Friday, May 30, 2008

Saving Gas by Changing Commuting Patterns

Today's Worcester Business Journal had an interesting article about how 44% of workers recently surveyed by Robert Half International said that the high cost of gas is causing them to change their daily commute behaviors.

In other news, the Boston Herald is playing their typical role days after Wednesday's horrible Green Line accident. I've noticed several "breaking news" stories about people who did extraordinary things on Wednesday, helping some of the severely injured passengers. And I saw a number of "political commentary" articles calling for a MBTA shake-up.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rising Energy Costs Contribute to "Greener" Options

I read two great articles online at the (The Wall Street Journal's interactive site). While I will provide links to both articles, you may not be able to read them without a subscription.

Due to the rising cost of gas, many municipalities and public institutions are starting to look at alternatives to the traditional five-day work week. According to the "Oil Prices Prompt Four-Day Week" article, a county in Michigan and Suffolk County in New York are considering placing their public employees on a four-day work week. For a traditional 40-hour week, this would mean four, ten hour days.

I think this is a brilliant idea - both for employees and the public at large. If given the option, I know I would rather spend four days in the office than five. It would be nice to have an extra-day off during the week to run errands and just live life. Plus, if the municipalities need to make sure employees are putting in 10-hour days, perhaps public offices would be open longer than 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I know I could benefit from visiting a town office or a state office after 5 p.m. (when most are closed). Not to mention - local traffic would be reduced during the rush hour.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts - which already experiences congestion-clogged roads - should really start to have both state-offices and local municipal offices explore the viability of moving employees to a 4-day work week. And for the private sector . . . I'm really surprised more companies aren't exploring ways to let their employees tele-commute - even if it is for one day. The technology is in place to allow people to work remotely. Plus the ability to tele-commute or work a truncated workweek could be a perk in companies that can't or won't offer raises (on a totally different subject, I read the other day that a 2% raise is about the average that a lot of companies are offering - if you even get a raise).

In today's offline and online Journal, there was an article titled "Railroads Roll With a Greener Approach" about how train companies (such as CSX) have created a series of ads promoting freight trains as a green transportation source. I've heard the ads for CSX here in the greater-Boston area and I think I've even seen some billboards.

Why freight trains can be considered green:
Freight trains now use much cleaner and more fuel-efficient diesel engines, and railroad companies are testing new engines that the industry is touting as "ultralow-emission." Many environmentalists acknowledge that the railroads have a powerful argument, given that freight trains burn far less fuel than trucks and can help reduce highway congestion.

A Somber Thursday Morning Commute

The train ride in this morning was quiet and subdued. I am sure the Green Line crash was on the minds of most of the commuters. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Terrese Edmonds, the operator who was killed in the crash last night.

I know that the conductors, operators and engineers bear the brunt of commuters' frustrations when there are delays with the train, but I wanted to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for all they do to ensure safe and expedient trips.

Commute stats for the day: departed Grafton at 7:09 and arrived at South Station at 8:22.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Green Line Trolleys Collide in Newton

While on the commuter rail home tonight, I got a call from home about a train crash and quickly checked my Blackberry. had an update regarding the collision, whereby an MBTA Green Line trolley on the D line crashed into another trolley this evening during the rush hour commute.

As with any accident scene, details are sketchy, but we hope that everyone is safe, and that the train operator, who I understand is seriously injured and still trapped on the train, is alright.

Worcester Line P560 Commuter Rail Train Late on Saturday, May 24th

I received the following email from Grafton Train Rider. The P560 inbound commuter rail train was 22 minutes late on Saturday. Also, Grafton Train Rider shared some observations about the Grafton commuter rail station.

Dear Train Rider,

I took P560 inbound Saturday May 24 and arrived 22 minutes late into Yawkey. Good thing that the Sox were not playing at home! The sign at the Grafton station had not been updated since Friday, May 23 (typical for weekend travel), and the train arrived at Grafton 15 minutes late. I asked the conductor why the train was late, and he replied with a useless comment "Isn't this train always late?". I don't know why the tardiness became worse as we picked up more passengers. One thought is that a portion of the weekend trains is typically closed off. Upon arrival into each station, most passengers have no idea where on the platform to stand. So, most folks have to walk to a different boarding location, and the conductor must wait until everyone boards. For example, I was standing toward the middle (where weekend trains typically board), and this conductor boarded at the rear platform area.

In another matter, my brother and I noticed exposed rebar on the left side of the handicapped inbound ramp in the Grafton station. Concrete is crumbing everywhere, and rust is apparent. I can't believe that this station opened in October 1999, I believe, based upon it's current state. To be honest, I never noticed this shoddy workmanship before since most of us are always rushing for the train. I also noticed uneven newer pavement around manhole covers (for conduit perhaps) that may eventually pose a safety hazard. Perhaps some digital photographs should be sent to Dan Grabauskas and the "Eye Team"?

Grafton Train Rider

Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge

Thanks to posting the Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge badge to the Train Stopping blog, Brighter Planet and the campaign will offset 350 pounds of carbon in our name. Sweet! I guess that's the equivalent of shutting off 100 light bulbs in one day or not using your car for two weeks.

Brighter Challenge is a Vermont-based start-up committed to fighting climate change and building a clean-energy future. The 350 Challenge is one way to show support to fight climate change.

Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge

Back to the Grind

After a glorious Memorial Day weekend, the work week is back in full swing ... although I do plan to sneak away on Friday as well for another long weekend. Whoever decided that a 5 day work week was the norm must have been off of their rocker!!

