo Friday Morning Commute, But is Anyone Worried about the Possible Amtrak Strike?

Friday morning inbound commute update: Status quo, passes collected, fairly normal and only about 5 minutes behind schedule.

My train arrived at Back Bay Station at 8:24 a.m. (I got off to take the Orange Line). Scheduled arrival time is 8:19 a.m. I can handle a 5 minute delay, especially on a morning with wacky winter weather (like a thunder and lightening storm).

The conductors must have been on crack or something, they kept announcing "Have a Happy Day! This is the happy train!" Um, whatever. The most annoying part of my commute this AM were the two dudes sitting behind me babbling about the most insipid things. SHUT UP!

You know, I asked senior management in my company yesterday if they had a contingency plan in place if Amtrak goes on strike. One of the SVP's said ... "um, yeah, to drive." Well, that's not realistic to assume the entire company can drive in. He was really condescending and I was peeved.

My brother said he heard some commuter rail conductors talking that if Amtrak does strike, they're not crossing the picket lines. So, maybe there wouldn't even be commuter rail service? I think it's a bigger issue than people realize and it irks me when they don't take it seriously.

Is anyone else concerned that the possibility of Amtrak going out on strike will mean that commuter rail service on the MBTA/MBCR lines will be impacted?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Commuter Rail Delays = Not Just Because of the Weather

"Springtime in January" is how best to describe today's weather.

What does the weather have to do with the commuter rail trains? Well, usually most of the delays are because of the weather . . . too hot, too cold, too rainy, too windy, too snowy.

Well, for some riders on the Middleborough/Lakeville inbound train this morning, the weather had nothing to do with the delay (just to prove that crappy train delays aren't always caused by the weather).

My manager's train caught on fire this morning and they had to be moved to another train, which then broke down and then had to be pushed into Boston. Talk about a commute from hell.

Fortunately, I have yet to experience a fire on the Worcester-Framingham line. But the Middelborough/Lakeville peeps had a pretty lousy way to start their day.

Today's Worcester-Framingham Line's P512 Commuter Rail Virtually On Time, But the P500 Was Not

I'm back in the office today and back on the train.

I took the P512 train into Boston this morning. My train was fairly on time today. We got to Boston at 9 a.m. (the train is supposed to pull into South Station at 8:59 a.m., so we were close enough).

But I guess the early trains on the Worcester-Framingham line were not so punctual. I noticed a comment posted to the UniversalHub's blog about the P500 train. This train is a local train that just goes from Framingham to Boston. Check out this:
"Commuter Rail Framingham/Worcester #500 (6:05am inbound) experiencing over 60-70 minute delay. #502 (6:06a inbound from Worcester) will tack on to #500 and push to Boston, resulting in 40-45 minute delay for #500. All other inbound trains will be delayed 35-45 minutes 1/10/2008 8:13 AM"

Well I guess whatever situation that caused the early trains to be delayed was rectified by the time I boarded the P512 in Grafton. I can't believe I lucked out so much and didn't get stuck on a delayed train.

BostonNow's Interview with MBTA GM Daniel A. Grabauskas

Wow! I guess it is possible to land a great paying job in which you don't have to meet certain performance requirements. Or at least, it seems that way.

Yesterday BostonNow ran an interview with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas. The article's title "Ridership's down, it's broke, but the T needs to keep you happy," caused me to make the quip about Grabauskas. Because, since Grabauskas became the T's GM in 2005, ridership has fallen.

Grabauskas said that riders on the commuter rail will be seeing improvements this year and that fares will not increase in 2008. I'll believe it when I see it.

For the commuter rail lines, the T plans on implementing LED signs that will be used to inform riders how many minutes remain until a train arrives.

There will be equipment overhauls and replacements that will "hopefully" bring reliable on-time service. (Promise?).

75 bi-level coaches, which will be delivered by 2011, will be ordered, along with 28 locomotives (also with a 2011 delivery date). So I guess we still have three years of riding on the "old clunkers" currently in place.

