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Comments on NEC Future

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The Federal Railroad Adminstration (FRA) is running a planning program dubbed NEC Future to determine the future path of rail development in the Northeast Corridor running from Boston to Washington. Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard submitted the following comments to the FRA in response to the study’s request for public comment.

Content Summary

  1. Construct a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station
  2. NEC High Speed Rail (HSR) bypass between East Haven and Westerly
  3. Reserve the option to construct a four-track NEC corridor in Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut, as well as between Providence and Westwood
  4. Develop Providence to Cape Cod Rail Service using an existing corridor
  5. Develop Providence/Fall River/New Bedford interstate LRT
  6. Develop Providence to Worcester Commuter Rail Service
  7. New England track electrification and use of DMUs and EMUs
  8. Add multiple infill train stations within Providence’s urban core cities
  9. Develop Rhode Island Mainline Rail Transit
  10. Extend Train Service to Aquidneck Island
  11. New York to New Jersey – Penn Station New York to the Portal Bridge
  12. Penn Station New York to Grand Central connecting rail tunnel
  13. Extend the New York #7 Subway line to Hoboken Terminal
  14. Boston South Station to North Station connecting rail tunnel

1. Construct a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station
The study should include planning for a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station. Amtrak Regional service, as well as MBTA commuter trains could serve the station. Service models for this station would be the BWI Airport Station in Baltimore and Newark Airport Station in New Jersey.

2. NEC High Speed Rail (HSR) bypass between East Haven and Westerly
Study a HSR bypass option that would link the existing NEC between East Haven and Westerly following the routes I-95 and RI-78 corridor. This bypass would avoid excessively curved sections of eastern Connecticut’s legacy rail right-of-way, which would allow for significantly higher speeds for HSR service. This option could be a cost effective alternative to constructing a second completely new Southern New England HSR corridor from Westchester County through central Connecticut to Hartford and to Providence. There could be an opportunity to combine funding for a rail bypass and upgrading and increasing capacity to route I-95 simultaneously.

3. Reserve the option to construct a four-track corridor in Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well as between Providence and Westwood
Amtrak has proposed creating a four-track rail corridor between Providence to Westwood. Other sections of Rhode Island’s NEC rail segment south of Providence had the corridor width to accommodate four tracks. Also many bridges had been designed to allow for four tracks throughout the state. When the New Haven to Boston NEC segment was electrified in the 1990s, replacement tracks were installed off-center in much of Rhode Island to allow for the tilting feature on Acela trains.

Develop an alternate that would reserve the option to re-build Rhode Island’s NEC rail segment south of Providence Station to four-tracks and if a HSR bypass is not planned for or constructed between East Haven and Westerly in Eastern Connecticut, to accommodate for future expanded track usage of high-speed and regional trains, commuter rail/mass-transit, and freight service. A Rhode Island four-track corridor would typically only require the acquisition of narrow strips of land adjacent to the existing corridor to meet current standards for high-speed track centers, while in other instances no land acquisition would be necessary.

Even if four tracks are not built in Rhode Island or Connecticut for decades, planning for a their future installation would insure that other federal and state funds will not be wasted when infrastructure, such as bridges are constructed or replaced over the NEC. With the current offcenter track configuration in Rhode Island, off-center abutments or column placements for new bridges could make future track expansion problematic and unnecessarily expensive.

4. Develop Providence to Cape Cod Rail Service using an existing corridor
Develop year-round rail service from Cape Cod to Providence, T.F. Green Airport, and beyond to New York. Service could be provided by Amtrak or alternately by a commuter rail agency from Cape Cod to Providence and T.F. Green with connections to Amtrak. Study the reuse of the existing rail right-of-way from Providence to Attleboro to Cape Cod.

5. Develop Providence/Fall River/New Bedford interstate LRT
Study developing a new South Coast interstate Light Rail Transit (LRT) alignment that would interconnect the Providence MSA population centers of Providence, Fall River, and New Bedford, and adjacent suburbs and possibly to Cape Cod.