Onto the commuting updates:

Tuesday morning: I took the P512 which departs Grafton at 7:49. We arrived at South Station around 9:03 and I jumped on a Silver Line bus to the waterfront. All in all, a decent commute.

Tuesday evening: If you take the commuter rail from South Station, you could tell the second you walked into the station that something was wrong. As I was coming up from the Silver Line, I noticed that it was dark, rather hot and very, very crowded. As you may have heard by now, Downtown Crossing and Park Street were evacuated and Red Line service was suspended last night after an electrical fire broke out near the Downtown Crossing station.

When I got to the platform, there were a lot of people milling around. I heard announcements that some of the trains would make extra stops at JFK/UMass and Quincy due to the Red Line issues. I thought the MBTA did a good job of keeping people updated abotu what trains they could take since the Red Line was incapacitated.

I took the p529 home, which is supposed to depart at 6:15, however we didn't depart until 6:28. Apparently the issue on the Framingham/Worcester line had to do with lightning striking a signal tower and was not related to the Red Line issues. Furthermore, our train was 6 single cars, when normally we have 6 (or more) double decker cars. Needless to say, it was packed. We got to Grafton at around 7:28, about 9-10 minutes after our scheduled arrival time.

Wednesday morning: I took the P508, which departs Grafton at 7:09. I was running late this morning and had to wait to get into the parking lot because someone decided to stop and unload their passengers right in the middle of the entry lane ... um, people, please do not do this! Pull all the way in and around the first lane for drop offs!!!

Needless to say, I had to sprint all the way across the parking lot and down the stairs. (And I didn't even have a chance to pay my parking fee, oops). Lucky for me, the MBTA Transit Police were conducting a random train check with bomb sniffing dogs, so I made it onto the train with minutes to spare. We arrived at South Station around 8:23, so right on time.

In other news, it looks like the MBTA is meeting today to discuss their financial outlook. According to the Metro, the MBTA's 2009 fiscal year $1.455 billion operating budget aims to draw heavily from reserves and restructure debt to cover a $75 million shortfall. The budget calls for depleting one-third of the T’s rainy day funds to close the gap. You can read the full text of the article here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

I am enjoying the long weekend early, so no commute updates today.

I did see this article in the Somerville Journal about possible MBTA fare hikes. Even with the increased ridership due to the high costs of fuel, the MBTA needs to address its finanical issues and a fare increase seems likely.

Enjoy the weekend, the weather is supposed to be fantastic.

Go Sox and Go Celtics!!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Special Request

Train Stopping has been contacted by a reporter for a national publication who is interested in speaking with Boston-area commuters who have recently started commuting via the commuter rail/public transportation instead of driving to work due to the high cost of gas.

If you have recently started riding the rails or taking the bus instead of driving to work, please feel free to contact me, Train Rider, at worctrainrider AT or send an email to Commute-a-holic at commuteaholic AT

The cost of gas impacts all of us. Commute-a-holic said it was the lead story on the Today Show this morning. One analyst believes that gas could go as high as $12 a gallon. Both Commute-a-holic and I remember the gas crisis of the 1970s. It is a shame that we squandered 30 years of dilly-dallying instead of coming up with viable energy options to fossil fuels. Hopefully the rising energy costs is a wake-up call for all of us to be more mindful of our decisions.

In commute-related news, I had a status quo commute. My train arrived to South Station at around 8:22 a.m. today and I took the Silver Line to my office.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More MBTA/MBCR Commuters, Fewer On the Pike

In today's MetroWest Daily News there was an article about how rising costs may be causing commuters to change their commuting habits.

From January 2008 to April 2008, the Mass Pike saw a .86% drop in the number of transactions east of the Weston tolls. So that is essentially the Brighton/Cambridge (or Allston/Brighton if you are traveling westbound) and the airport tunnels. Which is interesting that the drop was only measured for this portion of the Pike, since many of the on/off-ramps no longer require tolls.

The MBTA saw a 6.2% increase in riders from January 2008 to March 2008 compared to the same period last year.

To off-set the toll increase, the Pike factored in a temporary 3% decrease in traffic this year. Whenever there is a toll increase, drivers move to non-toll roads, such as Rt. 9 or 495.

As of April, the Pike's traffic grew .42% on the western portion and did not decrease as much as expected on the eastern portion.

From the article:
"If the population is stagnant then someone is switching and, if they're switching, how many are switching from our road system?" Turnpike Authority Executive Director Alan LeBovidge said during a Monday morning board meeting. "We're dependent on volume. If the volume goes down then something has to change - it might be our budget."

The authority raised tolls 25 cents at the Weston barrier and Allston tolls and 50 cents at the one-way Boston tunnel tolls in January to pay for a scheduled increase in Big Dig debt.

Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen, who is also the authority board chairman, said the spike in MBTA riders is a good thing, but that it is something to keep an eye on when estimating future toll revenue.

By the way, the toll information on the Mass Pike's website is somewhat confusing (unless you actually are a frequent Pike traveler). I feel bad for out-of-state visitors or people in the area who go to the site to figure out how much their trip will cost, but it is a little difficult to understand. It would be great if they had a map of the Pike that let you click on each exit to figure out your start/end points. Then again, maybe more of us just have the Fast Lane or EZ Pass systems and the actual cost doesn't really matter any more?

Waiting for a Track at South Station

Boy, am I looking forward to the long weekend. Only two more morning commutes to go and it is Memorial Day. Like so many other Bostonians/Massachusetts residents, I'm off to the Cape. I don't think that is a cliche, but I do hope I avoid the dreaded Cape traffic. Summer is here, but it is always strange when Memorial Day is so early.

