Monday, March 31, 2008

Sleepy Monday Morning Commute

My commute this morning on the P508 train was normal. We arrived at South Station at 8:22 a.m., 1 minute ahead of schedule.

I slept the whole way into Boston this morning. I was so tired for some reason!

I guess Train Stopping/The Franklin Line/A Boston Commuter Speaks, etc. are not alone in blogging about transportation issues as they pertain to transit systems. Commute-a-holic and I discovered the CTA Tattler blog. CTA Tattler is a blog about the Chicago Transit Authority.

I wonder how many transportation-related blogs there are out there in the blogsphere?

Commute-a-holic and I will keep our eyes open for more information related to the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail schedule changes, announced last Friday.

Boston Globe Transportation Editorial and NTSB Won't Investigate Stoughton Commuter Rail Accident

Two news stories this morning.

First, The Boston Globe published an editorial on State Senate President Therese Murray's transportation proposals. The Senate President wants to:
to improve the way the state administers programs essential to the mobility of
Massachusetts residents. Over the years, unnecessary costs and erratic
management of transportation work - not to mention rampant problems with the Big Dig - have undermined public confidence. Only when state leaders regain that
trust can a fruitful discussion be opened on raising revenues for much-needed

To accomplish this, Sen. Murray is proposing a number of different initiatives, including eliminating police details for road work and asking new MBTA employees and MBTA retirees to contribute more to fund the cost of their health insurance.

The state is currently facing a $19.5 billion infrastructure spending tab.

In a separate article, the Globe also reports that the National Transportation Safety Board will not be investigating last' week's Stoughton Commuter Rail crash.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Commuter Rail Schedule Changes - Effective Monday, April 7

So as a lot of commuter rail riders expected, the Worcester line's recent schedule change was not going to be the only schedule change for 2008. I received a flyer from my employer announcing scheduled changes for the Fairmont, Franklin, Greenbush, Needham, Plymouth-Kingston, Middleboro-Lakeville, and Providence-Stoughton lines.

The notice that I received at work came around as a PDF. I've recreated part of the document as an image so I could share on the blog. I know the information may not be super clear, but I'll be on the lookout for the new schedule announcement. New schedules will be available on the MBTA and MBCR web sites on Wednesday, March 26.

Boston Globe Interview with Stoughton Train Eningeer Ronald Gomes

In today's Boston Globe there is an interview with Ronald Gomes, the engineer at the helm of the Stoughton line commuter rail train that was involved in Tuesday's crash.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Crisis Communication

As a certified Business Continuity Manager, I understand the need for prompt, accurate and consistent communication at the time of a crisis or other incident. A crisis is any situation that has the potential to significantly impact an organization. These crises also have the potential to fuel negative media coverage, thus affecting a company’s normal business operations which can lead to damaging financial, legal, regulatory or reputational impacts.

It is essential that the entities involved, such as management, emergency responders and public safety personnel, are able to coordinate with one another, assess the situation, and convey a concise message to affected parties that provides incident status, alternative solutions and timing for updates. Crisis management plans and programs are based on risk and impact analysis, assessment of most likely crisis scenarios, development of response scenarios and training exercises. Thus, crisis management deals with a company’s response both at the time of the incident and also ongoing activities that mitigate any damage to the company.

Crisis management plans themselves are the framework for command, control, coordination and communication within and external to an organization. Companies spend time, money and resources preparing for risk based scenarios, but it is equally important that be able to deal efficiently and quickly to unexpected crises that occur with no warning.

Although I work in the financial services industry and have written and tested crisis management plans for my firm, the financial services sector is not the only industry that is vulnerable to a crisis. Having a well documented, frequently tested and maintained business continuity and crisis management plan helps to mitigate the risks faced by the company. In addition, ongoing monitoring of these plans ensures that processes are functioning as anticipated, the risk controls in place are operational and risks are managed.

Based on experience, each entity should form a Crisis Management Team (CMT). The CMT should be representative of executive decision makers in the company – it should include the executive management, representatives from critical business units, legal representatives and also have members responsible solely for communication, especially with the media. The CMT should define its roles and responsibilities upfront so that at the time of an incident, people move into their roles and communication is seamless across multiple parties. As Commute-a-holic mentioned with the Massport example, simulation exercises can help hone their skills and responsiveness to the issue at hand.

Based on first hand accounts in the blog posts on Universal Hub, communication between public safety officials and emergency responders worked well. But it seems that the onsite communication between the MBTA/MBCR to stranded passengers on other trains or at train stations didn't work so well. I can’t specifically speak to what sort of continuity plans that MBTA/MBCR have in place, but it seems that if they did have a crisis management framework, that updates to passengers and the media would have been more reliable and accurate.

Train Rider

Inbound Commute Ran Like Clockwork

Another status quo P508 commuter rail commute this morning. Just like yesterday, everything ran like clockwork with the exact same times - we pulled into Back Bay Station at 8:13 a.m. and we arrived at South Station at 8:22 a.m. Another glorious morning of arriving to South Station with one minute to spare!

Perhaps the Worcester-Framingham Line's on-time stats for the month of March will actually be good!!

I know not every commuter rail line is running as well as (dare I say it) the Worcester line. I heard traffic reports this morning that said the Fairmont line was running behind. I think both an inbound and an outbound train were canceled.

Me-thinks that more commuter rail schedule changes are coming. I saw a sign in South Station today announcing schedule changes across different lines (not the Worcester-Framingham line). So, looks like they'll be changing a lot of different schedules in order to address on time performance for other lines. I was walking too quickly to notice exactly what lines will be facing schedule changes.

Observation About the Stoughton Commuter Rail Accident

Early on in my career, I worked for the Massachusetts Port Authority, also known as Massport. Along with running Boston's Logan International Airport, Massport is responsible for operating Hanscom Airfield, the Tobin Bridge, and the Boston Seaport.

Since Massport is a quasi-public entity, the authority faces both state and federal mandated regulations. However, Massport does try (or at least did try while I worked there in the early '90s) to self-regulate itself.

One operation the authority took seriously (when I worked there) was a yearly exercise at Logan International Airport. I'll call this the "what if" exercise. One weekend each year, Massport would run through various disaster scenarios. Since I left Massport long ago, I have no idea if this is something that the authority still does. I'm only sharing my recollections from when I worked there.

Massport would stage a plane crash, much in the same way hospital ER rooms sometimes practice different scenarios, to prepare staff in how to handle a sudden disaster - like a plane crash. Different entities across Massport - such as the Logan Fire Station, Mass State Police (who are on-staff at Logan), EMTs, Airport Staff, Communications/Public Affiars, etc., would run through different disaster scenarios. Employees used to volunteer to participate - people would be tagged for different injuries so EMTs and other professionals could determine triage assignments. Everyone who participated knew that this recreation wasn't anywhere similar to an actual plane crash, but it helped people know what to do if an accident happened. Massport would work with local hospitals and with local safety officials to "coordinate" efforts since moving severely injured people is usually a race against time. The authority would also recreate these scenarios because an accident at the airport directly impacts inbound/outbound flights. So you're trying to attend to both the accident and the larger transportation system.

I have no idea if the MBTA/MBCR/CSX or local towns who have commuter rail or transit trains running through the towns run any kind of similar recreation. From the first-hand accounts published yesterday on Universal Hub (The MBCR can communicate with riders, sort of and MBCR response confused and confusing) , it seems like if there are any recreations, they may be limited.

I truly feel for the front-line MBTA/MBCR employees. Disaster-preparation drills are for the benefit of employees. It really does seem as though the senior management of the MBTA and MBCR are disconnected from their front-line employees. Tuesday night must have been very stressful - dealing with thousands of stranded commuters cannot be a fun experience.

In a post 9/11 world, it seems bizarre that local towns, our transit authorities, and the state don't have a disaster plan on hand. Obviously Tuesday's accident was just that - an accident. Unfortunately, the accident occurred during rush hour, so the impact was a lot harder than if the accident occurred during non-peak hours.

When something happens, communication is usually the most difficult aspect of a situation.

Maybe this accident can be used as a scenario for local cities and towns to communicate with the MBTA/MBCR/CSX/Amtrak or whoever needs to know. Because in reading some of the news accounts, it seems like the local 911 system wasn't sure who to call.

Stoughton Accident - Today's News Reports

Today's Boston Globe published a longer version of the article about Engineer Ronald Gomes and the Stoughton accident that ran on yesterday afternoon. An editorial was also written.

They also ran a transcript of the 911 call from the lumber company to the Stoughton police and another article about the accident.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kudos to the Stoughton Line's 917 Engineer Ronald Gomes and the Rest of the Crew

Breaking news. From . . . an update to yesterday's MBTA/MBCR Stoughton line train accident.