The three major cities of the Providence MSA have no interconnecting mass transit of any kind. Federal law prohibits the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) from crossing the state line into Massachusetts to provide transit service. This linear portion of the Providence MSA contains over half-million people. If Cape Cod were to be included the population would be over 700,000 people in a potential service zone, plus seasonal tourist population. Due to complicated built environments and topographic conditions in Downtown and the East Side of Providence and in Fall River, it might be difficult to design and justify construction costs for a new heavy rail corridor. A LRT corridor would be less expensive and more flexible in navigating urban districts.

A possible route could be from Downtown Providence to a reused Providence East Side Rail Tunnel and link in East Providence to the partially built Henderson Bridge/Expressway corridor following the state line to connect to the center median of route I-195, where the majority of the alignment could be located. From Swansea through Fall River the route could follow US-6 to I-195 to New Bedford and beyond. Besides city stations, suburban stations could be located at selected I-195 interchanges.

6. Develop Providence to Worcester Commuter Rail Service
Study implementation of commuter rail service between Providence and Worcester. Besides train stations located at suburban park-and-ride locations, the Lincoln office region, and the cities of Worcester, Woonsocket, and Providence, stations should be located within traditional walkable urban neighborhoods, villages, or town centers. Approximately 600,000 people live in cities or towns along the Providence to Worcester rail corridor.

7. New England track electrifcation and use of DMUs and EMUs
A long-term goal would be to electrify all existing or proposed track in New England to facilitate efficient commuter rail service. An example of tracks eligible for upgrade would be the third track for freight and commuter station sidings in Rhode Island that currently lack overhead catenary.

There is a need for lightweight Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) and Electric Multiple Units (EMUs). Presently there’s no FRA-compliant DMU that would work for a proposed Providence-Worcester or Providence-Hyannis route that has reasonable operating and maintenance costs. In Germany operating costs for DMUs are comparable to those of a bus. The German DMUs have bus engine parts so that small state agencies with large bus fleets, but only a handful of trains can still benefit from economies of scale.

Study the possibility to modify FRA regulations to permit lightweight DMU and EMU vehicles that are currently non-compliant.

8. Add multiple infill train stations within Providence’s urban core cities
Study the potential of constructing multiple commuter rail or mass transit infill train stations along the NEC within Providence’s urban core cities of Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence, and Cranston, particularly within walkable urban neighborhoods. Historic stations that existed were located in Pawtucket/Central Falls, in Cranston at Auburn, in Providence at Elmwood, Cranston Street, Olneyville, and Atwells Avenue. These historic station sites could be potential locations for new stations. However, other locations could be identified.

9. Develop Rhode Island Mainline Rail Transit
Study the development of “Mainline Rail” transit service within the Providence inner core cities along the NEC and extending into the suburbs. A Mainline Rail would be an expanded version of the proposed Rhode Island Intrastate Commuter Rail Study (.pdf) by the Providence Foundation, which is being incorporated into the Rhode Island State Rail Plan.

Mainline Rail service could be an expansion of existing MBTA commuter rail or operated by a separate agency. A Mainline Rail system would be a variation of what’s often referred to as Sbahn or RER that is usually used in small or mid-size European cities. San Francisco’s BART and the New York/New Jersey PATH are versions on this system. An S-bahn typically has characteristics of commuter rail in suburban areas and a subway (or metro-rail) in central urban zones. Train headways are more frequent than conventional commuter rail and station stops are closer together within central urban districts. In cities that treat mainline rail as an integral part of city transportation, the same people who would use buses or subways use mainline rail in addition to rail commuters.

The inner core cities of the Providence metropolitan area generally follow linear spines on each side of Narragansett Bay. The western spine, which also follows the NEC route, has the highest population density in Rhode Island. Between Central Falls and Cranston over 130,000 people live within less than a 10-minute walk or a 5-minute bus ride from the NEC rail line. When downtown Providence employees and students are added, the number of people who would have easy access to the route would be closer 200,000.

