Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hyperloop Test Costs

It's been nearly a year since I posted on the HYPErloop, but since I've revisiting old topics this weekend, here's a quick update. The Boston Globe, as part of their rail day (infrastructure day?) had a column from the president of one of the groups building the Hyperloop (supposedly) who is not named Lyle Lanley. It's going to be great, kids! They're breaking ground on the test track soon!

Now, when we last left off, the whole of the Hyperloop was going to cost $7.5 billion from San Francisco to Los Angeles—a cost of $18 million per mile. That includes everything, apparently, stations, vehicles, maintenance facilities, land acquisition, the whole lot. So the expected cost of the test facility (free land, rural, pancake flat, no stations, etc) would be a lot less than that right?

Wrong. The five mile text track will cost $150 million, or $30 million per mile. It is slated to be built in Quay Valley, a fanciful solar-powered city in the middle of the Central Valley (with stifling summer heat and pollution, to say nothing of the scenery), so the land acquisition costs are, in all likelihood, zero. It's pancake flat there with nothing to go over or under, so there's another zero item on the budget. And still, a test track is going to cost more per mile than the overall project is slated to cost.

As it happens, it will also cost significantly more than parallel stretches of the actually-feasible California High Speed Rail track costs. The 65-mile phase 2-3, which happens to run in the neighborhood of the yet-unbuilt Quay Valley, came in well below the expected budget: $1.2 billion. That's $18 million per mile, barely half what the cost of the Hyperloop's test track will cost on a per-mile. That includes three dozen grade separations, by the way, and it's a firm number; as a design-build contract the bidder will be responsible for (most) cost overruns. And when complete, it will actually be able to carry people somewhere useful (by 2018 it will speed existing Amtrak trips along the same corridor where empty Hyperloop pods may be going around in costly circles)

I'm reminded of an early Seinfeld episode in which Kramer wants to rebuild his apartment with levels. Kramer proposes his plan—on Youtube here—and Jerry's reaction is that it will not happen ("I know that you can't, and I'm positive that you won't!"). Kramer proposes a bet, to which Jerry agrees. The script takes it from there:
MORTY: … So, how are your levels coming along?
KRAMER: Oh, well … I decided I'm not gonna do it.
JERRY: (Sarcastically) Really? What a shock.

JERRY: So, when do I get my dinner?
KRAMER: There's no dinner. The bet's off. I'm not gonna do it.
JERRY: Yes. I know you're not gonna do it. That's why I bet.
KRAMER: There's not bet if I'm not doing it.
JERRY: That's the bet! That you're not doing it!
KRAMER: Yeah, well, I could do it. I don't want to do it.
JERRY: We didn't bet on if you wanted to. We bet on if it would be done.
KRAMER: And it could be done.
JERRY: Well, of course it could be done! Anything could be done! But it only is done if it's done. Show me the levels! The bet is the levels.
KRAMER: But I don't want the levels!
JERRY: That's the bet!
That's about how I feel about the Hyperloop. Could it be done? Of course it could be done! Anything could be done! But it's only done if it's done.

And an over-budget test track is not going to inspire a lot of confidence.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

More ITDP truth-stretching

I wrote a lot last spring about the ITDP and their biased reporting on bus rapid transit. I thought I was done. I wanted to be done. And then I was looking something up and found this. More specifically, I found pages 23 and 24 and I just don't know where to start. First on page 23:
BRT, however, has a distinct operational advantage over LRT: A BRT vehicle can operate in mixed traffic on normal streets and then enter dedicated BRT infrastructure without forcing passengers to transfer to another vehicle. LRT, by contrast, can only operate where there are rail tracks, and passengers coming from locations not served by the tracks must transfer to and from buses, or to space-consuming park-and-rides, in order to use the system. 
This is just not true at all! A subway system can't operate in mixed traffic. But light rail systems can—and do—all the time! Here's an example from Boston. Here's Pittsburgh. Here's Philadelphia, San Francisco and Sacramento. And all of Toronto. Their big hit against light rail is belied by examples in many of the large cities in the United States! It's just wrong.

And then there's page 24. Oy, page 24. Here, they have a list of average speeds for different transit systems. The idea being, I think, is that look how fast some of those BRT systems are! Look, in Ottawa, the average speed of a bus is 50 mph. 50! That's really fast. That's basically faster than any transit service in the country. I'm really not sure what conclusions they're trying to draw from these data.