Along with the article, BostonNow included a link to a podcast with Grabauskas.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Not Collecting Fares on the MBCR Commuter Rail Lines

Gotta love offsite meetings. You end up with some random time to do other things, like blog research.

So the topic is . . . fare collection. Why oh why are the MBCR conductors not collecting fares? I mean - unless the MBTA/MBCR plans to start running the commuter rail as a charity, the fares are needed. I must believe that every dollar helps. I don't want to have the state double-dip: charging fares AND increase taxes/limit my tax refund because the transportation quasi-public entities need to money.

The Action Bob Markle blog noted that fares were not collected last Thursday on the inbound Worcester-Framingham train. I actually drove into work because I had a meeting, something that was mentioned both on Train Stopping and on Universal Hub.

I guess the MBTA/MBCR entities really aren't businesses. Because, other than fast food restaurants or ice cream stands manned by high school kids, I can't really think of a business that lets you try the product/buy the product without paying for the product.

MBTA Response to Petition

Back in December, I posted an entry about a Petition to the MBTA that was sent to the created by the author of The Importance of Dessert blog.

Yesterday, The Importance of Dessert blog featured a letter from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's GM Daniel A. Grabauskas written in response to the petition.

The letter acknowledges the petition, but it doesn't really provide any clear-cut ways that "service" will be improved. Since service thus far in 2008 has not been spectacular on the Worcester-Framingham line, I don't know what impact the five different action items bulleted in Grabauskas' letter are having on the commuter rail's performance.

I especially found the closing comment to be positively priceless:
Your concern about the lack fo shelter for passengers on the Worcester Line is also being reviewed. Commuter rain stations are designed with a base assumption that a passenger will be on a station platform for a minimum amount of time. This, of course, is based on the understanding that service will operate at a high level of on-time performance. Current efforts have been taken to improve the communication of expected service delays to passengers with the same goal of minimizing the amount of time spent waiting at a station platform. In addition, past experience at stations with enclosed shelters has resulted in a number of security and vandalism concerns from our passengers.
It makes me wonder - has Mr. Grabauskas ever ventured to any of the commuter rail stations on the Worcester-Framingham line. Honestly, with perhaps the exception of Worcester (which is affixed directly to Union Station) and Framingham, I don't think some of the stations on the early parts of the line (such as Grafton, Westborough, Southborough, or Ashland) are in areas that could attract criminals. In fact, the Grafton, Westborough, and Southborough stations, in particular, are located in pretty isolated parts of each town.

Yes, Mr. Grabauskas, I think we all agree that "Commuter rain stations are designed with a base assumption that a passenger will be on a station platform for a minimum amount of time." However, since our daily commutes seem to take more and more time, I think you need to work a bit harder to rectify the issues.

At least getting an answer (even if you don't agree with it), is better than not receiving an answer.

Worcester-Framingham Line Commuter Rail Stories

I happened to find a post titled "AJ Presents: The MBTA" on a blog this morning. This is yet another horror story about the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line.

I hate to dwell on the negative, but why oh why do those of us who ride the Worcester-Framingham line have so many horror stories to share? If the MBTA's/MBCR's commuter rail system were a reality show, I think the Worcester-Framingham riders would find their main competition for "horror stories" would come from the Franklin line and perhaps the Fitchburg line.

Haven't we all thought this:
"We're sorry for the delay and thank you for your patience." You're sorry? You're sorry? You can stuff your sorrys in a sack! There is no way you're sorry! Sorry people make an effort to change. Not them. And FYI, no one is patient with you anymore. Everyone has had enough. The amount of incompetence is ASTOUNDING! It's to the point their offer of free tickets for delays of more than a half hour (which is also a joke by the way. You submit a claim, and in 6-8 weeks, either tickets arrive at your door or they don't) is meaningless. It's gone beyond that. I don't want money back anymore, I want you to fix whatever it is that's f***** up."
I think we are all in agreement - just run the train well. We understand if there are delays from time to time, but constant delays are not part of the deal.

