Thursday, February 21, 2008

1 1/2 Good Commutes Then a Bad Commute on the "New" Commuter Rail Schedule for the Worcester-Framingham Line

Ha! Not even two days go by on the new schedule and there are already issues on the commuter rail.

Last evening I arrived at South Station at 6:10 p.m. for the 6:15 p.m. P529 Worcester-Framingham train, only to be met by a swarm of people. Due to "equipment failures" the majority of the trains weren't even in the bays.

We departed late and I arrived to the Grafton station around 7:30 p.m. Overall, the train was about 10-15 minutes behind schedule. This isn't enough for a fare reimbursement, but this will affect the line's "on-time performance" rating for February 2008.

The commute was on time this morning. The train was definitely less crowded than yesterday. I bet people are taking off today and tomorrow for the end of the school vacation week. I don't think the heat was working all too well ... my car was lukewarm. Blah.

In other news, the big MBTA story yesterday and today was in regards to the new cars that were launched on the MBTA Blue Line. The Boston Globe wrote an article about the new cars yesterday and an editorial about the cars today. The editorial lead off with this sentence:
The T needs a financial renovation to match the quality of the cars.

"We're broke," said General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas earlier this month, explaining that the T faced a $75 million deficit for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. So how could it afford 94 cars costing $172 million? The federal government defrayed 80 percent of the cost, and the rest came from the T's capital budget. But federal aid won't pay the cost of maintaining the cars and stations, nor work down the $8 billion debt that consumes 27 percent of the T budget every year.

The Legislature thought it had solved the problem of T financing in 1999, when it allotted the authority 20 percent of sales tax revenue. That revenue source hasn't grown as expected. By maintaining the heavy burden of T debt and keeping in place expensive labor contracts, the Legislature guaranteed it would need to revisit the problem. At the least, the Legislature should consider moving some T debt to other state accounts, and reexamining the relationship between the authority and its employee unions.

The Patrick administration is also looking for new approaches to transportation funding, for highways as well as the T. While new cars are fun to ride and easy for public officials to celebrate, as they did at the Aquarium station yesterday, there is little glory in providing money to keep up day-to-day service.

Then the editorial board provided a bit of history of the MBTA Blue line. The editorial closed with the following:
Seventeen months after the Orient Heights gala, on Saturday, Dec. 6, 1980, the entire MBTA system shut down because of a lack of money. An energized Legislature got it back in operation in time for the Monday commute. The political leadership of Massachusetts shouldn't wait for a crisis to put the MBTA on a sustainable financial footing
I agree - the political leadership AND the business leadership in Massachusetts needs to ensure that the MBTA is on a "substantial financial footing." There is too much at stake to not ensure that the Commonwealth has an adequate public transportation system that serves citizens. Cities and towns are reliant on this transportation. Not to mention that our crowded highways can't endure more congestion.


AJ said...

Must have been the full moon last night or something. I was on the 541 Back Bay train (P527) and it was 12 minutes late getting to the station, and about 20 by the time we hit Grafton. What I found even funnier was that the ticker said "All trains on or close to schedule," the standard MBTA response. Weren't they supposed to start making those more accurate?

Train Rider said...


Let's hope last night's delays were just because of the full moon/lunar eclipse.

Those ticker signs are ridiculous. There aren't enough of them at each stop, well, at least in Grafton.

Anonymous said...

I took the new 8:15pm train out of South Station (I get on at Yawkey)...the ticker stated Mosts [SIC] trains on or near schedule. Wrong! Train didn't get to Yawkey until 8:55. 24 mins past the expected arrival time. Train arrived in Grafton at 9:55. 13 mins past expect arrival time. It's amazing how they were able to make up 11 mins, they built in quite the cushion. I find the morning train departing Grafton at 7:09 to be overly sluggish between Grafton and Natick. Yes, it's been on time- normally around 8:20- but I don't think "hustle" or "motivated" is in the vernacular of the operators of the train.

Train Rider said...


It's funny how they can "make up time" (much like pilots do in the air). I remember being on a train recently that must have been doing at least 60 from Boston through Newton and the Wellesleys because we were so far behind schedule ... but when we got to Grafton, we were only 10 minutes off of the documented arrival time.

I think also because people get off much faster at night (and RUN to their cars ... but that's another post) than getting on in the morning.

You hit the nail on the head, the whole beef I have with the new schedule is that they built in time to basically say "yeah, we're not even going to try to make the scheduled time ... we're giving ourselves a cushion."

I guess the train employees are at work when they are riding the rails. The rest of us, however, are riding the rails because we need to be somewhere at a specific time.

Thanks for the comment!
Train Rider

Eric said...

I think I may have discover how they use the cushion they built in to the schedule on the 8:10 train to Worcester which I posted about the other day. Last night I timed our stops and at each and every station they stayed for an extra minute. I observed the conductor actually watching his watch for the appropriate time to leave. This of course was a minute after everyone had already disembarked. Needless to say it was frustrating, I know its only a minute, but for 12 stops that adds up. I'm incredulous to find a reason for the need to wait at these stops. I think that the conductor on my car who normally does a masterful job seems to be more sullen and far less motivated as if he's embarrassed by the need for the extra time.
I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist, and I think that I'd be giving the operators of the trains too much credit were this to be true, but I wonder if they intentionally made the trains run off time. Off the wall I know, but it just seems that once the on time performance become so horrible, that riders would almost be relieved at longer "on time" trains. This whole think reeks of corruption.

Train Rider said...


Let's hope that they aren't intentionally making the trains run off-schedule. That would be so bad for all of us!

That being said - 12 extra minutes on the commute home does add up to a lot of wasted time. Especially since most of the outbound stops do not have passengers coming on board for the trip to Worcester.

Please continue to share your observations.

Train Rider