Providence has a built environment and population density similar to Dorchester in Boston, Jersey City, and the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. These three locations have rail mass transit. The Rockaway Peninsula has high car ownership, similar to Providence, with a population of roughly 129,000. Typically long subway trains are used in this area. Even during off-peak periods when shorter trains are used, trains are fairly full of passengers running at 15-minute headways or less.

The City of Providence is well connected with efficient bus service. The RIPTA bus system has over 30 fixed bus routes that intersect much of the length of Rhode Island’s NEC rail line. These bus routes could deliver passengers to Mainline train stations. However, bus service between Providence and other inner core cities is rarely competitive with automotive travel. Rhode Island Mainline Rail transit service would serve a wider segment of the population, beyond traditional middle- and upper-income office employees of commuter rail. A Mainline Rail transit line that shares the NEC combined with intersecting bus service would create a truly competitive mass transit alternative or even a faster option to driving within the Providence area.

10. Extend Train Service to Aquidneck Island
Study the implementation of commuter rail service from Boston to Fall River to Newport utilizing the existing rail corridor along Mt. Hope Bay from Fall River to the west side of the Aquidneck Island.

11. New York to New Jersey – Penn Station New York to the Portal Bridge
Study phased alternates for the Portal Bridge in New Jersey to Trans-Hudson tunnels to Penn Station New York. The worst of the Trans-Hudson congestion problem occurs during rush hour periods between Penn Station New York and Secaucus Station mostly due to the additional commuter trains on the segment.

New tunnels should pass directly into the exiting Penn Station, rather than to a separate new station as was proposed with the ARC plan. Study the following phasing as a possible implementation sequence, so that a Phase 1 could be designed and built quickly and economically to alleviate current peak congestion between New Jersey and New York. Other phases could be constructed later.

  1. Phase 1 – Construct a single tunnel from the south side of New York Penn Station at the NJ Transit platforms following the approved EIS under the Hudson to New Jersey and add a third track from the new tube portal on the New Jersey side to Secaucus Station. Three tracks would permit two inbound and one outbound during the morning rush hour and would be reversed during the afternoon rush hour, relieving congestion.
  2. Phase 2a – Construct a second tunnel adjacent to Phase 1 and add a forth track to Secaucus Station.
  3. Phase 2b – Leaving the existing Portal Bridge in place to remain in service, construct a new two-track high-level Hackensack River Bridge adjacent to the old bridge and add a forth track from Secaucus Station to Newark.

12. Penn Station New York to Grand Central connecting rail tunnel
Study the construction of a tunnel to connect Penn Station New York to Grand Central Terminal, which could be used as an alternate to the Queens route for Amtrak service from New Jersey to New England and to interconnect NJ Transit and Metro North commuter service.

13. Extend the New York #7 Subway line to Hoboken Terminal
Study the extension of the New York City #7 line subway line from the 11th Avenue and 34th Street Station, currently under construction, to Hoboken Terminal in New Jersey.

14. Boston South Station to North Station connecting rail tunnel
Study the construction of a tunnel to connect Boston’s South Station to North Station to extend direct NEC route connections to New Hampshire and Maine.

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20 Responses to Comments on NEC Future

  1. Tony P September 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    A pretty ambitious plan but of all of it I’d say focus on points north to Attleboro, and then east to the cape. Tie the whole region together.

    And what in federal law prevents RIPTA from crossing state lines? If you really want to do something you’d knock that piece out and do a super-regional transit consortium where RIPTA could cross into MA and CT, and vice versa.

  2. Jason September 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    The overriding theme, if I may be so bold, is one I easily support: take advantage of the density in New England and create a real network of rail transportation.

    It’s clear to me that NE is as serviceable or more serviceable as many other corridors that do have successful rail projects. We even have historic, mostly preserved ROWs that can be taken advantage of. Right now, to me, it feels like an exercise of will more than anything else to create a vibrant transport-oriented New England. This couldn’t be more true than in RI that desperately needs the investment.

  3. Ryan September 19, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    A LRT corridor would be less expensive and more flexible in navigating urban districts.