Engineer Ronald Gomes - great job! We hope you have a speedy recovery. You are a real hero.

Risking personal injury, train engineer stayed at controls

By Noah Bierman, Globe Staff

Engineer Ronald Gomes had just 20 seconds Tuesday evening once he saw the runaway freight car barreling around the bend. Gomes had, based on signals from the tracks, already stopped the train, knowing there was at least a signal problem. But then he was staring down a fast-moving freight car, heading for his locomotive.

“He had seconds to make some decisions,” said Gerry DeModena, the general road foreman who oversaw Gomes’ train. “He very well could have opted to get out of that cab and run.”

Instead, Gomes stood by his post and radioed for permission to move the train into reverse, a futile attempt to avoid the freight car. Before he could act, the car slammed the commuter train with force great enough to knock Gomes "all over the cab, off the walls, all over the deck," DeModena said this afternoon at a press conference.

Blood dripping from his body, Gomes got on his radio to tell dispatchers where he was so they could rush emergency crews to help the 150 injured passengers. Then he made attempts to help get passengers off the train, DeModena said.

"Who among us would have that presence of mind, that personal and professional discipline to do that?" DeModena said. "You've made the decision to sit there as this approaches you and then [it] slams the engineer all over the cab and then [he] gets back on [the radio] and calls."

Gomes is recovering at home with bruises on his face, shoulder, and arm and was not available for comment. DeModena said he spoke with him.

"I think he felt as though he personally was hit by the train," DeModena said. "He told me, in a much more humble way, 'Gerry, I did everything I could do.'"

Inbound P508 Train Right on Time

This morning's inbound Worcester line commute on the P508 train was right on time. Just like ye yesterday, we arrived about 4 minutes ahead of schedule to Back Bay Station and we pulled into South Station at 8:22 a.m.

I'm bummed the Red Sox lost. I did crack up when I heard some local news reporters this morning say "the First Place Boston Red Sox." So does that mean today they'll say "Tied for First Place" or something arcane like that. I supposed they're just making chit chat.

Universal Hub has some good first-hand accounts from yesterday's accident on the Stoughton line.

News Reports: Stoughton Line Commuter Rail Accident

Yesterday afternoon, the 917 outbound train on the MBTA/MBCR Stoughton commuter rail line was involved in an accident that left 150 passengers and crew members injured. This accident could have been even more serious if one of the train's engineers did not notice the stalled freight car.

Here are the news reports from today's The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, and The Sun Chronicle.

As Train Rider wrote last night, we hope everyone is OK.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

MBTA Train Collides With Boxcar

This evening while waiting for my train from South Station, I heard there were problems on lines heading towards Providence and Stoughton, in addition to Amtrak trains. It turns out, there was an accident where a boxcar collided with an MBTA commuter train.

Here is the text of the article from

An MBTA passenger train collided with a runaway freight car near Canton Junction during rush hour tonight, injuring at least 100 passengers, according to Stoughton Police Captain Jim Bertram. The train, No. 917, had left Boston's South Station for Stoughton at 4:40 p.m. and was hit by a rolling train car at about 5:20, officials said.

Early reports suggested minor injuries. But dozens of ambulances were transporting passengers to hospitals for treatment."We knew we were coming into Canton Junction and suddenly the train stopped," said Tony Phillips, a 42-year-old passenger who works for a Boston ad firm and lives in Stoughton. "All the sudden, there was a bang, a huge explosion. People were screaming 'Oh my God, what happened?'"

The train did not derail.The train engineer saw the boxcar and was able to stop before the collision, minimizing the impact, said Scott Farmelant, a spokesman for Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, the private company that runs the MBTA’s commuter rail.

The boxcar is owned by CSX Transportation, whose spokesman did not immediately return a page.

Cliff Black, an Amtrak spokesman, said Amtrak maintains that part of the track, but the lumber car rolled in from a part of the track maintained by the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company. Service on the Providence/Stoughton commuter lines is suspended and Amtrak trains were also delayed.

We at Train Stopping commend the MBTA for handling the emergency situation well and hope that everyone who rides this train and was affected by the accident is alright.

MBTA Fare Evaders Watch Out

First - the Red Sox just won the first game of the season. Woo-hoo!!!

Now on to more train news. The Boston Herald published an article this morning about how the MBTA has been running undercover stings to catch fare evaders. This is great news for those of us who either purchase commuting passes (both commuter rail passes and CharlieCards) and for those of us who are taxpayers. I know that part of the T's job is to collect fares, so it seems silly to praise them for doing their job. But since fares aren't always collected (especially sometimes on the commuter rail lines), then maybe we need to continue to positively reinforce the issue to ensure that every cent is collected.

The T's Transit Police have already issued 262 fare evading citations this year, compared to just 99 for the same period last year. A fare evader receives a $15 citation for their first offense. Second offenses are billed at $100 and third offenses cost $250. That's a steep increase compared to the $1.70 fare (if you have a CharlieCard) or $2.00 fare (if you don't have a CharlieCard).

The T claims that prior to the CharlieCard, 3-5% of all riders failed to pay for their trip. Fare evaders cost taxpayers $13.5 million annually.

Red Sox Opening Day Commute

Can you believe it? Opening Day is today. Let's go Red Sox!!!

The Opening Day inbound commute on the Worcester line was as error free as it gets. I took the P508 train in. We arrived at Back Bay Station at 8:13 a.m., four minutes ahead of the 8:17 a.m. on-time arrival time. I took the Orange Line over to my office. The Orange Line was packed.

According to (at 9:40 a.m.), it is the top of the 10th with the Red Sox leading the A's by 2 runs. With 2 outs, I hope the Red Sox can pull off a win. Opening Day victories, even if they're in Japan in a totally different time zone, are still sweet.

The MBTA's Board is Excpected to Approve Funding for Improvements

According to an article in today's Boston Globe, the MBTA's Board of Directors will be meeting on April 3. At the meeting, the Board is expected to approve a $562 million for new cars for the Orange Line and the commuter rail along with a planned expansion of the Silver Line bus service. This will be part of a larger $3.75 billion capital investment.

Since only some of the projects, including repairs, new garages, and new rail cars, will be funded through a combination of federal grants and heavy borrowing, the T's debt will grow by $1.33 billion over the next five years to cover the costs of the rest of the capital improvement plan.

Transit advocates and the T's management both feel that the T needs to incur this debt or the T risks losing riders due to unreliable service.
"Most of it, you would refer to it as needed improvements," said Eric Bourassa, a transportation policy analyst for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group. "If you don't fix these things or do these things, it's going to break. And the system's not going to work."

The new plan also included new ridership figures, the first time the T has provided since raising fares in January 2007.
Despite the hike, the T did not lose riders last year. Daily ridership on buses, trains, ferries, and subways went from 1,118,071 trips in 2006 to 1,241,631 trips last year.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bob Stoetzel Says Goodbye to MBTA/MBCR Worcester Line Riders

I received the following email from former MBTA employee Bob Stoetzel. Bob has given me permission to post this. Commute-a-holic and I asked Mr. Stoetzel (who neither of us has ever met) if we could post his goodbye letter to the Train Stopping blog. He gave us his approval and we are sharing his letter in its entirety.

Thank you.

Train Rider

As you may have heard, I was terminated from my position as Chief Transportation Officer - MBTA Railroad Operations on Thursday, March 6, 2008 for "failure to take immediate and appropriate actions to address an incident of racial harassment" on October 31, 2006. That morning an individual under my supervision arrived at the office in a costume celebrating El Dia de los Muertos, or "the Day of the Dead", as a reflection of his Mexican heritage. At that time, I was advised by my supervisor that wearing a costume was allowed in the MBTA Code of Appearance as long as the individual was not in a position that required interaction with MBTA customers and my taking efforts to ensure that all MBTA employees who interacted with this individual were aware of the cultural significance of this costume. In spite of this, over a year and a half later, the MBTA Human Resources Department and General Manager Grabauskas determined that my failure to recognize that the part of this costume that was a piece of clothesline tied around his neck was perceived to be a noose, that it was my responsibilty to recognize it as a racist symbol, and that my failure to do so was of a level of significance to deserve immediate termination.

Due to this completely unexpected and sudden termination from the MBTA, I am taking advantage of this blog to say "goodbye" to the customers who ride the Worcester Line. I have continually monitored this blog to increase my awareness of customers comments/concerns and have benefitted from it. Due to my position at the MBTA, I have not previously provided commentary.