Today's commute was fine. I took the P508 in from Grafton. Upon arrival to South Station, our train had to sit on the tracks immediately outside the concourse for over 5 minutes. We were waiting for a track. It is so annoying when you have to wait for a track. I think we finally disembarked around 8:27 a.m., so the wait made us slightly late.

There was an op-ed in today's The Boston Globe about the T's pension system.

Finally, I am very sad to hear the news about Senator Kennedy's brain tumor. I thought the offline headline for the NY Post was especially crass.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grafton Station Vandalism Update

Last week, I noticed an increased presence of the MBTA transit police in the Grafton commuter rail parking lot. I think this is directly related to the increased communication to the MBTA and MBCR by Grafton area commuters with respect to the break-ins. I know I had been sending multiple emails to MBCR and did receive a response from their customer service manager last week. The text of the email appears below:
Dear MBTA Customer,

I am very sorry for all the problems that our commuters are encountering at the Grafton commuter rail station.

I have notified the appropriate personnel at the MBTA asking that they request a greater police presence at this station and have been assured that this will be addressed.

Again, I am sorry for this situation and thank you for bringing it to our attention.

Linda Dillon
MBCR Customer Service Manager
I did see some more broken glass in the parking lot this morning, in the row beginning with the number 50. I hope this doesn’t mean the vandals are back. I’ll keep an eye out and continue to contact MBCR if I see anything out of the ordinary. I also encourage other commuter rail riders to do the same. Here is a direct link to the MBCR's Commuter Rail Customer Service page. You can select the "Submit a Concern" tab to submit questions, comments, and feedback.

The Morning After Lester's No-Hitter

How exciting that Jon Lester threw the Red Sox's first no-hitter by a lefty pitcher in 52 years. Amazing, huh? What's even more amazing - I was supposed to go to last night's game. But a severely sore throat caused me to go home and watch the game on NECN like most of the other Red Sox nation fans. While I'm disappointed I wasn't at the game, at least my sore throat is now just a plain head cold. I wanted to make sure I am well for the Memorial Day weekend.

This morning, to mix things up a bit, I took the P512 in from Grafton. This train departs Grafton at 7:49 a.m. and we arrived to South Station at 9:06 a.m., about two minutes ahead of schedule.

Thanks to my head cold, I had to visit my doctor yesterday. Since I am now working on the waterfront, I had to take the Silver Line into South Station. As I was walking through South Station, I saw that the April 2008 on-time performance stats were posted. The Worcester-Framingham line on-time performance stat last month was roughly 90.38%. This was slightly lower than the March 2008 performance. If either Commute-a-holic or I receive the MBCR's on-time performance stats, we'll post them to the blog.

In other transportation-related news, it sure seems like I-93 will eventually have toll roads added. According to this article from today's The Boston Globe, the top transportation official in the state has said that he would like to look at tolls as a way to raise revenue to maintain the state's major roads. Perhaps because I live west of Boston and may be a bit biased because I need to use the Pike to travel through much of Massachusetts, why should the Pike be the only major toll road? It sure seems like the North Shore and South Shore residents receive a "free ride" for using the highways. On the other hand, I can't even fathom how they would incorporate toll booths anywhere on 93. Can you say "traffic cluster f*ck?"

Yesterday's Standard-Times published an article yesterday on the increase use of the Middleboro Commuter Rail Line, especially at the Lakeville station. This increase is being attributed to the high cost of gas and the challenge of driving on Route 24 into Boston.

Finally, a press release posted last week to the MBTA's website has photos of the new commuter rail cars with the new bike cages. The T is also looking to perhaps expand the times for when commuters are allowed to take their bikes on the subway. Commute-a-holic just returned from a trip to Ottawa, ONT Canada. Ottawa encourages commuters to travel by bicycle by providing bike racks and bike trails throughout the city. Biking is a great way to conserve resources and stay in shape.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday Afternoon News Round-Up

Train Rider drove into work today. I was away on vacation last week and was not able to help with the commuter rail news round-up.

So here are some current events in the MBTA-MBCR commuter rail world:

Yesterday's Boston Sunday Globe ran an article about how town's, specifically towns along the Worcester commuter rail line, see commuter rail trains as a mixed-blessing. Why? Well, especially in Ashland and Framingham, the trains can contribute to road traffic by blocking intersections.

On Friday The Boston Herald wrote an article about the introduction of new railway cars for bicyclists on the Greenbush commuter rail line.

Last week, The Globe also ran an article about how some T workers may be taking advantage of early retirement before a new law goes into effect.

I enjoyed my vacation, but it feels nice to be back!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

p504 and p508 Problems Today

Today's p504 was canceled. (this is the express train from Framingham that departs at approx. 6:50).

I took the p508 from Grafton. Normally, we have 8 double decker cars. This morning, we had 3 double decker cars and 3 single cars ... so you knew it was going to be a packed, long commute. We arrived to Back Bay at 8:21 (scheduled arrival time 8:17) and South Station at 8:30 (scheduled arrival time 8:23).

Seems there have been some issues this week with trains getting canceled or arriving late. Hope this isn't a sign of things to come.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

P502 Problems Today

It seems like the MBTA had it's share of problems today, in addition to a Green Line derailment today, the commuter rail also had its share of issues. Grafton Train Rider shared the following with me today:

"The p502 broke down just after Wellesley Square this morning. The conductor did a great job keeping us informed. The p504 connected up with us and pushed us in. My door-to-door commute from Grafton to Cambridge was 2 hours 45 minutes. My company has audits this week beginning at 8 AM, but fortunately, I was able to arrange coverage.