Could a Pending Amtrak Strike Affect the Mass. Commuter Rail Lines?

When I read this article this morning on about a pending Amtrak strike, a pit grew in my stomach. This is actually the first I've read about the subject. I had no idea that Amtrak may be striking.

Please Amtrak, don't go on strike!! This is scary:
A strike would virtually shut down South Station, forcing rail passengers to transfer onto subway lines at the Back Bay, Braintree, and Forest Hills stations. The MBTA would also have to shut down the Providence/Stoughton Line in all likelihood, forcing about 17,000 additional daily commuters to drive into town or to take alternate rail lines. North Station schedules would not be altered, but riders might see picket lines.

Supposedly the MBTA/MBCR are coming up with some contingency plans if Amtrak does strike.

If the Amtrak workers do strike, they have the legal right to start their strike at 12:01 a.m. January 30th. If they started striking on the 30th, they'll start their strike on a Wednesday.

Amtrak workers have been without a contract since 2000. The Amtrak unions have said that they have three options in place - a strike, a negotiated settlement or congressional intervention.

Since Amtrak owns or operates the rails in most East Coast cities, including Washington, DC, NYC, and Boston, a commute would probably bring havoc to the Eastern seaboard.

I absolutely agree with the person quoted in the article:
"It scares the hell out of me," said Roberta Conover, 49, of West Roxbury, who takes the Needham Line to work. "What a mess," she said.
Wow. For those of us who commute into South Station, let's hope Amtrak doesn't choose to strike to resolve their contractual issues.

Interesting Commuter Rail Comment

As mentioned on Monday, I'm out of town on a business trip. So I haven't been riding the train for most of the week.

I wanted to call attention to a comment posted to Train Stopping yesterday. I think this comment raises some interesting points:
As bad as the service is there must be some level of accountability by the riders. People take their time getting on and off the train. It is selfish and inconsiderate for riders to wait until the train stops in order to put on their jacket and grab their bag. Clearly, the service requires drastic improvement, but it is clear the there won't be immediate changes anytime soon. A huge problem on the trains I ride is the excessive amount of time each train spends at a given stop. That is seemingly indicative not only to the service but also the riders slowly moving off the train.
I do believe that riders should try to enter and exit the train as quickly as possible. Especially during the evening commutes, when you know that the train is pulling into your station. Everyone wants to get home, so it does help if people do exit the train as efficiently as possible.

In terms of riders helping to improve the system, we should make sure that our fares are collected. Our fares are used to operate the train. When the fares aren't collected (resulting in a "free ride" if you're using a single ticket or multi-ticket system), we are causing the commuter rail's budget deficit to continue.

Also, one other way to make things "run" smoother. As much as we hate to part with our personal space (myself included), please be kind and either pick up your coat/belongings or stand up and let someone enter your set. The quicker we can get people settled, the more efficient the ride will be. I've got to believe that if people are seated faster, perhaps the conductors will be more apt to collect fares/tickets on those stops that are closer to the destination.

Please continue to share your feedback. I just want to make sure we all experience a better commute via the commuter rail.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Non-train Day

Happy Monday!

I drove into Boston this morning, as I have an early evening conference call with some business contacts based in Asia. Since I can't be certain that my call will end in time for me to catch the outbound P525 train (which is scheduled to depart at 8:20 p.m.), I drove in because if I missed the 8:20 p.m. train, the next train on the Worcester-Framingham line does not depart South Station until 10:05 p.m.

I won't be riding the rails tomorrow or Wednesday, as I will be attending an out-of-town business meeting. So I'm hoping that my commutes on Thursday and Friday are good ones, especially since the Boston area is experiencing a winter warm-up.

Fellow commuter rail riders, feel free to keep me posted on this week's commute. I'll continue to keep you posted regarding any blog posts or newspaper articles I find.

Happy Commutes!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Worcester-Framingham Line's P512 Inbound Commuter Rail Train Late on Friday

The inbound Worcester-Framingham line train that I was on was late today ... shocking.