And the data seem specious, and I looked in to where they got their data from. Which was from a footnote (well, really an endnote) 129 pages later in the document. They know no one is scrolling back that far (Al Franken—yes, Senator Al Franken—makes this point about Ann Coulter; see page 19). Here's where the data is from:
12. Speed data is from the following sources: Ottawa, Interview with Colleen Connelly, OC Transpo, 2012; Cleveland: Interview with Michael Schipper, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, 2012; Las Vegas, ITDP, Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit, 2011; Pittsburgh, Interview with David Wohlwill, Port Authority of Allegheny County, 2012; Eugene, Interview with Tom Schultz, Lane Transit District, 2012; Boston, ITDP, Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit, 2011; Portland: Interview with Jillian Detweiler, TriMet, 2012; Phoenix, Interview with Abhishek Dayal, Valley Metro, 2012; Charlotte: Interview with Tina Votaw, Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), 2012; Los Angeles: Interview with Gayle Anderson, Metro, 2012; Kansas City: Interview with Randy Stout, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, 2013
Let me get this straight. They got speed data—data!—from a bunch of reports they commissioned themselves and from interviews. If they got accurate data, it would be one thing. But these numbers are wrong! First of all, there's no way that the average speed for the Ottawa transitway is 50 mph. And they asked people for an average speed, and people gave it to them, and they probably didn't understand what an average is because the ITDP itself doesn't understand what an average is.

Here's a trip on buses which serve the Ottawa Transitway. It takes 55 minutes on the vehicle. The distance is about 25 km. The average speed? 17 miles per hour. Even an all-on-the-transitway trip takes 20 minutes to go 15 km. That's 30 mph, which is better. But still nowhere near 50. Maybe they got their metric conversions confused?

Let's go to the Charlotte Lynx. Does it average 35 mph? It runs 9.6 miles in 26 minutes. It averages 22 mph. Not 35. Pittsburgh? 9 miles in 22 minutes (25 mph).

And some of the low numbers are too low. They claim Denver's light rail averages 14 mph. Even through the city center, it runs 14 miles in 38 minutes. That's 22 mph. Phoenix? 23 miles in 65 minutes (21 mph). The Orange Line in LA—advertised as 11.2 mph—actually runs 18 miles in 57 minutes, at 19 mph. They're even sandbagging the mode they want to push!

In any case, it turns out that a fixed guideway transitway—light rail or bus—will run at about 20 mph, stops included. The Silver Line in Boston is susceptible to traffic, but at low-traffic times it even makes 12 mph. How did I find these numbers? The Internet, from actual schedules and times. It would behoove the ITDP to actually do some research as opposed to just making numbers up.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Four things the T has done well

I throw a lot of shade at the T. They deserve it. But every so often it's good to remember that while there are lot of things the T does poorly, there are certainly things they've excelled at, things that are done well, and things that are way ahead of other transit agencies. Here are four:

  • In-Tunnel cell service.
    Go to New York. Get on the Subway. Try to send a message to someone. Unless you're at the brand new Fulton Street Transit Center (which cost, uh, a lot) there's basically no service. Maybe once in a while you get a little through a subway grate, and a few stations have wifi. But the T has had service in the tunnels for years (I think it was in 2012 when the Red Line in Cambridge got service) and there are only a few short segments (the E Line at Prudential and Symphony, the Silver Line) left to go. And I've seen some of the strongest signal ever in T stops, standing right by (read: getting zapped by) the antenna.

    The T also had the first Commuter Rail wifi service, but that's never been terribly reliable (although it launched in 2008, which was the dawn of the iPhone). Now everyone can tether anyway.
  • Mobile Commuter Rail ticketing.

    It's now been three years since the MBTA introduced mobile ticketing. As far as I can tell, it works pretty darned well. You can buy single tickets pretty easily, and even get a discount on a monthly pass (since you don't get a subway/bus pass as well). The T was the first to have it, and other cities are catching up. Chicago just launched their app for Metra and it's, well, not perfect. The mTicket app was inexpensive for the T to launch (free, I think, but it takes a cut of each transaction, which makes sense) and works well. And ahead of other agencies. It's hard to argue with that.
  • Countdown Clocks.