To be quite honest, my termination would have been easier for me to accept if I was advised I was being held responsible for the overall decline in commuter rail service performance and the high level of dissatisfaction and frustration being experienced by commuter rail customers on all service lines, including the Worcester Line. It was less than three years ago that I came to MBTA Railroad Operations after a lengthy career in public transportation, including commuter rail positions in Boston (with the Boston & Maine Railroad), South Florida, Southern California, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since my arrival I have focused my energies to identify reasons for the severe decrease in service performance as well as corrective actions that could be implemented. That being said, I am encouraged by the recent improvements in service reliability on the Worcester Line which, in my opinion, have resulted from the continued positive efforts and commitment to the service by the Engineers, Conductors, and Assistant Conductors assigned to trains operating on this line and the continued high level of commitment to the Worcester Service by CSX personnel, including those individuals based here in Massachusetts, those in New York, and especially those stationed in Jacksonville, Florida. While CSX has often been portrayed in local media as the primary cause of service irregularities, it is important to note the significant decline in CSX-related service delays since December, 2007 and their major contributions to recent service improvements, including their sharing of accumulated knowledge and experience from their operation of commuter rail services in other areas, including Florida, Maryland, and Virginia and to stress that service improvements on this line will only be successful through increased collaboration between CSX, MBCR, and the MBTA.

I would also like to offer my gratitude and appreciation to the individuals associated with the operation of Worcester's Union Station. To a certain degree, I will miss those early morning phone calls from Susan at Union Station, anxious because a train has not yet arrived at the terminal for its scheduled morning departure. It is reassuring to know that the primary reason for the lack of these calls has been the increased service reliability and not the fact that I am no longer in a position to receive this calls.

Finally, I would like to thank the customers on the Worcester Line. While I have come to know many of you either by face, name, or voice, I know there are many, many more who I did not get the opportunity to interact with. To those I haven't met, I am hopeful you continue to benefit from a service that is responsive to your needs. To those I did meet, whether on a train, at a station, by telephone, letter, or e-mail, or at a public meeting, thank you for your continued honesty and openness in sharing your concerns as well as your positive experiences. I know I have learned first hand from you about the value of customer service and the importance of listening to those who depend on this service each day. If I fell short in my efforts to assist you in your attempts to obtain more detailed service information or to resolve a concern of yours, I apologize.

I do hope you will soon be experiencing on-time performance at an "acceptable" service standard of at least 95% for peak period service and you continue to benefit from schedule improvements and additional seating. I also understand your awareness of the power of your voices if your service does not continue to meet your expectations.


Bob Stoetzel

Assorted (Boston) Metro MBTA News

Today's Boston Metro published an article about the MBTA commuter rail corporate pass program. According to the article, the T claims that more corporations are interested in participating in the corporate pass program. Currently 1,318 Boston-area businesses participate in the program, which gives the businesses a tax incentive. Employees are able to purchase their pass through a deduction from their pre-tax paycheck. Along with the tax savings, the employee can also obtain auto insurance discounts if they can prove to their insurance company that they have a T pass.

This is a wonderful program - this is how I obtain my commuter rail pass. However, I wish more companies thought of working to make sure the T's trains and the MBCR commuter rail trains arrive on time. I wonder if any companies think "gee, why are some employees who live in a specific area always late." But I digress.

The last paragraph of the Metro's article is interesting:
The T has seen cost savings in the corporate pass program since the launch of the CharlieCard. The T no longer has to mail out 113,000 passes every month, saving the authority approximately $200,000 on postage and handling every quarter.
As I've mentioned, I've been an active participate in the Corporate Pass program. My current employer offers this benefit, as did other firms I've worked at. However, the Corporate Pass program at my past or current employers was not handled directly by the MBTA. Rather, an outsourced company called WageWorks managed the Corporate Pass offering. In fact, I don't know anyone enrolled in any Corporate Pass program who has a Charlie Card, unless they have a subway only pass. The Charlie Card does not apply to commuter rail riders. So why does the T still refer to all passes as Charlie Cards? And if a majority of the Corporate Pass programs are managed by outsourced companies, what does the T actually do?

In other Metro news, I saw that there was a letter to MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas in the Metro I read this morning on the train. A reader had a question about the trash near/from South Station ... in typical MBTA fashion, Dan G. blamed Amtrak, as they technically "own" South station and the tracks. I can't find a copy of this article online, but if I do I'll post it. Can Dan ever give an interview or answer a question without blaming someone else? Unreal!

Lt. Governor Tim Murphy Rails Against CSX

An article ran in yesterday's The Sunday Globe about Lt. Governor Tim Murphy's expressed displeasure with CSX.

The Lt. Governor said that CSX is
"completely unreasonable" demands in negotiations with the state over efforts to improve commuter rail service in Boston's western suburbs."
Rock on Tim Murphy, rock on!

Negotiations between the state and CSX have stalled because the state wants to be able to hold CSX legally accountable if a commuter rail passenger gets injured due to CSX's negligence.
Murray has been point man in the talks since he entered office last year. The state wants to increase the number of commuter-rail trains and end the delays that have sparked fury among some riders. On-time performance of the commuter rail line linking Worcester and Framingham with Boston was so poor that last month the MBTA created new schedules to reflect the actual travel times, adding as much as 12 minutes. State officials say they could solve the problems by buying tracks owned by CSX and controlling coordination of the freight and commuter trains that share the route.

The dispute could be enough to derail the deal, worth perhaps $300 million to $400 million, to buy some CSX tracks and rights of way. In addition to what it wants to purchase along the Worcester/Framingham line, the state is looking to buy rights of way on CSX tracks through Fall River and along the South Shore, as well as on lines from Allston to Chelsea (also known as Grand Junction).

Murray said under CSX's current negotiating position, the railroad would have only limited liability, being responsible for the tracks and train damage in a collision, even if an employee was found to be drinking or impaired on the job, and exempt from liability for injuries to passengers. He likened it to allowing a shipping company to drive on state highways without any liability for injuries caused by the negligence of their drivers.

Murray said he doesn't want to find the financially beleaguered MBTA in a similar spot, adding, "And we wonder why Amtrak's almost bankrupt?"

In other news, today's commute was fine. The P508 train arrived at Back Bay Station at 8:16 a.m. and South Station at 8:22 a.m.. So we were a minute ahead on our arrival time.

On the walk to my office, I heard these two guys talking about how the door situation seems to be happening again (i.e., only 1 or 2 doors are open on trains and conductors are yelling at passengers who try to open them). I'm not sure what train/line this is on though. But I would like to know.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mass Pike News


Train Rider's company is closed today due to the Good Friday and the Easter holiday. So we do not have a MBTA/MBCR commuter rail update.

After a blitz of news stories about the MBTA/MBCR over the past few weeks, things have been very quiet in the train world. The media's focus has switched from trains to cars, with the Mass Pike now in the spotlight.

Fitchburg Rider shared with Train Stopping an article published in the Wednesday, March 19th issue of The Boston Globe about the financial woes plaguing the Mass Pike. From a debt standpoint, the Pike is essentially in the same boat as the MBTA. To increase revenues, the Pike may be re-instating tolls on the four Western Mass exits and the Newton/Rt. 16 toll. These tolls were eliminated in 1996. Thanks Fitchburg Rider for sharing this article.

In other Mass Pike news, the Pike may be enlarging the Rt. 495 interchange. The Metro-West Daily News reported on this in today's issue.

I hope everyone has a good commute today and a nice weekend.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Inbound Worcester Line Commute Perfectly On Time

After a one-day business trip, I was back riding the rails this morning.

My commute was fine. The inbound P508 train arrived to South Station exactly on-time: 8:23 a.m. on the mark.

This morning's MBTA/MBCR train was crowded, though. I'll bet it will be packed on the way home too - it looks like the Easter vacation commuting has begun. Which is why I bet the airports were packed as well yesterday. But at least I made it out of Boston and back on my flights.

Fortunately I have tomorrow off for the Good Friday holiday. Which is good because I need to catch up on some home-related things.

New Blog About the MBTA/MBCR Commuter Rail Experience

We learned about another new blog written about the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail experience. The new blog's title is A Boston Commuter Speaks. We have a link to the blog in our Train News section.

A Boston Commuter Speaks is another blog about the Franklin line - the Franklin Forge 495 line to be exact. Wow - the Franklin line is definitely in the running for the "worst commuter rail line experience" competition with the Worcester-Framingham line.

Learn more in this post about why Boston Commuter started the A Boston Commuter Speaks. I think many MBTA/MBCR commuter rail riders would agree with her comments.

Thanks Boston Commuter for the heads-up about your blog.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No Updates Today


Train Rider is on a business trip, so there aren't any MBTA/MBCR Worcester-Framingham commuter rail updates today.

Also, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of news about the MBTA, MBCR or commuter rail in genereal.



Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Better Way To Go

The Providence Business News reported today on a new study published yesterday by the Rhode Island Public Interest Research Group (RIPIRG) about transportation titled "A Better Way to Go."