On another note, I noticed 2 bulldozers and a portable toilet at the alleged Weston Commuter Rail station under construction (according to Google maps). I still have not been able to validate what this construction is, though."

Thanks to Grafton Train Rider for today's updates ... I did not take the train today as I had after work commitments for which I needed my car, so it look s like I missed the bad morning commutes.

I also have not been able to verify any information about the new stop in Weston. I sent an email to the MBTA and MBCR but have not heard anything back yet.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Windy Tuesday Commute Update

Wow, it's quite windy out today. I feel like I could just stand on the street, but still be buffeted about by the wind. I will say that at least it's warmer today than it was yesterday, so it's not so bad.

This morning, the p508 arrived to South Station at 8:20. Took the Silver Line (which was packed) to the Seaport area and was at my desk by 8:34.

All seems to be quiet on the MBTA news front ...

Monday, May 12, 2008

A New Monday Morning Commute

My office moved locations over the weekend to the Seaport area, so my Monday morning commute was slightly different ... the train arrived at Back Bay at 8:13, but as opposed to getting off and takign the Orange Line, I stayed on ... we arrived at South Station at 8:22, then I took the Silver Line to my office and got here by 8:32.

Sweet. I quite like the Silver Line, it zips you over to this area, whereas the walk would be between 15-20 mintues from South Station. When the weather is really, really nice, I'll do that, but for now, the Silver Line suits me just fine.

I checked The Grafton News this past weekend for news about the commuter rail break-ins, but I didn't see anything specific mentioned. I also did not notice a MBTA cop this morning ... I'll keep my eyes and ears open for parking lot goings-on.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rail Summit Feedback on National Train Day

Today is Amtrak's National Train Day. Al Roker is the official spokesperson, so the Today show was airing clips of Al reporting from a rail concourse somewhere.

Yesterday was the Rail Summit in Worcester. The Telegram & Gazette noted that Lt. Governor Tim Murray said that CSX is "indifferent" to public needs. Here's the article from today's T&G:

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said yesterday that railroad company CSX Corp. is blocking the expansion of commuter rail service to the city, and he reproached CSX for neglecting the public interest.

At a railroad summit at the DCU Center, Mr. Murray used harsh terms to
describe the current stalemate between CSX and the state. The policies CSX is
proposing, he said, are “absurd.”

“Despite CSX’s apparent indifference to the public interest, we are not
dissuaded in our effort to expand rail to Worcester and other parts of the
state,” he told a packed conference room, including CSX representatives sitting
in the front row.

The expansion of commuter rail service to Worcester has been discussed
for years, but has not moved beyond talks, largely because of a dispute over
liability. CSX, which owns the track from Framingham to Worcester, insists on
maintaining the existing no-fault liability policy if the state purchases the

The 22.8-mile section from Framingham to Worcester is one of the few
pieces of railroad used by passenger trains that is not owned and controlled by
the state. Mr. Murray and other politicians say acquiring the right-of-way on
that track is the best way to expand commuter service and spur economic growth,
but if the state buys the track, liability should be determined by who is at
fault in an accident. Otherwise, politicians say, taxpayers could end up footing
the bill for CSX’s negligence.

“No-fault is a deal breaker,” Mr. Murray, the former Worcester mayor,
said yesterday. He has voiced that point before, but not in such blunt terms
at a well-attended public event. CSX representatives yesterday agreed that
they are not willing to budge on the liability policy but said the relocation of
CSX’s 80-acre rail yard in Allston is the bigger obstacle to expanding commuter
rail service.

Lisa A. Mancini, CSX’s vice president of strategic infrastructure
initiatives, said CSX supports passenger service, but under certain conditions.

Asked about Mr. Murray’s comments, Ms. Mancini said, “I was a little
surprised at the tone.”

She said CSX is trying to avoid a situation such as the aftermath of a recent train accident in Canton that injured more than 100 people, where “everybody’s suing everybody else.” Audience members, including Mayor Konstantina B. Lukes and District 2 City Councilor Philip P. Palmieri, pelted Ms. Mancini with questions about the standoff in negotiations.

Ms. Mancini said CSX is always ready to sit down and negotiate, but a
solution could be a long way off.

“I wasn’t expecting to negotiate this in this public forum today,” she

Mr. Murray and state transportation officials said it’s possible to add
seven passenger trains — four outbound and three inbound — on the
Framingham-Worcester line right now.

“The schedule can accommodate more trains,” said Thomas S. Cahir, deputy secretary for transportation programs at the state’s Executive Office of Transportation, in an interview. “There’s no question in my mind they can do
that now.”

But Ms. Mancini said adding trains to the Worcester line now is not feasible without significant infrastructure improvements. Adding trains would cause problems to existing freight and passenger service, she said.

During her presentation, Ms. Mancini said CSX anticipates increased freight traffic over the next several years and is developing a long-term plan to accommodate that increase. One locomotive can carry the load of roughly 250 tractor-trailers, she said, and trains burn gas much more efficiently than trucks do.

John D. Ray, director of railroad operations for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said the MBTA is focused on expanding commuter service to Worcester.

“Passenger demand on this line is expected to increase more than 50 percent between 2003 and 2010”— and that projection came before gas prices skyrocketed to more than $3.50 a gallon, Mr. Ray said.

Representatives from CSX and the Executive Office of Transportation
began negotiating more than two years ago. Both sides agree some progress has
been made; for example, in February the MBTA rolled out a new schedule that
allows more travel time for commuter trains on the Worcester line.

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, and former Gov. Michael S.
Dukakis also spoke at yesterday’s forum.

“The debate we’re having is not freight rail versus commuter rail,” Mr.
McGovern said. “We want both. We need both to coexist.”