    No, the Green Line doesn't quite have countdown clocks everywhere. But they're coming; and the T has done a pretty good job of getting the data and the infrastructure for a relatively low cost. But before you complain, go to New York. Except for the A Division (the IRT lines, or the lines with numbers) and the L train, none of the trains have countdown clocks. The reasons why are certainly very complex, but the Green Line also lacks infrastructure to tell where a train is (except on a much smaller scale). New York has sort of taken a "wait and see" approach, adding the data when signal upgrades are made. The T realized that people might want this information, and made it happen.
  • Open data.

    The T is really, really good about open data. Back in the dark ages (7 years ago, when the DOT was EOT) transit agencies were very protective of their data, wanting licensing fees to release it (really). No one wanted to tell anyone where a train might actually be, and when it might actually get there. Credit to Jim Aloisi for calling everyone out and basically opening up all the data. Within hours of the open data, there were apps.

    Now pretty much everyone has open data, but the T's is actually pretty good, with bus and train locations for all vehicles in the system, useful data aggregation, and a ton of third-party apps. Turns out, it's cheaper to give the data away for free than to try to make your own apps. Shocker.

    Plus, you get some amazing visualizations.

So when you get pissed off at the T because their train schedules are a mess, or their bus schedules are a mess, or they procure untested technology for high prices, remember that there are at least some things that they get right.

And if all else fails, remember: it took the T 120 years to wreck the transit infrastructure. DC has done it in 35.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

New North Side Schedules: Good, Bad and Ugly

State of the art computer modeling? Yes.
Common sense? No.
Better service? Time will tell.
UPDATE! Schedule changes postponed!

The MBTA's new schedules are out for the North Side Commuter Rail. The changes are … interesting. There are good parts, especially for Fitchburg and Newburyport riders. There are bad parts (things people won't like), especially for people used to less-crowded short turns, and some bizarre service gaps which impact the shoulder periods of rush hour. And then there are ugly parts—parts that just don't make any sense—that show that the process was not fully thought out. Unfortunately, it will probably take some time before this is changed, and require some public outcry for this to occur. A consultant and a computer model were used for these schedules, but common sense seems to have been left by the wayside.


Good news for 
  • Newburyport branch riders
  • Outer Haverhill riders
  • Fitchburg line except Lincoln, Concord, West Concord
Bad news for
  • Rockport branch riders used to every train being express
  • Rockport branch reverse commuters
  • Swampscott, Lynn and Chelsea
  • Inner Haverhill riders, especially Wakefield
  • Winchester, Wedgemere, West Medford
  • West Concord, Concord, Lincoln

Visualizing changes at North Station
The most blatant example of this is the timing of the schedules: there are no trains—on any line—arriving at North Station between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m., and none which depart North Station between 6:30 and 7:25 p.m. So for anyone who works a 10 to 6 shift is completely hosed. This needs to be fixed. If no one rode these trains, I could see the logic. But people do. MassDOT counts these sorts of things. Some trains in the 6:45 range carry 400 customers. Let's not make them all drive, mmkay? Each line should have a "catch-all" train: a train between frequent peak service and infrequent midday and evening service that arrives North Station around 9:30 and departs around 7:00 to fill those gaps. Just because the T defines rush hour as ending at 9:00 and 6:30 doesn't mean demand shuts off entirely at that point.

Here's another thing: right now, arrivals and departures are somewhat spread out, so that passengers on connecting services (read: the Orange and Green lines) aren't all riding at peak hours. In case you haven't noticed, the Orange and Green (and Red and Blue, for that matter) lines are, uh, full. These schedules will mean that more passengers will funnel in to North Station between 8:00 and 9:00, when the trains have less capacity, rather than spreading service out later in the morning when there is some more space on the Green and Orange lines.

And weekend service is still anemic: most lines have gaps between trains of three hours. Why would anyone take the train? Hourly service should be a goal.

Let's also take a quick look at some of the T's stated goals with this schedule change, and whether they are being met, in particular, page 7. (The PDF can be found here.)

* Increased Peak Train Service. In general, this is attained.

* Additional Peak Express Service from Outer Points. This is attained, but often at the expense of service to inner core stations.