This Rhode Island-centric report noted "why rail, rapid buses and other forms of mass transportation must play a more prominent role in America's future transportation system." In Rhode Island alone, between the R.I. Public Transportation Authority's bus service and MBTA commuter rail service, 1.57 million gallons of oil were saved at a cost of $4.11 in fuel costs savings and 9,679 tons of carbon dioxide emissions not generated.


The Commuter Rail Beat the Mass Pike Today

Now today is one of those days that I was actually happy to be taking the commuter rail to work instead of the Mass Pike. Did everyone hear about the huge backup on the Eastbound side of Pike this morning right before the 495 interchange? It was caused by a tractor-trailer rollover. Two of the three Eastbound lanes were closed, causing a 13-mile backup past the Rt. 146 exit.

I'm sure there were a lot of angry motorists stuck in traffic this morning.

My commute on the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line was fine. I took the P508 train into work today. We were at Back Bay for 8:13 a.m., 4 minutes ahead of the normal 8:17 a.m. arrival time. I got off at Back Bay and took the Orange line to work.

I'm so happy I didn't have to take the Pike into work this morning. I normally get on at the Rt. 146 exit. Of course, if I had been sitting in traffic from the 146 exit to the Millbury exit, I would have gotten off in Millbury. But I'm sure I would have been trying to get through loads of traffic to reach another Pike entrance.

In some Train Stopping blog-related news, we've added a news feed for MBTA articles posted by the 9Neighbors blog. Thanks Rick for your help in adding this code. The feed can be found in the right-hand column.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lucky St. Patrick's Day Commute

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Well, I hope it just wasn't the "Luck of the Irish" that made my inbound P508 commute pretty uneventful. This morning's train departed the Grafton station right on time at 7:09 a.m. and pulled into South Station a minute early at 8:22 a.m.

I thought it was kind of cold today. I was freezing walking from South Station to my office.

My apologies for Friday's date confusion. I know the track work began last week. Let's chalk that up to Friday-itis.

Yesterday's "Stops & Starts" column in The Boston Sunday Globe had an interesting story sent in from a Franklin line rider. Here is the piece it its entirety:
'Get on the train!'

After months of infuriating delays on the commuter trains, it's rare to hear from a rider who complains that the trains are running on time.

But Michael Medwar of Franklin wrote in about a semiharrowing trip home from a recent Celtics game.

Medwar waited about 15 minutes for an Orange Line train from North Station, leaving him no margin for error when he arrived at Back Bay in hopes of catching a 10:40 p.m. train home.

"I ran as fast as I could up the stairs [those trips to the gym have finally paid off], following three younger people in front of me who were also running," wrote Medwar, who is 37.

He didn't check which track; he just ran, and hoped. Finally, he saw the train pulling away. "The conductor was yelling 'Get on the train!' "

Medwar, no doubt gasping, made it. But what about the other basketball patrons, presumably less fit, who wanted to take the Franklin Line? Were they stranded for another 75 minutes, waiting for the last train? Medwar wants more people to take public transit to big events, but worries they won't if the subway and the train are not in better synch.

In fact, the T does make some effort for events. For example, managers scheduled an extra Lowell line train to ship people back up to Boston following last night's scheduled Dropkick Murphys concert at the Paul E. Tsongas Arena. But getting to the train station after an event by shuttle, bus, or subway can be tough when there is a big crowd or when the T is running fewer trips as part of its off-peak schedule.

Spokesman Joe Pesaturo said there is a balance when it comes to holding trains, noting that long delays can annoy people expecting an on-time departure.

But riders can request a train "hold" if they can find a subway official and tell him or her to call commuter rail dispatchers, he said.

Medwar said he understands that the T cannot hold commuter trains indefinitely, but how about a few more Orange Line trains after a game? "It just seemed to me that we were waiting on the platform for so long."

Wouldn't all of us love to see a coordinated transit system?

Train Guru George M. Sanborn

While I was in college and graduate school, I interned at the State Transportation Library. Located in the State Transportation Building, the Transportation Library was an effort that was supported by the MBTA, Mass Pike and Massport.

I had the privilege of working with George M. Sanborn. George, a MBTA employee, was the preeminent authority on trains and transit systems for Massachusetts and beyond.

I read in today's The Boston Globe that George passed away on Saturday. The Globe wrote a lovely article about George. I was touched by this article because George did not have any immediate family beyond other train enthusiasts.

George was able to take his passion for trains and apply it to his day-to-day job. While he was cantankerous at times, it was really nice to work with someone who was so passionate about their field. He would always take the time to speak to any train enthusiast - from a 4 year old who liked "Thomas the Train" through MIT graduate students. Everyone who was interested in trains could spend time with George to learn first hand experience about trains and mass transit.

I'm sure George is riding a train somewhere.

Friday, March 14, 2008

TRACK WORK REMINDER: Worcester-Framingham Line MBTA/MBCR Commuter Rail Riders

Reminder to all the riders of the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line. Track work on this line begins this Sunday, March 9th.

Here are links to earlier posts about this project:
I know this will cause delays. I just hope they aren't huge delays.

End of the Week Commutes on the Worcester MBTA/MBCR Commuter Rail


Due to an extra early work meeting, this morning I took the P502 train which departs Grafton at 5:57 a.m. This is an express train from West Natick and it stops at Yawkey. My usual train, the P508, is express from Natick and bypasses Yawkey. I think we arrived into South Station at around 7:14 a.m., but it was really early and I'm not sure if I was really awake. The "on-time" arrival for this train is 7:12 a.m., so I don't know why it would be a few minutes late so early in the morning.

Last night, something was going on at South Station. The Fairview-Readmont trains were all out of whack and canceled due to "mechanical" issues. There were MOBS of people at the station. I think this may have been related to the unfortunate Acela train accident. An Acela train heading from Providence to Boston hit workers who were inspecting the tracks yesterday afternoon. Two workers were Amtrak employees and a third worker was a contractor. One of the workers was killed.

My P529 train last night was on time leaving South Station. We were a bit delayed in our arrival to Grafton. I think we got to Grafton around 7:24, 5 minutes later than the "on-time" arrival time.

Grafton Train Rider sent me an email about a article that Commute-a-h0lic and I missed. This was about the firing of the T's Chief Transportation Officer, MBTA Operations.

In next month's Southborough town meeting, the town will have a vote to decide if they want to spend $112,000 to spruce-up a park that was part of a parcel of land given to Southborough by the MBTA. The Boston Globe reported on this yesterday.

The debate about the South Coast commuter rail line continues. Today's The Sun Chronicle published an article about a new proposal to improve bus service. Some elected officials think that improved bus service makes a lot more fiscal and general sense than just extending the commuter rail line, especially when the state doesn't have the money to extend the line. If the point is to get more commuters off the roads, perhaps buses are the way to go.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Thursday Morning On Time Commute and Boston Metro's Q&A with MBTA Head Honcho Dan Grabauskas

My commute this morning on the inbound P508 train was fine. We arrived at South Station at 8:21 a.m., again a few minutes ahead of the 8:23 a.m. scheduled arrival time.

Commute-a-holic and I have both noticed that the Boston Metro has periodically run a Q&A with MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas. The most recent Q&A was published on Monday, March 10th.

A Boston Metro reader wrote in about the discrepancy between actual on-time arrivals for the Newburyport-Rockport line and "published" arrival times listed at North Station. Read Dan's answer - can the man ever answer a question and assume responsibility instead of passing blame?
The information at North Station is posted by MBCR as one of their efforts to update customers of on-time performance on Commuter Rail lines. The on-time performance percentages on these posters are reflective of the total number of trains operated on a service line in comparison to all service delays of five minutes or greater.

As you have noted, the total on-time performance for a line will be higher on average than the on-time performance during peak periods. It is also important to note that the peak period on-time performance may vary significantly for the on-time performance for each train within that peak period.

Using the Newburyport Line as the example, please note the following: A total of 868 trains were scheduled to operate in February, 2008. Of these trains, 140 (16.1 percent) were scheduled in the a.m. peak period, 120 (13.8 percent) in the p.m. peak period, 500 (57.6 percent) in the daily non-peak period, and 108 (12.4 percent) on weekends and holidays. For those trains scheduled in the a.m. peak period, 118 arrived at their final destination on-time or within five minutes of their scheduled arrival, resulting in an on-time performance of 84.3 percent. In the p.m. peak period, 85 of the scheduled trains in this time period arrived on time with an on-time performance of 70.8 percent. For the largest block of trains, the 500 non-peak daily trains, 441 arrived on schedule, resulting in an on-time performance of 88.2 percent. Finally, 92 of the 108 weekend trains arrived on time for an on-time performance of 85.2 percent. Add these totals together and the result is that 868 trains were scheduled in February, of which 736 arrived on schedule with an on-time performance for the month of 84.8 percent. This is an increase in on-time performance of nearly 10 percent over the month of January (75.1 percent).