Wow - that's amazing that the passenger growth of the Worcester line was targeted at 50% - a target made before the increase in gas prices.

The Worcester Business Journal also published an article about yesterday's summit, as did The Metro West Daily News.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Friday Commute and Updates from the Worcester Train Summit

TGIF! I think I say this every Friday, but I'm always glad when the weekend rolls around.

I've noticed an increased presence of MBTA police officers at the Grafton train station this past week. I'm sure the NECN story combined with the complaints of Grafton commuters have helped to ramp up patrolling of the parking lot. I hope it continues!

My morning commute was right on time. We left Grafton at 7:09 and got to Back Bay about 1 hour and 2 minutes later, for an 8:11 arrival time. I got out at Back Bay and took the Orange Line over to my office and was at my desk by 8:27. I hope the same holds true when I switch up my commute on Monday (commuter rail to South Station to the Silver Line to my new office).

As I have mentioned in the past, the Worcester Train Summit is going on this morning. We're going to be posting links throughout the day to live blogging provided by Daily Worcesteria as soon as updates become available.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Free Vitamin Water Day at South Station

What a treat!! They were handing out free bottles of Vitamin Water today outside South Station.

I only have one more morning commute to my current office location. My office is moving over the weekend. I will no longer be getting off at Back Bay Station and taking the Orange Line to work. Or disembarking at South Station to walk to my office. Now I'll be taking the commuter rail in all the way to South Station and then relying on the Silver Line to get to my office. This should be interesting.

I will miss the buzz of walking outside at South Station, not to mention getting freebies from the people who hand out stuff.

My P508 train arrived at Back Bay around 8:13 a.m. and South Station at 8:21 a.m.

Saw another article about more people taking the commuter rail as an alternative to paying higher gas prices. Unlike yesterday's article from The Salem News, this article contains quotes from commuters who believe the commuter rail is a cost-effective alternative to driving into Boston.

Commuter Rail Summit Tomorrow

As mentioned on Monday, there will be a public summit tomorrow at the DCU Center in Worcester addressing the state of commuter rail service in Massachusetts. I believe the people behind Daily Worcesteria may be live blogging from the conference.

Unfortunately, for work-related reasons, neither Train Rider or I can make it to tomorrow's summit. Yesterday's Telegram & Gazette published an article about the summit. Here are the highlights:
Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray, the city’s former mayor, will introduce the public forum. Speakers will include former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis; U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester; Thomas Cahir, deputy secretary for transportation programs for the state Executive Office of Transportation; Maurice J. O’Connell, vice president of public affairs for CSX Corp.; and Jody Ray, director of railroad operations for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Other elected officials and transit advocates are expected to attend. The summit will be held from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Friday. It is open to the public.

Mr. Murray, a longtime proponent of expanding commuter rail service, who occasionally rides the train from Worcester to Boston, said the summit is an opportunity to explain what has been done to improve commuter service and what challenges lie ahead.

“I want to make sure people are aware of how hard we’ve been working on various fronts,” he said. “This is an important priority of this administration.”

The expansion of commuter rail service to Worcester has been discussed for many years, but has not moved beyond talks. Among the challenges to expanding rail service is a disagreement over liability that has become a hot political issue. CSX Corp., the national railroad company which owns the track from Framingham to Worcester, insists on maintaining the existing no-fault liability policy if CSX sells the track to the state. Lawmakers and transportation officials refuse to sign on to such a policy.

Mr. Murray described rail transportation in Massachusetts as a checkerboard, with the ownership and control of tracks varying from one line to the next.

Yesterday Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s office authorized the Executive Office of Transportation to conduct a study to boost freight transportation in Massachusetts. The $1 million study, expected to be completed in 15 months, will be the first rail master plan in nearly 20 years.

“It benefits the state, and it benefits (CSX) as well,” Mr. Murray said. “What we need is a real public-private partnership.”

Last week, the MBTA approved spending $15 million to improve tracks and signaling on the Fitchburg commuter rail line. This is the first installment in a $150 million upgrade on the Fitchburg line, expected to be complete by 2010, which will allow trains to travel faster.
Does anyone find it weird that no one from the MBCR appears to be on the public speaking schedule? If MBCR operates the commuter rails for the MBTA, shouldn't a representative be included in the program?

The summit is a great idea. Too bad it is on a work day. I wonder if more people would attend if something like this was scheduled for an evening or on a weekend?

Grafton MBTA Station Break-Ins Featured on NECN

Yesteday NECN ran a report on the break-ins at the Grafton MBTA commuter rail station. As a Grafton Commuter noted in a comment yesterday, The Grafton News is supposed to be writing an article about the break-ins and the Charter Cable channel also aired a report. Unfortunately, Grafton Commuter's car was broken into.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Midweek Commute

I took the P508 train in this morning. It seemed like we were a few minutes behind schedule. We sat in Framingham for awhile because we had to wait for a freight train to pass. We finally arrived at South Station around 8:26 a.m. So the train was late.

I haven't seen anything about on-time results for April 2008. I wonder when that information will be published?

Globe Editorial On the MBTA's Newfound Popularity

On the heels of yesterday's articles about the rising cost of gas and the increase in ridership across the MBTA, today an editorial about the MBTA was published by The Boston Globe's editorial staff was published.

Essentially the editorial touched about how the MBTA has tried to improve the passenger experience and the fact that the Authority is in a financial pickle. Of course, even with the rising cost of gas, the Globe's editors noted that if passengers do not have a good experiencing using the T, then they will seek other options. Essentially, the state's leadership needs to work with the MBTA to make sure that the transit system functions and doesn't go into debt.