Does this look more evenly spaced to you?
Current: Average service gap 25 mins, standard deviation: 13 minutes
Future: Average service gap 35 minutes, standard deviation: 30 minutes
Evenly Spaced Peak Service from Inner Core Stations. No! Not only is this not attained, and do most inner core stations lose service, but some of the spacing gets much more uneven. For instance, service gaps at Swampscott go from 14-28-20-21-31-16-28-9 to 13-47-50-14-38-10. Currently, the range of gaps is 9 to 31 minutes; with the new schedule it ranges from 10 to 50!

The average time between departures goes from 25 to 35 minutes—a significant service cut, and the standard deviation in the gap goes from 13 minutes to 30! (If you include only arrivals at North Station before 9 a.m., the current average/stdev is 20/7, the future is 26/15. In no way is that evenly spaced.

Not only is this goal not attained, but it is downgraded significantly from current service. Again, they may have used computers, but lack some common sense.

* Optimized Peak Arrival and Departures from North Station for Key Job Start and End Times. Key Job Start Times is completely undefined, but it seems to mean "everyone works 9-5." This is not the case.

The T claims a goal is to reduce crowding.
But the new schedule has arrivals bunched at North Station.
Efficient Train Movements at North Station to Mitigate Crowding. Guess again. There are actually more concentrated arrivals and departures at North Station with the new schedule. This means more people crowding on to connecting services—the Green and Orange lines, and shuttles like EZRide—which are already at capacity.

* Standardized Peak “Box”: AM Peak North Station Arrival: 6:00 -9:00 PM Peak North Station Departure: 3:30 - 6:30. This is a solution looking for a problem. Passengers aren't concerned about standardization of schedules between lines. They are concerned about having a train which serves their needs. And this doesn't address the fact that the span of rush hour service, and the location of service gaps, is worse with the new schedule.

* Regular Off-Peak Departure Times. In general, this is attained.
Line-by-line, here are some

The Fitchburg Line (New Schedule Here)

Fitchburg wins. So do North Leominster, Shirley, Ayer, Littleton and South Acton. Beyond there …

The Good. After investing a lot of money in the Fitchburg corridor in the past three years, cutting back weekend service during that time while the improvements were made. Now that it's mostly finished, top speeds go from 60 to 80 mph, and with some high level platforms to speed boarding. The result? Travel times drop from 4 to 14 minutes, with the greater speeds on express trains. The fastest "super-express" that runs from Porter to South Acton drops from 32 to 24 minutes—a 25% improvement—giving that segment an average speed of 55 mph: the fastest single run of any train on the T's Commuter Rail system. (Yes, even the Providence Line: the T refuses to spec equipment to run over 80 mph even though that line supports 125 mph.) There are more express trains, more local trains, and an earlier arrival at North Station. It's a real win.

Train 410 boardings, 2012.
From here
The Bad. The new express services are nice, but there are some issues. First, West Concord, Concord and Lincoln lose express service all together. This is a reduction in service for these communities, which will have fewer trains and longer trips. In addition, parking at South Acton is usually full before 7 a.m., so even though later express trains will stop there, they may have fewer riders as no one will be able to get to the station. Running the later express trains local to Lincoln would make too much sense, apparently, to help spread the ridership.

With the new track work, the schedules for these express trains will still be very competitive, but they'll have more ridership. In the evening, one of the two express trains should have service added back at Lincoln and the Concord stations. Despite all the improvements, Concord, West Concord and Lincoln go from 5 departures to 4 in the morning. On train 410, Concord is the busiest stop, and more than 200 passengers board at these three stations (see right, from here). There is very little logic in cutting these stations. If anything, they should get a second express. How this counts as providing better service is questionable.

Weekend schedules get slightly better with all trains running to Fitchburg. But there are only trains every two-and-a-half hours, which, well, sucks. This kind of schedule means that the train is a mode of last resort on a weekend, and will attract few riders. This is an issue for the MBTA as a whole.

At some point, I'd heard that the plan was for the first train to arrive at Fitchburg before 8:00. 8:35 is certainly an improvement over the current 10 o'clock arrival, but could be earlier. The 45 minute headways the line currently has inbound between 7 and 9 p.m. shift to the 4 to 6 p.m. range, great for reverse commuters.