I took the P512, which leaves Grafton at 7:49 a.m. and is supposed to get to South Station at 8:59 a.m.

We were going really slowly from Natick through the Wellesleys.

I ended up getting out at the Back Bay Station , so I could take the MBTA's Orange line train over to my office because it's so cold out.

Anyhoo ... my commuter rail train got to Back Bay at 9:06 a.m.. (the scheduled arrival time to Back Bay is supposed to be 8:54 a.m.). So the P512 12 minutes late this morning.

It's a New Year, but the MBTA/MBCR is off to a delayed start, at least in regards to the Worcester-Framingham line's performance.

So here is how my inbound commutes stacked up this week:
  • Mon., 12/31/2007 - ABORTED COMMUTE. I attempted to take the P508 train into Boston. This train, which normally departs at 7:19 a.m., was running 25-30 minutes late as of 7:30 a.m. So I drove back home and worked from home.
  • Tue., 1/1/2008 - New Year's Holiday. Day off.
  • Wed., 1/2/2008 - LATE COMMUTE. The P508 arrived into South Station 10 minutes late.
  • Thu., 1/3/2008 - DROVE IN. I had to drive into work because I could not depend on the train arriving into Boston on-time. I had an early morning meeting that I needed to attend.
  • Fri., 1/4/2008 - LATE COMMUTE. The P512 was at least 12 minutes late when it arrived into the Back Bay Station. Who knows how late the train ended up being on its arrival to South Station.
Well, four days into 2008 and the commuter rail is not showing a promising improvement in terms of the on-time performance rate. We'll have to see how the year shapes up.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

December 2007 Worcester-Framingham Commuter Rail Line Had a 64% On-Time Performance Rate

What a headline . . . "Commuter Rail inches toward on-time service at South Station!"

At least Boston Now seems concerned/interested about the commuter rail performance rates. They published an article yesterday with the on-time performance rates released by the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail Co. (MBCR).

Apparently the lines that go into South Station improved their on-time performance rates in December, while the North Station bound trains all experienced delays. This brought down the MBCR's statewide performance.

For South Station, only the Franklin line did not see an improvement (though I'm really surprised that the Worcester-Framingham line improved because there were A LOT of delays in December).

The North Station bound trains performances are being blamed on the 12/21/2007 barge collision with the bridge over Beverly Harbor. Although there are still issues plaguing the North Station bound trains this week.

In the article, BostonNow has provided the stats for each line for October, November and December 2007.

Here is how the Worcester-Framingham line stacked up:
  • October - 48.4%
  • November - 58.1%
  • December - 64.5%
I'm really shocked that December's performance was over 60%. I wonder if the Christmas holiday somehow positively impacted the performance rate?

I actually drove into work today because:
  1. I had an early morning meeting that I could not afford to miss.
  2. I am meeting friends tonight after work and didn't want to be a slave to the train.
  3. I didn't want to stand outside in 5 degree weather this morning.
  4. I didn't want to take a chance that something could be wrong with the train.
Actually, minus point number 2, it is really sad that I have to drive in because I can't rely on the train to reach South Station on time.

When I got to work, one of my co-workers told me that a lot of the doors were frozen shut on the cars, so they all had to shuffle into 1-2 doors. Another person told me they had no heat, nice.

So, I'm glad I drove!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year, Same Old Issues on the Commuter Rail

Happy New Year 2008!!

This morning's commute, my first in 2008, was fine. The inbound P508 train on the Worcester-Framingham line was running about 10 minutes or so behind schedule. We got to South Station at 8:35 a.m. (the scheduled arrival time for this train is 8:24 a.m.).

The conductors never checked the passes or collected tickets/fares. What a great way to start the New Year!

I hope the MBTA/MBCR do a better job of ensuring that their employees are collecting fares. I can't imagine working as a retail clerk and letting people "buy" things without paying. I'm sure I would lose my job.

I wonder when the on-time performance rates for December 2007 will be posted? I know that Worcester-Framingham line did not meet the standard on-time performance rate of 95%. I just wonder how low their performance was?