Although the T is publicizing a 6.2% growth in riders for the year, an article in The Salem News focused on how commuter rail riders for some lines is flat or declining on the Newburyport-Rockport line.

Though the T reported an overall 6.2 percent increase in use of all forms of
public transportation, including buses, ferries and subways on weekdays this
year, commuter rail ridership for the most part has remained flat.

The only exception was in February, when commuter trains carried 4,100 more people than in the same month the previous year, according to the MBTA. Despite several requests, the MBTA did not provide specific ridership numbers for the
Newburyport/Rockport line.

So what did the T have to say about the stagnat ridership on some of the North Shore lines?
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said bad publicity may account for the stagnant
commuter rail numbers. Last year, the line was criticized for a summer marked by
many late trains, which turned many people off from rail commuting.

But could there also be another reason?
"Commuter rail tickets are expensive," said Holly Matulewicz of Salem. "It's $10
round-trip and then $2 to ride the T. ... You probably only save a couple
dollars (over driving) because of parking."

Well, maybe if you're heading into Boston from the North Shore, the price to drive is about a break even point. From other destinations on the commuter rail line, the cost of driving is much more expensive. You have to factor in gas, tolls, parking in downtown Boston, etc. Yes, the commuter rail is expensive but so are the alternatives.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Grafton MBTA Commuter Rail Parking Lot Break-Ins

A few months ago, Train Stopping posted about vandalism and break-ins at the Westborough MBTA parking lot. Well, it looks like that vandalism has made its way to the Grafton parking lot

For the past few weeks, I’ve been noticing a lot of broken glass and smashed windows in the parking lot. I’ve also heard disgruntled commuters complaining about what has been taken from their cars . . . ranging from change, to CDs, to GPS devices, to Fast Lane transponders . . . it appears that nothing is safe left inside a car.

On the train last week, I was standing behind a couple of Grafton commuters who were talking about the break-ins. One woman was saying that she had filed a police report with the town of Grafton and that the police responded to her that there have been over 30 (!) break-ins in the last 4-6 weeks.

I find that disturbing on a number of levels, not only the fact that these break-ins are occurring, but that they’re so frequent. Mostly I’m aggravated that THERE HAS BEEN NO PUBLIC INFORMATION about these break-ins. Neither the Worcester T&G nor The Grafton News has taken up this story at all to bring attention to the problem and thus to either encourage commuters to clean their cars out or to persuade law enforcement to step up patrolling the area.

Grafton’s parking lot is not as secluded as Westborough’s lot, meaning that you can see it from Route 30. However, I think the suburban lots get the shaft from the MBTA police (who maintains jurisdiction over the MBTA parking lots). If this lot was monitored either personally or electronically via surveillance cameras, this would go a long way to curbing the rash of break-ins or at least catching the perpetrators.

I’ve started communicating with the MBTA regarding this and encourage you to do the same.

Here's hoping everyone's car is safe while it is parked at the commuter rail lots.

Totally Tubular Tuesday Commute

The hardest thing about blogging is coming up with a title for the post!

My commute on the P508 this morning was fine. We got in around 8:20 a.m. I'm not sure of the exact time because I didn't check my watch.

Saw this news story from WBZ-TV Channel 4 this morning. "MBTA Gets Failing Grade For Financial Efficiency." This is a follow-up to the report WBZ aired last week. Like last week's report, this story focused mainly on underutilized buses.

Rising Cost of Gas May Break MBTA's 2001 Ridership Record

Today's The Boston Globe ran two separate cover stories on the effects that the rising cost of gas in the greater Boston area.

One article focused on how more commuters are turning to mass transit options in lieu of driving. The MBTA is on course to break the ridership record of 354.1 million riders set in 2001.

The second article was about the issues owners of gas guzzling vehicles are facing. I know that we all have individual choices, but I've never understood why so many people in my suburban community own large pick up trucks. These same folks pay someone to do their yard work, so it isn't like they're using their truck to haul stuff around.

When gas is pushing $4.00 a gallon, I'm happy that I have a short commute!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Great Rail Summit of 2008 This Friday

This Friday, May 9th from 8:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. the Great Rail Summit comes to Worcester. The event is being held at the DCU Center in downtown Worcester. Lt. Governor Tim Murray scheduled the summit and former Governor Michael Dukakis will give the keynote address.

Neither Train Rider nor I can make it, but we'll try to keep everyone posted about the event. The needs and challenges of rail service in Central Mass. will be discussed.

MBTA Commuter Rail Survey and Maybe a Weston Rail Stop?

I noticed that the MBTA has a link to a Commuter Rail Pass User survey from the home page of their website. If you are a commuter rail pass holder, you may want to complete the survey.

Also, Grafton Train Rider sent me an email regarding a possible Weston commuter rail station for the Worcester-Framigham commuter rail line. I haven't heard anything about this, but I guess it would make sense for Weston residents (though it would make the commute longer for riders from Worcester, Grafton, etc.).

Here is what Grafton Train Rider said:
Dear Train Rider,

I was mapping a Weston address in Google maps and noticed that an MBTA icon appears for a Weston Station (Under Constr). See for yourself using this address:

Leo J Martin Memorial Golf Course
85 Park Rd
Weston, MA 02493

Were you aware of this station? When is the expected completion date? So, the local trains will have even longer rides. I wonder if this station will have every local train stop just like those lucky, influential Wellesley riders?

I was told by Bob Stoetzel (before he departed) that the 3 stops in Wellesley for every local train was part of the "agreement" to "allow" expansion of the line to Worcester.