The new schedules should attract more commuters, especially to the express trains from Acton and Littleton. Driving Route 2 will never be time-competitive at rush hour with a 35 minute trip from South Acton to Boston. The issue there is that the parking lots have limited capacity and fill early. Increasing parking may be necessary, and in the longer range a station at West Acton would help spread the demand.

The Ugly. The last Fitchburg train leaves at 7:13—earlier than the current schedule—and there's not another train until 9:00. The last rush hour train leaves Littleton at 7:51. In the current schedule, there's another train at 8:58, but the new schedule has a gap until 9:35. So there's no train in to North Station between 9 and 10 a.m. Want to drop the kids at school, grab a train at 8:30 and arrive downtown at 9:30? Tough luck. The T decided that rush hour trains should arrive between 6 and 9 a.m. and doesn't seem to understand shoulder scheduling. Many other Commuter Rail schedules go from 30 minute rush hour to 60 minute midday headways (or longer) with a 45 minute headway in between. The same thing happens on either side of the evening rush. The T apparently doesn't think that anyone works a non-9-to-5 schedule. If you want to grab a drink after work, you better grab two; you'll be waiting a while.

There's also the issue of what I call the "last trip fallacy." Often the second-to-last service a route runs will be relatively busy, and people will see the last service as a safety net. So it appears that the final service doesn't get high ridership, but it is the reason that the run before gets better ridership. If an agency cuts the final service—or in this case, creates a gap between the final rush hour train and the first evening train—people traveling at that time will simply abandon the system. There is no excuse for this type of poor service planning.

* Push trains 410 and 492 back 10 to 20 minutes for a slightly later departure.
* In the evening, push train 421 back 15 or 20 minutes to better fill that service gap.
* Serve Lincoln, Concord and West Concord with trains 406, 410 and 417.

The Lowell Line (New Schedule Here)

The Lowell Line is currently the best-scheduled line the T runs. It has hourly, clockface schedules (which this page has long advocated for): show up midday at Winchester at 42 minutes past the hour and there's a train to Boston. It's what most other cities do, but the T can't be bothered to run this sort of schedule on any other line. Lowell suffers from other issues, notably poor highway access to the Lowell and North Billerica park-and-ride lots (an extension to a park-and-ride lot at the New Hampshire border would be key—but should be paid for by New Hampshire), and a long gap between stations along the Billerica and Tewksbury Line.

But otherwise, this schedule is … ugly.

The Good. There's not much improvement to report. I guess at least you don't lose the hourly midday headways. That's nice. And the bizarre and silly 322/216 pairing mid-afternoon goes away (two inbound trains ten minutes apart). Outbound service gains an express, and gets a nice gap-plugger 3 and 4 p.m.

The Bad. The weekend service. The T demonstrates five days per week that hourly service is feasible on the Lowell line, and that ridership supports it. Lowell, with the National Historic Park and Folk Festival, as well as a dense downtown, could easily support weekend headways. Yet it only sees a train every two hours.

In the morning, inbound service before 10 a.m. actually decreases significantly, from from 11 trains to 8! Neither of the Haverhill line trains stops at Wilmington or Anderson, reducing service on the inner part of the line. Right now, there are trains inbound from Anderson at 8:30, 8:45, 9:15 and 9:35. The new schedule has no train departing between 8:36 and 9:35. There's plenty of room at the park-and-ride at Anderson, and today, if traffic on 93 is worse than usual, you don't have to wait too long for the next train. With the new schedules? Good luck: miss 8:36 and you're waiting an hour. The trains at 8:45 and 9:15 aren't empty. Maybe both of those trains need not run, but a service around 9:00 seems like it would be necessary.

While the outer end of the line doesn't lose service, the inner part gets killed. Winchester, Wedgemere and West Medford go from 9 trains arriving North Station before 10 a.m. to 6—a 33% service cut!

Outbound, the same issue arises: there's no train between 6:25 and 7:25. Right now there is a train at 6:25, 6:55 and 7:30. The new schedule just kills off the 6:55 run. That's just plain silly.

The Ugly. Let's start with trains 304 and 306. Train 304 runs local out of Lowell at 6:40. Train 306 runs express ten minutes later and is scheduled in to North Station just four minutes after 304. Even without any issue on 304, this would mean that even without any delay, the express would be riding the local's signals. This makes no sense. It could be easily solved in two separate ways: 1) Swap the local and express runs for 304 and 306. 2) Run 306 five minutes later, so that instead of a 10 minute gap and then a 24 minute gap, you get more even headways.