    A possible route could be from Downtown Providence to a reused Providence East Side Rail Tunnel and link in East Providence to the partially built Henderson Bridge/Expressway corridor following the state line to connect to the center median of route I-195, where the majority of the alignment could be located. From Swansea through Fall River the route could follow US-6 to I-195 to New Bedford and beyond. Besides city stations, suburban stations could be located at selected I-195 interchanges.

    I uh… what? No, seriously, what?

    Why LRT and not commuter rail? The minute you lay LRT tracks on that median, the earth is salted and you’ll never get that ROW back for the far, far, far more valuable Providence-Cape Cod Rail Service, which you proposed immediately before this.

    Am I missing something here? Are you and I operating on different definitions of LRT? Because I’m reading this the same way I’d read a proposal to extend the “D” Branch of the Green Line in Boston all the way out to Framingham. This seems crazy – and, frankly, a horrible idea to me.

  4. Jef Nickerson September 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    The Providence to Cape Cod Amtrak route and Providence > Fall River > New Bedford LRT route would be separate alignments. The heavy rail route to the Cape is inland operating via Attleboro and Taunton and would only be able to serve New Bedford and Fall River via spurs off that mainline.

    The LRT would operate via the 195 median directly serving those cities and using LRT would allow it to be street-running in Providence to connect to other transit, i.e. Kennedy Plaza and the proposed streetcar.

    Heavy rail tracks could be laid in the 195 median, however there would be large engineering challenges to connecting that track to the NEC mainline in Providence. The elevated connection from the East Side tunnel has been severed and rebuilding it would be politically challenging (people would scream bloody murder against an elevated track over North Main). Also, since the NEC tracks have since been moved, the East Side rail tunnel no longer lines up well with them. It is engineeringly possible (almost anything is), but would be expensive and unpopular.

    There’s also the crossing in Fall River to consider, while the Brightman Bridge could be a potential rail route, that would mean running a lot of track outside the median route and then reconnecting it through Fall River somehow.

  5. Jef Nickerson September 19, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    In a perfect world though, I think it would be ideal to face the engineering challenges and get a direct Hyannis > New Bedford > Fall River > Providence heavy rail line built that could tie into the NEC and serve T.F. Green and points south.

  6. Ryan September 19, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    I don’t think South Coast Rail is ever getting built – and frankly I don’t think it should be built, because at the end of the day it’s a bad project and the greatest injustice is that so many other worthwhile projects (rail to Newport, chief among them) have been tied into it, and are thereby subjected to the shamefully childish behavior of the citizens and elected officials of Fall River and New Bedford, many of whom I don’t believe really want rail in ‘their’ towns. They’re false flag activists, raising concerns and making demands as a way to keep the project stalled indefinitely. The MBTA lets them do this because they have no choice – unless all the communities that would be served by South Coast Rail agree to join the MBTA’s operating district, the MBTA is not allowed (per their charter) to ever service them unless they are reimbursed 100% for every dollar spent on ‘out of district’ service. (See their arrangement with RIDOT over the Providence Line.) The children down in Fall River and New Bedford hold all the cards and they know it.

    In a perfect world, things like this wouldn’t happen. As it stands, I don’t think we can ever count on there being rail tracks connecting Taunton to Fall River and New Bedford – which means no trains Providence-Attleboro-Taunton-Newport, no trains Providence-Attleboro-Taunton-Hyannis, no trains Boston-Taunton-Hyannis, and which means that connecting rail to Fall River and New Bedford has to be done by someone other than the MBTA, and preferably someone with enough power behind them to tell the ‘good’ Councillors of Fall River to go screw, because that’s the only way anything is ever running through those towns.

  7. Jef Nickerson September 19, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    Cape Cod > Taunton > Providence service is not dependent on South Coast Rail. Amtrak’s Cape Codder service ran New York to Hyannis via Providence and Taunton on and off until 1996.

  8. Ryan September 19, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    As far as the engineering concerns go, I think that the biggest engineering problem is Providence Station itself, and the fact that the curve the station is on does not link up well at all with trains that would be heading East or Southeast of the station itself. Would it be possible to instead create a second set of platforms underneath the existing ones, and punch out the East Side Rail Tunnel to meet these new platforms and rejoin the NEC south of the station via some kind of dive-under junction?