I don't understand why the Worcester local trains could just make 1 stop at Wellesley Square, which has the biggest parking lot. The stations are only 3-4 minutes apart so obviously these additional stops are for the residents' convenience at the expense of other riders.


Grafton Train Rider

Post edited at 2:30 p.m. on 5/5/2008: Well I had some free time, so I did some research. It appears that there is a Weston stop on the Fitchburg line at Silver Hill in Weston. The train only makes two morning stops at that station - 7:06 a.m. and 8:18 a.m. There are three evening stops - 6:14 p.m., 6:53 p.m. and 8:10 p.m.

My Cinco de Mayo Commute

Happy Cinco de Mayo. Yes, I know this isn't a real holiday, but any excuse to have a margarita or a tequila shot is OK in my book. Maybe I'll celebrate by eating a tasty burrito.

Wow, it is nice to see the sun this morning. What a wet weekend, huh? I felt like a duck. I suppose it is always good to have some rain, but boy was it raw.

This morning's commute on the P508 was good. We got to Back Bay Station at 8:12 a.m. I got off and took the Orange Line to my office. This will be last week I'll be able to do that, as my office is moving to a different location in Boston over the weekend.

The NBC-affiliate in Portland, ME ran this story today about how the rising cost of gas is being attributed to an increase in MBTA riders.

Saw this story that ran on Friday about the approval of a commuter rail improvement design contract for the Fitchburg commuter rail line. This was the grant that the state got for the Fitchburg line from the Federal Transit Administration.

Over the weekend I noticed commercials for National Train Day. This is an initiative coming from Amtrak to celebrate trains. The first-ever National Train day will be this Saturday, May 10th. Here is an AP news article about it. Amtrak is spending $2.2 million to promote National Train Day. May 10th was picked because it is the anniversary of the first transcontinental railroad point.

That's it for train news. Ole!!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday's News

Train Rider took today off.

Thanks to DJ for pointing out the typo made to one of Train Rider's posts from yesterday. Train Rider is so used to taking the P508 train that the P512 train's arrival time was accidentally listed as 8:04 a.m. (impossible - unless a super hero is powering the train) instead of 9:04 a.m. DJ - thanks for noticing the typo.

An editorial about the proposed commuter rail line extension to New Bedford and Fall River ran today on The state has been discussing extending the commuter rail line to the South Coast of Massachusetts for the past 15 years. This is a major population hub which does not currently have a mass transit option for access to Boston. Due to the growth in towns along Route 24 over the past 10 - 15 years, Route 24 has become a log-jammed highway. Due to funding issues, there is a proposal for adding a dedicated bus along Route 24 in lieu of a commuter rail. This is what the editorial board thinks of that idea:

Meanwhile, SouthCoast taxpayers have been shelling out their share of the nearly $15 billion Big

Dig central artery project for Boston, not to mention the expansion of several of that city's MBTA lines. The only thing that will satisfy this region is commuter rail service linking the two SouthCoast cities to Boston in the most convenient and cost-efficient manner possible. A bus slogging along in its own designated lane along Route 24 is not the answer, especially given that traffic along the roads into Boston continues to worsen.

Besides, private buses already run to Boston a couple of times a day. The area needs rail. It's better for the environment, gets more cars off the road and represents the fulfillment of a longstanding promise by the state to the region.

I actually don't understand why the state pushed through the Greenbush line extension. I've never understood why Greenbush happened. The towns abutting the Greenbush line were against it 15 or 16 years ago. But someone wanted it to go through. I would think that extending the commuter rail to the South Coast first would have made more sense.

Here's hoping that the underground fires today in Harvard Square didn't mess up anyone's commute.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Commentary: Phoenix's Special Report on the MBTA

While I was coming into work on the train today, Commute-a-holic was busy gathering links to some of the articles from The Phoenix's special report on the MBTA. Thanks Commute-a-holic!

I found the Phoenix article “The Trolley Svengali” entertaining and rather humorous, although I’m not sure that was the intent of the author. I felt compelled to provide some comments and observations on the article itself. From the article:
The train finally came, everybody found seats, and a conductor entered my car. A woman sitting near me suggested that — since she’d been waiting an obscenely long time, and hadn’t been allowed to board the last train that showed up — she shouldn’t have to pay. The conductor replied, testily, that this passenger could fill out a refund request, but that she (the conductor) would lose her job if she didn’t collect every fare.
I have to give kudos to the conductor for trying to enforce the rules. Often, when you forget a pass, the conductors let it slide, so if they ask to see one, you should show it, regardless if your train is late or not. I’m a monthly pass holder, so I get steamed when my pass isn’t checked, because it isn’t about a free ride. As commuters (and Mass. state taxpayers), we should want our passes checked or tickets bought because the T needs revenue in order to improve underlying service and other issues.
"On-time performance on trips delivered on subways and buses has never been higher — ever — in the history of the T,” notes Grabauskas. The catch here is that this doesn’t include the commuter rail, which the T operates in conjunction with the independent Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, and which was plagued with delays for much of 2007. According to data provided by Grabauskas’s office, however, on-time performance on the commuter rail has been increasing sharply and steadily since December."
Yeah, that’s a big catch in relation to the commuter rail … and I’m not entirely sure that the improvements relating to on time performance would have happened without all of the recent schedule changes, whereby the MBTA/MBCR basically threw their hands in the air and said “we’ll add 10-15 minutes to all train schedules so that our on time performance will finally be right.” Here’s the crux: the trains do not go any faster. The schedules were changed to reflect the reality of what had been happening for the better part of two years, performance decreased to the point where trains were consistently 10-20 minutes late every day … so now, the onus is passed to the commuters to change their schedules to accommodate the new T schedules
T ridership declined for five consecutive years earlier this decade. But in Fiscal Year 2007 the system had its second-highest ridership ever, with 353 million distinct (or “unlinked”) passenger trips. That’s a million less than the all-time high of 354 million, in FY01; and far above the FY06 and FY05 totals of 334 million and 325 million, respectively.