As commenter Tommy points out, the longest inbound gap in service at any time in the Lowell schedule is between—drumroll please—8:30 and 9:45 in the morning. Who goes to work between 8:30 and 9:45 in the morning? Anyone? Bueller? The answer is: more than 213 people from Winchester, Wedgmere and West Medford alone! The T touts "consistent, hourly local off-peak service" but doesn't bother to provide this at the shoulder period of rush hour. Please.

Then there's the Downeaster. The T claims they used computers to plan for constraints like Amtrak services. So then how would they explain the following:

* MBTA 337 departs North Station 6:00, arrives Anderson 6:25
* Amtrak 687 departs North Station 6:05, arrives Anderson 6:23

Now some of you may look at that and say "ooh! ooh! midline overtake!" Nope, there's an inbound scheduled to leave Anderson at 6:05 and arrive North Station at 6:30. Sorry, guess again.

This is simply a glaring oversight. The T hired a contractor, ran a bunch of simulations, and completely borked Amtrak's schedule. That's just sloppy. Come on.


Oh, boy, there are a lot here:

* Fix trains 304 and 306. This is not hard! Push 306 ten minutes later (it won't affect the following Downeaster) to fill the gap.
* Stop each of the Wildcat trains at one of either Anderson or Wilmington, and maybe inner stations as well. Those trains aren't full at Ballardvale, and the extra time to make one stop will not drastically affect the schedule (especially at Wilmington, where the line speed coming off of the Wildcat is 20 mph so the stop penalty is minimal). In the long run, running more trains via Wildcat and having skip-stop service on the inner part of the line would make a lot of sense; this can be a separate post all together.
* Push train 312 back to at least 8:25, its current departure time. Run it local; the two Haverhill Line trains will provide express service to Anderson and Wilmington.
* Good god, fix the Downeaster conflict. That's just painful.
* And run service between 6:25 and 7:30. Reinstating the 6:55 Wildcat train would make a lot of sense.

The Haverhill Line (New Schedule Here)

The Good: Line speeds get faster; train schedules improve by 5 to 6 minutes for many trains. That's good, and might mean that some trains running ahead of schedule will no longer have to wait a couple of minutes to maintain schedules. Train 206 will run from Haverhill to Boston in 58 minutes via the Wildcat Line, which is really quite good, although some of this time is saved with an express run in on the Lowell Line; this will result in a reduction in service on the Lowell Line. Another change is that midday short-turns are mostly eliminated, including the Anderson turn (which then ran duplicative service via the Wildcat), with more full-line service. This is good.

The Bad: Same as above. No trains inbound between 9 and 10, but that's actually the current case for this line. And since this schedule is only being tweaked, it might be better planned when it's complete.

But for some outbound trains, there's some weirdness. Right now, there are outbound trains at 2:20, 3:10, 3:50 and 4:30. The new schedule has a big gap between 2:00 and 3:30 for the outer stations (vial the Wildcat Branch) and until 3:45 for the inner local. The 5:15 express, which currently makes its first stop in Wakefield, now will skip Wakefield—the third busiest stop on the line—but won't save any time. This stop should be added back in. (More than 1000 people—more ridership than the Wakefield station!—have signed a petition calling for just this.)

The Ugly. Like other lines, there's a big gap—70 minutes—after 6:30. The current schedule then has an 8:40 train; that disappears. So there's a two-hour gap in the early evening where there wasn't one before. This could adversely affect ridership in this area.

We'll see if they can further disrupt the line once the bridge maintenance in Haverhill is done.

* See if there is a way to account for the long service gap between the 2:00 departure an the first evening departures at 3:30 and 3:45. Maybe running the 3:30 as a local train would free up the other set to run another local run earlier in the afternoon (or reinstate the 6:55).
* Add Wakefield back in to the afternoon express run.
* Add some stops to Wildcat trains (see Lowell Line)
* Add service back to the evening schedule, which loses service with the new schedules.

The Newburyport/Rockport Line (New Schedule Here)

The Good: Newburyport gets some express trains. They haven't had those in a long time (maybe not since the '60s). Rockport loses some express trains but gets a later morning departure—currently the last train inbound on the Rockport branch departs at 7:22; the new latest train leaves 28 minutes later. That's good! Newburyport's last train gets a little earlier; 7:42 instead of 7:55.