In presenting the data for February, the posters displaying information will show on-time performance for the Newburyport Line of 84.8 percent and 85.3 percent for the Rockport Line. In the a.m. peak period (which you specifically inquired about), on-time performance on the Newburyport Line was 84.3 percent and 75 percent on the Rockport Line.

While monitoring on-time performance for every train is a priority for the MBTA, the statistics posted at North Station are reflective of the overall service. And although the on-time performance rates have been trending in a positive direction recently, the MBTA and MBCR are strongly determined to lift these rates to higher and higher levels.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Central Parking Shows Great Customer Service - Response to My Email About the Icy Grafton Commuter Rail Station Parking Lot

On the evening of Thursday, February 28th, I fell in the Grafton MBTA station parking lot. The lot was icy.

I initially sent this email to the MBCR. The MBCR, in typical fashion, stated that they were not responsible for the parking lots at MBTA stations. I was then referred to Central Parking. When I first got the referral, I thought "wow - here goes the typical blame game, pass the buck maneuver by the T/MBCR."

Boy, was I wrong. Not only did I get quick reply from Central Parking's Mohamed Warsame, I received an actionable reply. That's right - Central Parking explained what happened and they provided me with contact information to contact them if I ever encounter poor parking lot situations.

Below is a copy of the email I sent to Central Parking and the reply I received from Central Parking.

Thank you, Mohamed Warsame and Central Parking. Perhaps you would be willing to give the MBTA some lessons in customer service?

From: Train Rider
Sent: Friday, March 07, 2008 10:30 PM
To: Warsame, Mohamed
Subject: Icy Grafton Parking Lot

To Whom It May Concern:

I take the Worcester/Framingham line daily from Grafton to either Back Bay or South Station.

Last Thursday evening when the train arrived at the Grafton station (it was approximately 8:30 PM), I left the train and headed across the parking lot to my car. A person in front of me slid on the ice after stepping off of the curb, but did not fall. When I stepped off of the curb, I too slid on the ice, but I fell down and injured my knee. I have a huge bruise and cuts on my knee from the fall.

I'm concerned with the fact that more wasn't done to sand the parking lot, especially since there was was rain and snow overnight.

I originally sent this complaint to MBCR who referred me to you. Please let me know how this will be addressed.

Thank you,
Train Rider

Subject: RE: Icy Grafton Parking Lot
Date: Sat, 8 Mar 2008 07:52:08 -0600
From: "Warsame, Mohamed"
To: Train Rider

Dear customer,

I'm truly sorry for injury you suffer at parking lot we have a contractor whose job is to plow, salt & sand at parking lot every time it snow or ice on ground- please call me at convenience so I can forward you information to the contractor. 617-426-6748 ext-120 Monday-Friday 9am till 5pm.

Thank you,
Mohamed Warsame

In other news, this morning's P508 inbound commute was fine. The train was on-time, actually slightly ahead of schedule. We arrived to South Station at 8:20 a.m., three minutes ahead of the 8:23 a.m. arrival time.

The daylight savings switch is killing me in the mornings. It is too dark. I keep on sleeping through my alarm, then I rush around to get ready and book it to the train. At least it is sunny/light out at night.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Importance of Dessert Blog: "Talking to the Director of the MBTA Commuter Rail" Post

Helen, the blogger who writes "The Importance of Dessert" blog, wrote an informative post last night about her participation with the MWRTA meeting.

I encourage everyone to take the time to read Helen's post. Here are the highlights:
  • MBTA does conference calls with CSX 3 times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, to go over every train delay and determine the cause of the problem.
  • Most of the problems now are caused by mechanical failure
  • There is no spare equipment. In other words, in cases of a mechanical failure, there are no spare locomotives, coaches, etc to put in place of broken ones. According to Mr. Stoetzel, the industry norm is to have a 10-15% equipment surplus. However, MBTA has historically chosen to operate under a "if we own it, we use it" policy, with virtually no excess equipment.
  • The train crew, including conductors, has to know the reason for a delay. It is the conductors’ responsibility to report the delay to the dispatch and provide the reason. The conductors are supposed to make announcements every 5 minutes on the status of the delay.
  • Since December, it is now inappropriate for MBCR to blame a delay on CSX.
  • New passenger information system is coming in approximately 2 years, that will be utilizing GPS and satellite technology to provide updates in real time. The current electronic display boards are updated via a series of phone calls initiated by the engineer of a delayed train. This system fails often.
  • Customer Service emails submitted via the MBTA website are handled by MBCR, not by MBTA staff. Mr. Stoeztel does not have routine access to either the complaints or the MBCR responses. Up until 2 or 3 years ago these emails were handled by MBTA directly.
  • Regarding the new Worcester-Framingham line commuter rail schedule, a study was conducted starting in December, pushed by State Representative, Alice Peisch, to help determine where the problems are.
  • Many delays were caused by what is usually referred to as “residual delay”: if one train is delayed, the train following it has to travel with decreased speed, because it catches up with red signals left behind the delayed train
  • To avoid the residual delay, the new schedules increased the time between trains to be at least 20-25 minutes. [I think this may be more relevant to peak direction trains].
Helen -thanks for attending the MWRTA meeting and sharing this information.

Monday Night's P527 Commuter Rail Train

Last night, the P527 outbound train on the Worcester-Framingham line was about 3 minutes behind schedule, as we arrived to Grafton around 7:22 p.m.

I did not commute in on the train this morning, as I have a post-work engagement in Needham.

I just read Commute-a-holic's post about last night's commuter rail extension discussion. I love this comment from State Rep. Betty Poirer (R) from North Attleboro:
"Let's fix what we have" before building new rail systems, she said.
NO KIDDING! The T cries poor, that they can't maintain the cars/lines they have, but then want to spend a billion dollars expanding a line no one wants? They're so out of touch w/reality, it's unbelievable.

I hope this doesn't turn into another Greenbush line. No one wanted the Greenbush area - the towns of Hingham, Cohasset and Scituate fought the extension of this line for years. First, the towns didn't need the extension because they have access to the Red Line, the Quincy Commuter rail line, and the ferry's. Second, the Greenbush line cuts very close to some historic buildings and homes. But the T literally bulldozed their way to a line extension. Since Greenbush is a new line, they have the best cars and their service seems to be amazing. And it sounds like the trains are relatively empty and no one seems to know whether Greenbush will see the ridership on lines like Worcester-Framingham and Franklin.

I know Worcester line riders would love new cars. It sounds like the riders of the Northern lines would like new cars. Heck, Worcester line and Franklin line riders would just like to get to Boston on-time with relatively easy schedules (not "new" schedules that cut out more hours from your life).

Watching the New Bedford/Fall River saga unfold is bound to be interesting.

South Coast MBTA Commuter Rail Line and San Diego's New Sprinter Train

The Fall River and New Bedford communities would rather see aid instead of MBTA/MBCR commuter rail access to Boston, according to an article published today in The Sun Chronicle.

If the state decides to extend the commuter rail system to Fall River and New Bedford, the project's estimated cost is approximately $1 billion. In a public forum last night, residents and local officials of the South Coast area said "the state has enough fiscal problems without spending huge sums of money to expand an already-overburdened rail system."

Since we're talking about the MBTA, if Fall River and New Bedford were added to the commuter rail line, the line extension might not be a straight shot from Boston to the South Coast. Rather, one of the ways they are looking to extend the line would be from the Attleboro commuter rail line, something residents of Attleboro are wholeheartedly against.

The line extension is currently priced at $1 to 1.5 billion. The state has not acknowledged where this revenue would come from. Fall River and New Bedford would rather just receive the money allocated towards the commuter rail to be used for local projects that could help revitalize these two large seacoast cities.

If the state does extend the commuter rail line, a new feasibility study would need to be conducted because the existing study is outdated according to federal law.

Many of the speakers at last night's forum mentioned how overburdened the current commuter rail system is.
"We do not have the capacity" to handle more trains, Attleboro City Councilor Walter Thibodeau said.

State Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, said she gets constant complaints from commuters that Attleboro trains are overcrowded and lack heat or air conditioning.

"Let's fix what we have" before building new rail systems, she said.

Transportation officials said they had come up with another alternative that had not been considered before.

Rather than train service, the MBTA could improve bus transportation. One idea would be to dedicate a highway lane just for vehicles with multiple occupants like buses to speed the trip to Boston.

The planners also said the trains could cut their travel time and attract more riders if the lines were electrified, but that would also increase costs.

