Will commuter rail regain popularity again?

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Tlcooper93

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
209
Location
Boston
Chicago and Boston both have suburbs that are built at the same density as the city. I think they'd be great candidates for suburb-to-suburb service.
While this is semi-true in Boston, I can tell you that the majority of stops outside the city are not like this. Once you are out the station, you really need a car (with the exception of Concord, Framingham, Providence, and Worcester).

In terms of ridership, MBTA is definitely showing upward trents, suggesting a return to pre-covid numbers could be in the future.
 

neroden

Conductor
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,309
Location
Ithaca, NY
While this is semi-true in Boston, I can tell you that the majority of stops outside the city are not like this. Once you are out the station, you really need a car (with the exception of Concord, Framingham, Providence, and Worcester).

In terms of ridership, MBTA is definitely showing upward trents, suggesting a return to pre-covid numbers could be in the future.
Well, there are a bunch of close-in places in Boston which most people wouldn't think of as "suburbs", but which are technically suburbs, "inside I-95", where you don't need a car. I mean, IIRC Cambridge and Somerville are denser than Boston. They lack circle routes which bypass downtown; the #1 bus is constantly delayed. They should have such routes.

Once you get outside the 95 beltway the dense urbanity ends in most directions (there's some more to the southeast in the Quincy area), but there's a lot inside that radius.

Something similar is going on in DC, where everything inside the Purple Line route is pretty dense. In Chicago, there's a similar pattern, though I couldn't pinpoint the boundary line.

There's such a boundary in Philadelphia too.

New York City is weirder, because as you head into New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island, there are areas which are just as dense as Queens but which have been so car-oriented that you can't walk from one place to the next; some urban fabric repair would make them more manageable.
 

Tlcooper93

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
209
Location
Boston
Well, there are a bunch of close-in places in Boston which most people wouldn't think of as "suburbs", but which are technically suburbs, "inside I-95", where you don't need a car. I mean, IIRC Cambridge and Somerville are denser than Boston. They lack circle routes which bypass downtown; the #1 bus is constantly delayed. They should have such routes.

Once you get outside the 95 beltway the dense urbanity ends in most directions (there's some more to the southeast in the Quincy area), but there's a lot inside that radius.

Something similar is going on in DC, where everything inside the Purple Line route is pretty dense. In Chicago, there's a similar pattern, though I couldn't pinpoint the boundary line.

There's such a boundary in Philadelphia too.

New York City is weirder, because as you head into New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island, there are areas which are just as dense as Queens but which have been so car-oriented that you can't walk from one place to the next; some urban fabric repair would make them more manageable.
I live in Cambridge (ride the 1 bus every day), and grew up in Lincoln (just outside the 128 loop), and while any town that is connected to the MBTA trains has an easy commute (relatively speaking), much of the inner loop metro area is really not livable without a car. Towns like Belmont, Waltham and Lexington have MBTA service in their center, but there are too many streets and parts that don't have easy connectivity to either a railway station or a subway line.

Most of the commuter rail lines have only a few stops inside the 128 loop (with the exception of the Worcester Line). There has been a proposed outer loop rail line, but I doubt it will ever happen.

Essentially, I'm not sure suburb to suburb service would make sense with the MBTA without major restructuring.
 

neroden

Conductor
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,309
Location
Ithaca, NY
Major restructuring is what's planned, though. TransitMatters has actually convinced the MBTA to go to all-day every-day service and prioritize the inside-the-loop stations (first Fairmount, then Salem, Newtonville/Wellesley, others to follow). With the restructuring of MBTA commuter rail as urban rail within the 128 loop, suburb to suburb service starts to seem plausible.
 

Tlcooper93

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
209
Location
Boston
Major restructuring is what's planned, though. TransitMatters has actually convinced the MBTA to go to all-day every-day service and prioritize the inside-the-loop stations (first Fairmount, then Salem, Newtonville/Wellesley, others to follow). With the restructuring of MBTA commuter rail as urban rail within the 128 loop, suburb to suburb service starts to seem plausible.
Yeah, I remember them discussing this on one of their open zoom conferences.
I'm not sure as to what you mean by the MBTA being convinced by this plan. You mind showing where the MBTA has included this in their plans?

TransitMatters has great stuff and ideas. If the MBTA can electrify the network (they are in talks with Alstom about purchasing some EMU's and have even visited the plant out west to get a test train for the Providence Line) then I think this is possible. I don't see it happening for at least 20 years however.
 

neroden

Conductor
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,309
Location
Ithaca, NY
MBTA Fiscal Control Board actually voted to implement the "regional rail" plan. You can find the articles if you look. Huge win. Still going to take time, obviously.

They're already redoing the schedules on the Fitchburg line for almost-clockface service. You can find those articles from very recently. They're actually committed.
 

Tlcooper93

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
209
Location
Boston
They're already redoing the schedules on the Fitchburg line for almost-clockface service. You can find those articles from very recently. They're actually committed.
Just checked out the new May 3 schedule this morning. I was under the impression that the Fitchburg Line was down for the installation of PTC. Perhaps now that it is installed, more trains can run to fulfill this new schedule?
2021-04-05-spring-fitchburg.jpg
 

AFS1970

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 3, 2016
Messages
103
The biggest problem with suburb to suburb service is the reliance on hub and spoke plans for many transit systems. The second factor is infrastructure related.

In my area of Connecticut we have MNRR commuter rail out of NYC, which is very much hub and spoke. I live on the New Haven Line, which has three spur lines. New Canaan which is a dead end. Danbury which is not a dead end but plans to run service to parts of NY sate have never been realized. Waterbury which is also not a dead end. However just because the tracks go somewhere after the last station, does not mean they offer an easy route to another spoke. Once in New Haven you can transfer to Shore Line East for a few more stops or to the relatively new CT Rail Hartford line. But again if you wanted to go from Hartford to Waterbury, it would be faster and probably cheaper to drive.

Some places have sort of solved this with bus routes. In Stamford we have CT Transit, which is again hub and spoke from the train station. So getting from spoke to spoke requires a trip downtown to transfer. In some cases it would be faster to walk, but of course not all streets have sidewalks. The next closest but service is Norwalk which has WHEELS, they operate on a hub and loop system, all busses come from the central hub but all routes are loops. For those unfamiliar with the system, this means if a street has service in both directions they will be on different routes.

Like the lack of tracks between many spokes, in the suburban part of my city many of the roads would not be the best for busses to try and make the crossing. So even if they wanted to do loops or even a cross spoke connector, this may not be feasible. We do have tow loops that late at night and on weekends convert into a single loop but that is due to low ridership.
 

Willbridge

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
944
Location
Denver
We'll get some answers on this question later this week when the petroleum delivery gap gets to the NEC cities. The north end of the corridor isn't on the missing pipeline link but it'll be squeezed to shift some supplies southward.

In regard to the S-bahn concept, that's basically what Denver commuter rail is. It's hard to know how it's working out as openings were delayed and delayed by being the first PTC-from-opening-day system. The most recent line opened with all the VIP's wearing face masks. I rode the N-Line last Monday after lunch and most riders were suburb to suburb. Trains and the feeder buses are run on weekend schedules for the pandemic.

P1030881.JPG
 
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