Afternoon reverse-peak service on the Newburyport line is improved dramatically, with three inbound rush hour departures, no three-plus hour service gap after 5:55, and hourly departures all evening. This serves Ebsco Publishing, which has several dozen Commuter Rail riders from Boston and the North Shore owing to a generous transit benefit, limited on-site parking and a short walk from the station to the office.

The Bad: Service on this line is squeezed dramatically, and stops closer to the city lose service.

There is significant reverse-peak ridership on this line to Ipswich, where Ebsco Publishing has a parking crunch and transit benefit. Yet there's no outbound service between 7:15 and 9:00. The new schedule doesn't address this, but it could, and improve late-morning commute times as well:

The 7:05 Beverly turn train could be extended to Newburyport. This would give Newburyport a later departure in the range of 8:05, with an Ipswich arrival of 7:45. It could then depart at 8:20, depart Salem around 8:50, and arrive at 9:20. What happens to the current short turn? There are trains inbound from Beverly at 7:53, 8:00 and 8:10. The middle train is the current turn. An extra car on the 7:53 and 8:10 would take the necessary capacity. We don't need Orange Line-level headways on the inner part of the Eastern Route, at least not at the expense of later service.

There's also the question of why there is a 50-minute gap between Rockport service during the height of evening rush, and two Newburyport trains running 20 minutes apart. These could be better scheduled. And the current Salem transfer for the 6:45 evening train—which allows it to serve both lines—is gone. This is a good idea poorly executed: there is really no explanation why the transfer should take 23 minutes. Other Commuter Rail systems with transfers are able to run them much more quickly; the transfer train could sit north of Salem, wait for 171 to pull out, get backed in by the conductor, load, and leave 5 or 10—at most—minutes later. But instead of fixing this, it is axed. Great. (This would be a good place for DMU service, allowing one train to run the trunk route from North Station to Salem and set of DMUs to pick up one of the branches, especially for non-rush service.)

And for Swampscott, Lynn and Chelsea? Sorry, guys, you lose two trains per rush hour, and while you currently have service every 30 minutes or better, get ready for some 50 minute service gaps.

The Ugly:

Train 120. Express from Rockport to North Station. I just can't even. I don't have words. It makes my eyes bleed. This introduces a three hour gap for the reverse commute from Gloucester inbound. This is insane. People use these trains. I've been on these trains. They're not full, but they serve the general public. Run this train with stops. If it means that some trains in the 6:00 range are run a bit later, that's probably good. Just make the goddamn stops. This schedule is just stupid.

The huge gaps in late rush hour service both morning and evening is also so bad it belongs in Ugly, not just Bad. There are six trains scheduled in to North Station between 8:06 and 9:00—that's one every 9 minutes. Then there's a 90 minute service gap. Do you run the Red Line every four minutes at rush hour and then have a 40 minute service gap? No! Don't do that here.

The current schedule, while not much better, has six trains in 1:06, and then a 54 minute gap.  We're taking something that is a problem, and making it worse. This is asinine. The above schedule change, which would enhance reverse-peak service, would also plug this hole quite nicely, with a catch-all train leaving Beverly and Salem around 8:50, and arriving in Boston around 9:20. Subway-level service is great, but it should not come at the expense of shoulder-peak times.

The afternoon is similar. Currently, the 6:45 departure from North Station carries more than 400 passengers, and it is unceremoniously brought out back and shot. There are trains leaving North Station at 6:10, 6:20 and 6:30, and then nothing until 7:45. Just pushing each of these trains back by a few minutes—departing 6:10, 6:30 and 6:50—would make a huge difference. If one of these is the turn of 120, then the extra time will give it sufficient time to make inbound stops.

* Train 120. Fix it. It should make inbound stops. Otherwise it's a brutal waste of public funds, running a revenue train with maybe half a dozen passengers and creating a three-hour service gap.
* Fix the service gaps in the later morning and later evening rush periods. Two plans to do so are outlined above.
* A train every 9 minutes is nice, but with any hiccough will cause cascading service issues. Better to have a train every 15 minutes, and get rid of the 90 minute later-morning gap.
* Look in to an improved Salem transfer for a later PM rush hour train.