Lisa Stanley of the MBTA said there are 10 alternatives being considered now, and that will be narrowed to four to six plans by next month.
In other news, "Fitchburg Rider" shared the following in an email: "An interesting article in the San Diego News Tribune today (Monday, March 10th) about their new light rail service called the Sprinter in Escondido. Also a photo of a beautiful, comfortable train..."
Yesterday's launch marked the culmination of 30 years of planning and development, at a cost of $478 million. The project was funded by a combination of federal, state and local funds, including the county's half-percentage-point Transnet sales tax.

About two dozen passengers on the first train were employees or friends of the North County Transit District, the developer of the 22-mile rail line, but most were just local people who wanted to ride history.
Fitchburg Rider than said "Why can't Boston ever get it together?"

Monday, March 10, 2008

Worcester-Framingham MBCR/MBTA Commuter Rail February 2008 On-Time Performance Stats

Thanks to a tip from Anonymous, here are the on-time performance stats for February 2008 courtesy of BostonNOW.

The Worcester-Framingham line had the biggest improvement in on-time performance - from 69.3% in January 2008 to 83.6% in February 2008.
No surprise there: on Feb. 19, the T slackened the Worcester/Framingham schedule to allow trains more time to complete the run.
The article lists complete on-time performance stats for all the lines from October 2007 through February 2008.

First Daylight Savings Time Worcester Line Commuter Rail Commute On Time

The inbound P508 train was right on time this morning. We arrived to Back Bay station at 8:17 a.m. - the train's scheduled time. I got off and took the Orange Line to the office.

This is sort of more of the same news about the MBTA's plans to make improvements to the commuter rail line. The article appeared in today's Metro. Beginning this May, the T will begin replacing 2,000 windows on 75 south-side commuter rail coaches at a cost of $1.3 million. South-side commuter rail lines are those lines that go into South Station. Additionally, the T will spend $4.5 million overhauling the HVAC systems on 148 coaches. Many of these coaches, purchased between 12 to 20 years ago, have never had their HVAC system updated.

The replacement projects are expected to take 18-months because the MBCR needs to limit the number of coaches it takes out of service at once to avoid delays.

Call me crazy, but shouldn't the MBCR have a decent gauge on ridership and just remove extraneous cars from train lines that run during non-peak hours?

I still cannot find any on-time performance stats for February 2008 for the Worcester-Framingham line.

In other commuter rail news, things don't sound so great on the Franklin Line. As we know, the Franklin line via Fairmont had the worst on-time performance stats for February - a measely 46%. Both Dave at The Franklin Line and Quasit of Charlie on the Commuter Rail published posts this morning about the delayed 706 (which caused Dave to miss a meeting) and the 708 train. Apparently some of the Franklin trains are skipping the Ruggles Station stop, even though this is a scheduled stop. For Quasit, the Ruggles station IS his commuter rail stop.

According to Quasit, the MBCR/MBTA does not "think" that skipping the Ruggles station stop will be a regular occurrence.
According to their customer service rep, they don't expect it to be - it's just a signal problem. Now that I think of it, that's a little disturbing - I wonder what other problems there might be? I'd hate to find out by having my train run into another one at full speed!

And why haven't they been able to fix that signal over the last four days? It could have been two different problems, I suppose, but that seems unlikely.
Hmm, will Franklin Line riders soon be seeing a "new" schedule a la the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line?

As Dave wrote in one post titled "Late! Late! Late!"
Why the hell did I think a 7:05 train would get me into Boston for an 8:00 meeting?!? Idiot, idiot, idiot. I should have slept under my desk last night.
Indeed, why should we expect the trains to get us to where we need to be on time?

MBCR Claims 80% On Time Commuter Rail Performance Rate for February 2008 and Other MBTA Related News

Happy Monday.

For whatever reason, it has been difficult to find the on-time performance stats for the Worcester-Framingham line for February 2008. The following about the best and worst MBCR commuter rail performance for February 2008 appeared in yesterday's Starts & Stops column in the Boston Sunday Globe.
Rail service more punctual

The private company that runs commuter rail service for the MBTA, the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Company, said 80 percent of its trains were less than five minutes late last month, 3 percentage points better than January's numbers.

Best southern line: Greenbush, 95 percent on time.

Best northern line: Rockport, 85 percent on time.

Worst southern line: Franklin via Fairmount, 46 percent on time.

Worst northern line: Haverhill via Wildcat, 78 percent on time.

Train Rider and I both missed this article about the proposed Worcester commuter rail line extension published Friday in the Telegram & Gazette.

In an article about the newly deregulated auto insurance for Massachusetts, this Boston Sunday Globe article describes some discounts MBTA commuters may encounter.

Finally, the Jamaica Plain Gazette wrote this editorial about the MBTA - "MBTA: Our schedules 'lie'."
The understaffing has caused thousands of dropped trips a month, according to statistics for fiscal years 2005-2008 provided to the Gazette by the MBTA. That is in addition to any other problem with scheduled service. It is a small number of trips relative to the MBTA’s hundreds of thousands of trips a month—but that’s no consolation to anyone waiting for a bus or train that didn’t come.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Evening Commute and MBCR Response to Email Complaint

The commute on the P533 (which departs South Station at 7:15 pm) was on time this evening, but I wanted to vent about lack of fare collection on the train (well, in my car anyway, I was second car from the back) and the fact that no announcements were made either. In fact, one of my fellow commuters missed the Framingham stop and had to frantically call someone to come get him in Ashland.

I also received a reply from MBCR regarding the email complaint I sent with respect to the icy Grafton parking lot last week. I'm not surprised that the email actually tells me now to contact someone else to seek follow up, even though the MBCR website specifically states that they (MBCR) are responsible for the parking lots.

Here is the text of the email:

Dear Train Rider,
I have read your email regarding the parking lot not being cleared properly at the Grafton commuter rail station.

The responsibility for this parking facility falls under the purview of Central Parking. They may be reached by calling (617) 695-6356 or by email at

I realize that this information is late in coming to you; while I do make every effort to respond in a timelier manner I am not always able to achieve that goal and apologize for that shortcoming.

Linda Dillon
MBCR Customer Service Manager

Well, at least it's Friday and thus no more commuting for two days. Enjoy the weekend!

A Bad Providence Line Commuter Rail Trip

I came upon writer Robert Gillis' blog. Mr. Gillis recently experienced a commuter rail ride that most of us have, unfortunately, also experienced.

His train (I'm guessing the 810 inbound on the Providence line) was late and the MBTA/MBCR didn't do a great job in providing commuters at the (once again I'm guessing) Sharon station with updates about the delayed train. He was "only" 50 minutes late to work as a result of the delayed train.

Mr. Gillis also mentioned that he has been receiving his reimbursements for the on-time service guarantees, even though it takes months to receive a reimbursement.

End Week Commutes and MBTA News Round Up

I can't believe how nice it is outside today. I'm really sad that we're supposedly getting rain over the weekend.

My outbound commute was on time last night. The P529 arrived at Grafton around 7:20 p.m. (7:19 p.m. is the scheduled on-time arrival time). This morning the inbound P508 got to Back Bay Back Bay at 8:12 and South Station at 8:21. Both stops were ahead of schedule.

I read in today's The Boston Globe about how 17-year old Stuart Spina presented 9-months worth of research to the MBTA Board yesterday. Stuart's research: how the T can fix its bus service.

How sad is it that a 17 year old kid has to do something like that. And you know what is even sadder this comment from the article about how the bus drivers and inspectors are under so much stress:
"I'd heard so much about the bus system," said Spina, a West Roxbury resident who attends the Commonwealth School. "I'd experienced it myself, late buses, crowded buses. . . . Surprisingly, the drivers and inspectors are under just as much stress."

He cited snowed-in bus stops and schedules that promise a 25-minute trip will take only 6 minutes.

Shame on the T for not even supporting their own employees!

Boston City Councilor Charles C. Yancey wants to have a public hearing to address the safety issues detailed in the Globe's article published earlier this week about the buses.

In other news, yesterday the MBTA's board approved a budget that will borrow $20 million from the T's $55 million rainy day fund. While there will not be fare hikes in 2009, the T has refused to rule out the possibility of fare increases for 2010.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

BostonNOW: Warnings For Using WiFi on the MBTA Commuter Rail

In an article posted Tuesday to BostonNOW, MBTA commuter rail riders who are taking advantage of the T's new WiFi program are warned about taking the proper security precautions.

These precautions are similar to using WiFi in any public place - Starbucks, Panera Bread, your local neighborhood establishment, your neighbors, etc. etc.
But users should beware, security advocates say. When you log onto any open "WiFi" network, you check your privacy at the door.

A hacker using "sniffer" software can read your personal emails and instant messages. Sophisticated hackers can set up a so-called "honey pot" - a fake wireless network. Once you unwittingly log on, there are few limits to what a hacker can do.

"They can do a lot of things to trick you into going to fake welcome pages where you think you're going to the real thing," said Northeastern University student Keith Bertolino, whose company Ciphertech Solutions counts the U.S. Department of Defense among its clients.