  9. Ryan September 19, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    Cape Cod > Taunton > Providence service is not dependent on South Coast Rail. Amtrak’s Cape Codder service ran New York to Hyannis via Providence and Taunton on and off until 1996.

    Ah, I was under the impression that Cape Codder service went through New Bedford. It seems I was mistaken.

    This is great news, and you’ve just brightened my day a little.

  10. Adam September 19, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    Ryan, I am curious as to why you think delays with south coast rail are the fault of Fall River and New Bedford elected officials. They have done nothing but push hard for the project from what I can tell. It seems more like most of the opposition has come from towns like Easton, Raynham and Norton who don’t want trains running through their towns. They use the Hockomock Swamp environmental issues as their issues, but it is pretty clear from public meetings that the reality is residents who built huge houses along what they thought would be abandoned forever railbeds are pissed that they now will have trains whizzing by them.

  11. Ryan September 19, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Ryan, I am curious as to why you think delays with south coast rail are the fault of Fall River and New Bedford elected officials. They have done nothing but push hard for the project from what I can tell.

    Yeah, Fall River’s been pushing quite hard to get two station stops instead of one, and they’ve also been pushing hard to make sure the layover facility gets built anywhere but there.

    (It goes without saying, of course, that New Bedford is pushing just as hard to make sure the layover facility gets built on “Fall River’s Side” of the tracks.)

    And, forget about how almost all of the other commuter rail stations on the MBTA’s network have bare-bones platforms with parking lots attached – nope, only the best overbuilt headhouses for Freetown and Assonet! Hell, they even ‘shopped out’ the design for the station buildings. Can you guess whose design won? I’ll give you a hint – not the design that looked anything like Attleboro, Mansfield, West Gloucester, or Ashland Stations.

    But the rampant hostage concession extraction isn’t the only shameful thing about this project. Even if it does get built, the trip times are going to be slower than the equivalent express bus service and the headways unacceptably sparse.

  12. Alon Levy September 19, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    Ryan:

    Would it be possible to instead create a second set of platforms underneath the existing ones

    Possible, probably. Cost-effective, no. If there’s money for a tunnel, it shouldn’t be built at the current station site anyway, but under Kennedy Plaza – four tracks, single level, shared between commuter services to everywhere and Amtrak.

    But there’s no real demand to justify that spending in Providence. I’m still fantasizing about moving the train station to an elevated structure over Kennedy Plaza and feeding directly into the East Side tunnel, and even that is fairly expensive for Providence’s present transit ridership.

  13. Ryan September 19, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    Possible, probably. Cost-effective, no. If there’s money for a tunnel, it shouldn’t be built at the current station site anyway, but under Kennedy Plaza – four tracks, single level, shared between commuter services to everywhere and Amtrak.

    I’m not seeing how this can be done in such a way that it doesn’t make the problem curve approximately 1000 times worse than it is already…

  14. mental757 September 19, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    If the East Side rail tunnel is ever to be re-used, LRT is probably the only way. You’d have to exit the tunnel at the Providence end, cross over N. Main and Canal Streets, then follow the Park Row alignment to a new terminus platform above the existing NEC tracks just to the north/east of Providence Station and it’s Garage. This would allow for a nice station expansion and quick and convenient connections, but would all have to be elevated. The only other option is to use the vacant lots for a ground-level terminus platform south of Smith Street where the next phases of the Cove are to be built, before they are built. This would still be mostly elevated but require more land acquisition for the slope transition.

  15. Jef Nickerson September 19, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

    And if light rail terminates at or near Providence Station, then it makes no sense to send said light rail to the Cape. The Cape needs to have rail that reaches the airport (and beyond).

    We could build LRT to Fall River and New Bedford via the East Side tunnel and 195 then have a different commuter rail service to the Cape via Taunton and Attleboro which would run along the NEC through Providence Station to T.F. Green.