I really think this is a function of the economy and specifically high gas prices, not so much the “expert leadership” of Dan Grabausaks. Economically, it makes more sense to take the commuter rail or the T than to drive, pay tolls and park in Boston … let alone suffer the wear and tear on your car. The Boston Globe agrees, having written on April 4th “The high cost of gasoline has helped fuel a sharp increase in MBTA riders over the first two months of the year and a decrease in the number and length of traffic jams, according to T officials and traffic specialists.

These are my opinions. Some people may agree, some people may disagree. I think everyone can agree that they want our transit system to be well functioning.

Not a Shock: Forbes Ranks Boston #10 For US Cities with the Worst Traffic Congestion

Well this isn't a shocker to anyone who has to either live or work in the Metro-Boston area.

Forbes recently ranked Boston #10 on a list of the US cities with the worst traffic congestion. Here is what Forbes had to say:
10. Boston, Mass.

Annual delays per traveler: 46 hours

Commutes longer than 45 minutes: 20%

Boston's western suburbs, to which many of the city's middle- and upper-class families moved in the last 50 years, lack well-designed highways. As a result, drivers spend a lot of time on city streets, smaller byways and capillary roads on their way to Interstate 95. For residents of the city, the T provides train access across Boston.

Totally not shocking!!

Missed My Train So I Took the P512 Train to Work Today

So I missed the P508 train this morning. I waited for the P512, which departs Grafton at 7:49 a.m.

What a cluster "eff." Initially, my commute seemed fine. However, when we got to Framingham, the P510 had not even left yet, so everyone waiting in Framingham got onto the P512. Then at the Natick and Wellesley stops, it seemed like we just sat on the tracks while they kept on making the same announcement that "our train was the Express train, etc." over and over again. Thankfull, due to the new train schedule, we were only two minutes behind once we got to Back Bay Station. We pulled in at 8:04 a.m. instead of the scheduled 8:02 a.m. time.

Blah! Not for the time we pulled into Back Bay but for the drama of today's commute.

Boston Phoenix Runs Series on MBTA

Lately the media has been pretty quiet in regards to stories about the MBTA. Well that changed yesterday. The Phoenix, Boston's reigning alternative paper, has broken the silence with a special report about the MBTA.

We thought the six articles might be of interest to Train Stopping readers:
So why did The Phoenix go through the trouble of publishing a special report? This excerpt from the article "Is the MBTA on Track?" says it all:
The special report in this edition of the Phoenix is rooted in that assumption, and looks at issues both large and small. In some cases the articles are analytical; in other cases whimsical. But if there is a bottom line to be found in the Phoenix survey, it is this: all things considered, the MBTA is doing a pretty good job. The question is: how can it do better?

For the MBTA continually to improve its service and expand its reach, it must be given two key things: resources and freedom from political meddling. Neither is ever easy to find on Beacon Hill.

That is the real problem with the T — not the workers, not the managers, not the public support, but the dysfunction of our state government, whose leaders have yet to find an agency, department, or public authority they will not strangle of funds, bloat with patronage, subvert for misuse, or stymie in some petty power play.

Sadly, as our need for public transportation rose over the past 30 years, our leaders’ interest in it devolved and deteriorated. Massachusetts went from having a T-riding governor in Michael Dukakis, to Mitt Romney, who could not tell you what it cost to ride the Red Line. Radio talk-show hosts continue to lampoon Governor Deval Patrick’s Cadillac, but Patrick is committed to public transportation. Appointing Grabauskas as T chief was one of a scant handful of memorably good things Romney did. Let’s hope that in 2010, when Grabauskas’s current term expires, his work is appreciated, he wants to stay on, he is re-appointed, and, most important, the Patrick administration can fight the urge to play politics with the MBTA.

This is an interesting series that hits a lot of notes. The tone ranges from adoration (of the work Dan Grabauskas is doing - yes, I'm scratching my head on this one) to serious (the amount of debt the MBTA has) to stirring the pot (in terms of contract negotiations between the T and its union-member employees) to downright comical (yes, we have all encountered one of the seven "non-effective" habits of T riders).

In other T-related news, WBZ-TV ran an investigative report last night on the lack of riders on some MBTA buses. Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation was quoted as saying:
"the T cannot afford to underwrite lines that are severely, seriously underutilized."

Some buses average only 83 passengers spread out throughout the day.

Here are the highlights:
At a time when the T is facing increased rider ship due to high gas prices, and they say they can't increase service because of their dire financial situation, we analyzed the usage on several other bus routes as well.

We asked MATA General Manager Dan Grabauskas if it wouldn't actually be cheaper to put these people in cabs instead of running entire buses. "Well, I can absolutely tell you that we do do a cost benefit analysis and, and in some cases we do discontinue routes."

Some taxpayers might think that this doesn't affect them because they don't ride an MBTA bus. But every time someone pays the state sales tax, the MBTA automatically gets 20 percent of that money, regardless of where that transaction took place.

When told of these empty buses, one taxpayer in Sudbury, a community without MBTA service, said "there's a problem there, that's an issue."

Another responded "I'm not happy about it, my money going to it because I don't use it."

Grabauskas told us that they routinely re-evaluate the use of all bus lines every two years, but that now they will take an immediate look at the three lines we analyzed. That would be good news for taxpayers.