More than 2,000 commuter rail riders are accessing the WiFi everday, according to the T. The MBTA shared the following WiFi stats with BostonNOW (which makes me wonder - where are the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail on-time performance stats for February 2008?):

MBTA Commuter Rail WiFi unique daily users
Feb 1: 1,794
Feb 7: 1,985
Feb 14: 1,782
Feb 21: 2,394

Superfast Thursday Morning Commute on the P508 Worcester-Framingham MBTA/MBCR Commuter Rail Train

Good morning. What a gorgeous morning. Spring definitely feels like it is in the air. But March can be such a long, muddy month. Who knows if we've seen the last snow in Eastern and Central Massachusetts until later this year.

The P508 train was super fast this morning. I arrived to Back Bay Station at 8:11 a.m. and took the Orange Line to my office. I stopped and had a brief chat with a former colleague near the T's State Street Stop and I still made it into the office with plenty of time to spare. I was at my desk for 8:26 a.m.

It is amazing what an extra six-minutes can do for you during the day.

MBTA Woes and a New Worcester Union Station Commuter Rail Service

This morning's news from the MBTA front was not really all that uplifting for the troubled agency.

The good news for commuters: the T claims they will not be raising fares in 2009. However, there could be fare increases in 2010. The MBTA Board is expected today to approve a spending plan to help augment the $75 million deficit the T has, according to The Boston Globe.
The proposed budget, which would take affect July 1, takes $20 million from the T's $55 million rainy day fund. In addition, the T would restructure $50 million in debt under the plan, adding to the cost of future payments, and find $5 million in savings in the coming budget year, partly by hiring fewer administrators.

"We're concerned," said Lee Matsueda, program director for the T Riders Union, a community group. "There's no way that the system can sustain itself the way it is set up now."

The Riders Union and other consumer groups have been lobbying state legislators to bail out the T, arguing that riders cannot afford more hikes. So far, Governor Deval Patrick's administration has talked about restructuring the state's transportation agencies and raising money from proposed casinos, but he has not laid out a specific plan to plug all the financial gaps.

The T is definitely in a financial pickle.

In more "not so great" news for the T, research conducted by a University of Virginia graduate student found that the Charlie Card may not be such a wonderful "smart card." The Boston Herald reports that for an additional $1 per card, the MBTA could purchase a more secure transactional card. The research was conducted solely to warn commuters about the possibility of identity theft. This theft could pose a bigger risk if the Charlie Card gets merged into the Mass Pike's Fast Lane system.

This is what the T had to say:
Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, yesterday said: “It is MBTA policy not to discuss the security measures around its smart card technology. If this group is well intentioned and has information it wants to share with the MBTA, then MBTA staff would be happy to review the information.”
Finally, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported that state transportation officials are researching to see if an alternative Worcester commuter rail line can be created. Here are the highlights from that article:
State transportation officials are studying a possible new commuter rail route between Union Station in Worcester and North Station in Boston that could supplement existing commuter rail service from Worcester to South Station in Boston, and provide new commuter service in West Boylston, Clinton and Lancaster.

Last month, however, transportation officials undertook an examination of existing freight tracks that run north out of downtown Worcester from Union Station through West Boylston, Sterling, Clinton, Lancaster and Harvard to Ayer. At that point the plan envisions commuter trains picking up the existing tracks used by the Fitchburg commuter rail line to North Station in Boston.

Study of an alternative commuter rail line to Boston comes after years of fruitless negotiations between the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and CSX, which owns the tracks currently used for the 10-train commuter line through Framingham and are being targeted for as many as 10 more trains per day.

While the state has proposed purchasing and upgrading the Framingham line to allow greater use of the tracks for commuter service between Union Station and South Station in Boston, officials have reported little progress to date despite long-running and ongoing negotiations with CSX officials.

As part of that plan the state has developed options including construction of a parallel line for some key stretches of the Framingham line and advanced switching systems, to allow additional commuter trains to share the tracks that are also used for freight trains.

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said yesterday he is encouraged by the initial reviews of the possible new commuter-train route from Worcester to Boston. “It’s in the preliminary stages. I think the EOTC officials are initially encouraged at the feasibility of this, but it is a long process.”

Mr. Murray said the effort comes as the state for the first time in decades is starting to put together a comprehensive rail plan that will look at how the state can better utilize and integrate the rail infrastructure for passenger rail and freight. “They both are critically important to the current and future economic growth of the state,” Mr. Murray said.

“Some of our transportation team saw this as a potential option as we strive to look at ways we can expand rail service between Central Massachusetts, Worcester and North Worcester County,” Mr. Murray said of the possible new commuter train route.

“The initial review and ride by the EOT people has them wanting to further look at this internally and evaluate some of the costs and challenges that may be there. But to me it is encouraging in that there is at least an additional option for us to look at,” Mr. Murray said.

He said the plan could eventually require an agreement between the rail companies that own the existing tracks. Except for an initial stretch of track leading out of downtown toward Greendale in Worcester, the entire length of the route is owned by Pan Am Railroad, and state officials have had some preliminary discussions with the company.

Mr. Murray acknowledged, “the slow pace of negotiations” with CSX regarding expanded service on the Worcester — Framingham — Boston line and said the state is making a strong effort to work out either state ownership and acquisition or other options that would allow greater use of the CSX line for commuter rail.

“These are resources that are going to be needed more than ever and people have to be reasonable in their demands in negotiations. We are getting frustrated that things are not moving faster with CSX,” Mr. Murray said.

“The future is clear with gasoline approaching $4 a gallon and roads getting clogged, that we are going to have to utilize all of our transportation assets,” Mr. Murray said. In both the passenger rail and freight businesses, he said, “everyone agrees the rail is one underutilized asset.”

“There needs to be that shared cooperative approach among the different owners, and there needs to be incentives in place or hammers in place that require freight and passenger to work together so there is a level playing field in facilitating maximum use and shared cooperation among the entities,” the lieutenant governor said.

“This is an interstate commerce issue as well as being vitally important to Massachusetts,” he added.
While a secondary commuter rail line would definitely benefit communities North of Worcester, I sure hope the state can come to a solution regarding the Worcester-Framingham line.

The Worcester-Framingham line needs to have more trains running, similar to how the other commuter rail lines operate. There is a huge amount of population in the towns abutting the Worcester-Framingham line. This population needs an alternative route into Boston, beyond just driving on the Mass Pike.

While the proposed alternative line may not directly benefit Worcester residents (because it sounds like it would be a long trip to Boston), I'm sure towns including West Boylston, Harvard and Lancaster would welcome some alternatives for commuting into Boston.

The question is - does the state/T have the right funding to extend to another Worcester commuter rail line? If the state adds another Worcester line, will they forget about the Worcester-Framingham riders?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

MBTA Announcement: Worcester-Framingham Commuter Rail Line Track Work

I noticed that the MBTA finally posted something to their website regarding the Worcester-Framingham line track work beginning on Sunday.

Here is the T's "official" announcement about the track work:
Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR), provider of commuter rail service to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, would like customers to be aware that CSX, which owns the railroad right-of-way and is responsible for track maintenance on the Worcester/Framingham Commuter Rail Line, will replace rails beginning on Sunday, March 9th with work expected to conclude at the end of Monday, March 17th.

At the request of the MBTA and MBCR, CSX has staggered the project schedule to minimize delays for commuter rail customers.

As a result of this project, certain off peak MBTA commuter rail trains (outbound and inbound) will experience delays of up to at least 30 minutes.

Passengers should also be aware that morning rush hour trains may experience up to 10 minute delays due to temporary speed restrictions that will be in place until the work is complete.

We apologize for any inconvenience you experience because of this project.

Work will take place as follows:

Phase 1


Sunday, March 9th through Wednesday, March 12th.


Sunday, March 9
Train #562, #564, #565, #566, and #567, can expect delays between 20 and 30 minutes.

Monday, March 10 through Wednesday, March 12

The following trains can expect delays of up to 30 minutes.

OUTBOUND: Train #533, #535, #537, and #539
INBOUND: Train #534, #536, #538, and #540

No work will be performed March 13th through 15th.

Phase 2


Sunday, March 16th through Monday, March 17th.

Sunday, March 16Train #552, #553, #556, and #557 will be bused between Grafton and Worcester.

Train#560 and #561 will not be bused but can expect delays between 20 and 30 minutes between Grafton and Worcester.

Monday, March 17
Train #509, #513, #518 and #524 will be bused between Grafton and Worcester.

Train#519 and #530 will not be bused but can expect delays between 20 and 30 minutes between Grafton and Worcester.