    There could also be a light rail spur or branch from Fall River to Newport. Sending Newport Rail up to Taunton than back down through Attleboro to Providence simply doesn’t make sense, it is too round-about. If Newport were to be connected to the Fall River South Coast alignment, it would be to connect Newport ultimately to Boston, not Providence.

    We could also revisit connecting Newport to Providence via the Bay – a ferry, seeing as the Bay is the obstacle we’re needing to overcome connecting the two.

  16. Ryan September 20, 2012 at 6:59 am #

    There could also be a light rail spur or branch from Fall River to Newport. Sending Newport Rail up to Taunton than back down through Attleboro to Providence simply doesn’t make sense, it is too round-about. If Newport were to be connected to the Fall River South Coast alignment, it would be to connect Newport ultimately to Boston, not Providence.

    Just so we’re clear, Newport via Jamestown and Newport via Bristol are both prohibitively expensive due to the new bridge(s) that would be needed, correct?

    If you ask me, Providence-Barrington-Bristol-Newport makes the most sense of any alignment once you get past the bridge problem. Providence-T.F. Green-Wickford-Jamestown-Newport would be the alternative to consider if the airport connection is just that important, or more likely, if Barrington NIMBYs don’t want rail in their backyard.

  17. Jef Nickerson September 20, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    The easiest (and I think only historical, I may be wrong) connection to Aquidneck Island is the Sakonnet River crossing. That crossing is currently severed but would be the easiest place to restore a connection.


    View Larger Map

    In order to connect Newport via Jamestown a tunnel would be needed as building a rail bridge high enough to not impede navigation would be crazy, and I don’t think the Coast Guard would allow either bay passage to have a lift bridge crossing. A tunnel or suitable bridge is not an expense that could be justified at this time or anytime in the far foreseeable future. And we have the Bay, so we can connect by boat.

    Restoring rail on the East Bay alignment through Barrington, Warren, and Bristol is a political non-starter. And a crossing at Mount Hope Bay would have the same engineering, navigation, and cost challenges that crossings at Jamestown do.

    If we built LRT along 195 we could have a two branch line splitting at Fall River with one branch going to Aquidneck Island and one going to New Bedford. If we built heavy rail to the island, that would connect to the South Coast Rail line at Fall River to Boston and would make little sense to connect directly to Providence via Taunton and Attleboro. It would simply be a too circuitous route, a transfer to another mode at Fall River would make more sense.

    I think the best option short term for connecting Providence and Newport better is improving bus facilities along Routes 4 and 95. A busway along Route 4 would keep buses out of beach traffic speeding the trip. The current Route 14 (Providence > T.F. Green > Newport) could see some simple routing and minimal infrastructure improvements to greatly improve service to the island. Or – a ferry.

  18. Peter Brassard September 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    The once a day #14-Express from Newport is almost as fast as driving at 50-minutes (compared to the #60, 1-hr, 20-min; Regular #14, 1-hr, 15-min). After leaving Newport #14-Express makes one stop at a North Kingstown Park-and-Ride. It’s a rush hour bus and it’s rarely late partly because of its travel path entering the city by way of Route 10 to 6/10 to the Dean Street exit to West Exchange. A more frequent #14-Express would probably provide the highest speed Providence-Newport service at a lower cost. I’m not really convinced that an HOV lane on 95 or 4 is all that necessary. Maybe if a regular airport stop was added to the #14-Express.

    If the ROW issue with the McMansion suburbs north of Fall River could ever be settled, Boston to Newport commuter rail would be the most logical solution, since about 40% of Newport’s tourist come from the Boston area and a number of Newport’s service employees live in Fall River. A Newport-Fall River-Providence LRT would be a reasonable alternate, but wouldn’t address connecting Newport and Boston

  19. Ryan September 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    You know, we’ve got Wickford Junction there now, and it’s not going away.

    The LEAST we could do is get rid of the accursed park ‘n’ ride 1/2 a mile away from Wickford Junction, at the corner of 102 and 2, and route the 66 into Wickford Junction instead. Or, hell, route the 14 Airport – Wickford – Newport. Either way.

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