Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dedication of Three New Stations on the MBTA Fairmont Commuter Line

As reported by the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on July 17, 2013, Governor Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, MassDOT Secretary and CEO Richard Davey and MBTA General Manager Dr. Beverly Scott officially opened the Four Corners Commuter Rail Station, celebrating a series of recent  recent improvements made along the entire Fairmount Commuter Rail Line.  These improvements included track, signal and bridge updgrades, as well as two other new stations, at Talbot Avenue and Newmarket.

These new stations represent a continuing trend in the restoration of passenger rail service in New England within the last 2 years.  The other improvements include two new stations in Rhode Island on the MBTA Providence Line (Warwick/TF Green Aiprort and Wickford Jct.), two stations in Maine on the extension of the Downeaster intercity service (Freeport and Brunswick), and two stations as part of the Cape Flyer service to Cape Cod.

The Fairmont line is unique in the MBTA system, in that it is entirely within the City of Boston.  As such, it acts as a hybrid mode, using commuter rail equipment but serving an intracity transit market.  The line bisects the Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods, nearly halfway between the Orange and Red Lines.

Originally part of the New York and New England Railroad's mainline, it bypassed Back Bay Station, through which most of the south side commuter services ran.  When the line was merged into the New Haven Railroad, which ran all the service radiating south of Boston, it was delegated primarily as the freight route, whereas the passenger route ran up what is now the Providence Line, passing through Back Bay on its way to South Station.  Passenger service was provided until 1944.

Passenger service was restored on Nov. 3, 1979 when commuter trains and Amtrak intercity services were shifted over the the Fairmont line for the duration of the Southwest Corridor project.  Three stations were served by a shuttle service.  This service was kept after the other passenger services were restored to the mainline.

With the opening of the three new stations, service now consists of 40 to 45 minute headways at peak hours and hour headways in between.

Proposals to provide more frequent services (perhaps every 30 minutes) have been explored, as has the use of diesel multiple unit trains, which would be shorter and have faster acceleration.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cape Flyer Ridership Substantial

Crossing the Cape Cod Canal Rail Bridge
Propelled by good weather and the legendary long traffic jams at the only two roadway bridges into Cape Cod, the state-funded Cape Flyer ridership is somewhat exceeding expe-tations, as re-ported in a Boston Globe article.   In my initial post about this train, the Cape Cod Flyer represents the return of direct Boston to Hyannis service after 54 years.

As reported by the Globe:

Sunday’s 25-mile line of vehicles creeping across the Sagamore Bridge may go down as one the worst-ever Cape Cod traffic nightmares, but it also served as a free advertisement for a less stressful mode of transportation: the CapeFlyer weekend train service between Boston and Hyannis, which still has plenty of room for passengers.
Cape Flyer in Barnstable.  Photo by
Doug Scott
To anyone who has returned from the Cape on a Sunday night, this is not news, it's just what it takes to go to the Cape.  The savvy travelers will drive back early on Monday morning.  The more savvy travelers are shifting to the train.

As reported in the Globe, the cool, cloudy weather in June resulted in poor ridership.  But July brought the heat and, with the Cape beaches on their mind, the riders came.  Continued strong ridership may keep the service running into the fall, after the currently scheduled last trips on Labor Day weekend.

Accomodations:  While made up of commuter rail equipment, the train includes some features not found on all trains, including:

  • Onboard concessions* , not quite an Amtrak cafe car, but beer and wine are served after the last "commuter stop" at Middleborough
  • Free bike storage
  • Free wi-fi
  • Connections in Hyannis to ferries to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket
  • Bus connections at Buzzards Bay to Falmouth (by CCRTA)
  • Bus connections at Hyannis to Orleans  (by CCRTA)
*Concession provided by Iowa Pacific, the holding company for the other Cape Cod railroads, namely Massachusetts Coastal Railroad (freight) and Cape Cod Central Railroad (passenger excursions and dinner trains)

We'll see how ridership holds up through July and August.  But, as a alternative to a 25-mile backup, the train is a no-brainer.