I don't understand the purpose of the MBCR's website. They link to the MBTA's site for most information (which is most curious since Dan Grabauskas claims the MBTA isn't responsible for the commuter rail lines) and they have schedule information going back to 2006 for some lines.

Does this mean the rest of the on-time performance for March 2008 won't matter because of the line work?

Does anyone know why on-time performance stats haven't been officially published?


Kudos to State Rep Mike Rush

This article was published by Wicked Local News in late February.

Mass. State Rep. Mike Rush (D-West Roxbury) decided to listen to his constituents concerns about the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail line. Representative Rush should be commended for taking the initiative in scheduling a meeting between his local constituents and the MBTA/MBCR to discuss issues on the Needham commuter rail line. Representative Rush started receiving complaints about the commuter rail service in 2007.
“I probably received about 80 phone calls concerned with the time of the T,” Rush said. “It finally came to a point in the volume of the calls that we decided it was important to let the T know about the problem.”

I wish other state reps, state senators, mayors, elected selectpeople, and the governor would take the steps that Rep. Rush took and try to engage the MBCR/MBTA in a dialogue to rectify the issues plaguing the commuter rail lines.

Did the MBCR/MBTA give a reason for why delays occur on the Needham line. No, not really.

“There’s really no one problem,” said Richard Davey, deputy general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, the private company operating the commuter rail system. “It’s an accumulation of several things. Sometimes there are weather issues or mechanical issues, so it’s just a combination of factors.”

Amazing. It seems like the commuter rail ran fairly consistently 5, 10, 15 years ago. So is our New England weather suddenly a lot worse?

At least Rep. Rush's constituents have other options. For most of the Worcester-Framingham line, commuters basically have the commuter rail, the Pike and then driving to the Green Line as their commuting options.
For West Roxbury resident Edmund Kelley, 48, it became a “nuisance” during the last three months when the daily delay jumped from just a couple of minutes to nearly 30 minutes.

“The commuter rail takes 20 to 25 minutes for the trip,” said Kelley, who takes the commuter rail five times a week to and from work. “It’s very convenient when it’s on time. Once, we waited basically through three train schedules, and finally just gave up and took the bus.”

The people who attended this meeting said that communication is their biggest concern.

But the biggest concern of the commuters was about communication.

While some people such as Sullivan asked for the signs at the stations to provide updated arrival times of the train if it’s late, Kelley preferred to receive notifications prior to leaving his home.

Although MBTA introduced a pilot program, T-alerts, that notifies customers of delays of 15 minutes or more, Kelley said he doesn’t receive the notice on his pager until it’s too late and he’s already waited for the train for 20 minutes.

According to Rush, public transportation should be an on-time experience that is both clean and safe.

Mike Rush - you seem to be a good representative. Well done!

We should challenge the elected officials who's constituents ride the Worcester-Framingham line to follow Rep. Rush's lead and try to get the MBTA/MBCR to realistically fix the commuter rail system. Can this challenge be met?

Getting Beaten to the Punch and My Commute Updates

Commute-a-holic - you beat me to the punch regarding the CSX line maintenance announcement!

First, before I recap my latest commutes, I want to comment about next week's maintenance work.

Wow. I'm stunned by today's announcement that CSX is going to initiate track work on the Worcester-Framingham line this Sunday.

This is absolutely ridiculous that they can announce this a week ahead of time and expect there to be no uproar. How are they able to make an announcement like this five days before the work begins? While I understand that a majority of the work will take place during non-peak commutes, who determined what is a peak time? Call me silly, but there are a lot of riders taking the 7:15 p.m. (P533) train out of South Station. So we're just poor unfortunately souls who have to work "non-peak" hours at our jobs?

I give Amtrak some credit in announcing their maintenance work, scheduled for June, so far in advance. Amtrak made their announcement last Thursday - months in advance.

I thought CSX, the MBCR and the MBTA met "regularly" to discuss the issues plaguing the Worcester-Framingham line. What do they do at these discussions - figure out what they're going to have for lunch or chat about the last night's Patriots/Celtics/Red Sox/Bruins game?

Let the blog complaints begin!

Last night's commute was fine. I took the P527 which leaves at 5:35 p.m. out of South Station. This is the local train. Got to Grafton at 6:59 p.m., so almost right on time (the "on-time" arrival to Grafton is 6:58 p.m.).

I didn't ride the rails this morning. I drove in because I missed my train (the P508) and I would have been late to work if I waited for the next one. And thanks to the "new" MBTA/MBCR schedule for the Worcester line, if I miss the P508, the next train doesn't depart the Grafton station until 7:49 a.m. (the P512) , arriving into South Station at 9:08 a.m. I would be over 40 minutes late to work if I had waited. With my company's new work hours policy, I'm trying to be a good doobie and get to work right on time.

There is nothing better than driving on the Pike into Boston on a raining morning!! Better than what, you can only imagine. Sarcasm can serve a purpose, right?

Attention Worcester-Framingham MBTA/MBCR Commuter Rail Line Riders: Maintenance Work on the Rails Starts Sunday, March 9th

This was just announced this morning. When I first heard the report on WCVB-TV Channel 5 I thought "wow - they can make this announcement less than a week before the maintenance work begins?"

Commuter rail trains on the Worcester-Framingham line may be delayed upwards of a half-hour due to track work that CSX will be doing next week. The maintenance work begins this Sunday, March 9th and it is expected to run through Monday, March 17th.

Most of the work will supposedly take place during "off" hours - from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. The work will be done on tracks between Wellesley and Auburndale and between Worcester and Framingahm.

More work will take place in April when CSX will replace cross ties on the Worcester line.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette said that the MBCR released a statement yesterday related to the maintenance work. I did a quick search on the MBCR's website to see if I could find the statement and I didn't see it. I did notice they have the most current commuter rail "schedules" dating back to 2007, so they do a great making sure their website has current information.
The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., which runs commuter rail service for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, released a statement yesterday projecting the following delays:

  • On Sunday, trains traveling after 8 p.m. should expect delays of 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Between Monday and Wednesday, March 12, trains leaving South Station after 7 p.m. and trains leaving Worcester or Framingham after 7 p.m. should expect delays of up to 30 minutes.
  • On March 16, passengers on morning and early afternoon trains will be bused between Grafton and Worcester, while late afternoon trains are likely to be delayed 20 to 30 minutes.
  • On March 17, passengers on the 8:50 a.m. and 12:10 p.m. trains leaving South Station, and the 10:30 a.m. and 2:05 p.m. trains leaving Worcester, will be bused between Grafton and Worcester. Evening rush-hour trains can expect delays of 20 to 30 minutes.
No work is scheduled on March 13, 14 and 15.
The T&G said more information about the maintenance work could be found on the MBTA's website. I didn't notice anything related to the maintenance work posted on the T's website. I did see that the T is looking for participants for the Rider Oversight Committee.

The Boston Globe also reported on the maintenance work. While the Globe's article didn't contain as much information as the T&G's article, the Globe did include some stats for the Worcester-Framingham line's February 2008 performance.
Farmelant said 69 percent of the trains on the Worcester/Framingham line ran on time or less than five minutes late last month. Since the Feb. 19 schedule change, 94 percent of trains on the line have run on time, he said.
This still begs the question - why aren't the on-time performance stats released more consistently?

I'm sorry Worcester-Framingham commuter rail riders . . . it sounds like you are looking at some delays in the Spring.

On a slightly different topic, the Today show is looking for "the worst commute in America." Hmm, I wonder if the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line is considered one of the worst commutes?

Good luck next week!


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Worcester-Framingham Line Commutes Right On Schedule

Spring is in the air! I hope this isn't a late-winter tease. And I can't believe Daylight Savings starts on Sunday!

Trains were right on schedule for the evening commute last night, as the the p529 arrived right on schedule at 7:19 p.m.

This morning the p508 arrived at Back Bay right at 8:17 a.m. We did travel rather slowly through the Allston freight yard this morning, which I'm sure contributed to "right on time" as opposed to a minute or two ahead of schedule.

Last night, the loudspeaker wasn't working in the car, so none of the stop announcements were heard. I thought I had slept through my stop, which is of course hard to do because it's the second to last stop. But still, it's not like you can see out of those windows to actually determine what stop you're at.

Speaking of the inability to see out of the commuter rail train's windows (well at least the cars they put on the Worcester-Framingham line), BostonNOW reported this morning that commuter rail upgrades are supposedly coming. The MBTA Board of Directors will consider $9.3 million in commuter rail improvements. I still find it hilarious that Dan Grabauskas said in his interview with WBUR on Friday that the T isn't "responsible" for the commuter rail lines. Well, if you aren't responsible, Dan, why might your agency be spending nearly $10 million in improvements?

One of the items slated to be included in the commuter rail improvements - replacement windows for the coaches. I wonder what it will be like to actually see outside during my train rides?