If you have a short attention span and don't care about details, just read the red & bold text buried in this post. That's what you're looking for. If you're a nerd like me, then read on...
I have learned some more information regarding the current state of heat restrictions, but I'm still trying to find out more and trying to verify some of the information I'm getting. So, three topics below:
1) How are heat restrictions applied?
2) Where are heat restrictions applied?
3) Track 1 vs. track 2 and the super express (P583)
1) How are heat restrictions applied? The current MBTA / Keolis rule is that ambient air temperature is monitored on a real time basis in Worcester, Framingham, and Boston (I'm not sure if those are NWS reporting stations or how the temperature is measured). Anytime any one of those places exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat restriction (30 mph speed limit) is enforced on the Framingham-Worcester line. Conversely, as soon as the temperature is below 85 at all those locations, the heat restriction is cancelled.
This is NOT how CSX used to enforce the rule. Their rule was that once a heat restriction was declared for a certain afternoon (probably on the same ambient air temperature measurement basis, but I'm not sure), the heat restriction remained in place until a certain time, usually 7 PM.
Good news is that heat restrictions probably won't be as long in duration on any particular day. Bad news is they will be more unpredictable and will seem somewhat arbitrary with regards to start and end times.
I'm fairly confident about the accuracy of this item. Primary source is @MBTA_CR conversation here: https://twitter.com/MBTA_CR/status/609444813268721664 and my 1-on-1 conversation at the "meet the managers" meeting at South Station.
2) Where are heat restrictions applied? This one gets a little more technical, and my confidence is lower about the accuracy of this info.
2A) From Boston to "CP 11" (the set of switches in Weston, next to the golf course, just west of Route 128 - between the Wellesley Farms and Auburndale stations) the heat restriction is no longer in effect on track 2. In other words, as of very recently, the destressing project has completed all their work on this section of track and trains won't be slowed by a heat restriction. See post below for explanation of which track is which. But suffice it to say that track 2 is the track used by outbound evening rush hour trains on this stretch.
This story makes sense, since it somewhat matches the story at this page regarding phase 2 of the destressing project. But I'm not 100% sure - I couldn't get a straight answer out of the managers or @MBTA_CR - I think they might not know this level of detail.
NOTE that this means track 1 on this stretch is still affected by heat restrictions - so inbound evening trains will have to go slow, and the effect is worse for them, since they usually run express skipping the Newton stations through this stretch.
2B) "CP 11" (Weston) to Framingham: This section is being worked on right now (note recent closures of Wellesley Hills station to execute track work there) as part of phase 2 of the overall project. This should be the next section to be completed, and Keolis management indicated to me that once work was complete on this section, the heat restriction rules would be cancelled. Again, this only affects track 2 (more on that below). The info page says phase 2 is scheduled for completion in July, and Keolis management indicated the project is on schedule.
2C) Westboro to Worcester: You may also notice on this page that phase 1 of the destressing project was completed last summer, and covered the stretch from Westboro to Worcester. That was done on track 1, which is the normal outbound evening rush hour track in this stretch. So it would seem to be logical that if the destressing work is complete there, then the heat restriction shouldn't apply there? Not so, says Keolis. In an exchange with their customer service, they explained that the work for phase 1 was not necessarily continuous on that stretch. So the heat restriction rules remain in place for that stretch until completion of the entire project.
This one defies logic for me, but rider reports seem to confirm it and Keolis management seemed to confirm it, although I'm not sure the manager I was talking to knew exactly what I was talking about. We'll have to wait and see. Please report your experience in the comments section below.
So, in summary, for outbound evening rush hour trains, we think, for now:
Boston to Weston: trains can go fast no matter what.
Weston to Framingham: heat restrictions will slow trains until completion of phase 2 in July.
Framingham to Worcester: heat restrictions will slow trains until completion of phase 3 by end of 2015.
3) Track 1 vs. track 2 and the super express (P583): Another complicated issue, but I figured this one out independently and it was confirmed by Keolis management. I'm very confident this is accurate.
The rail destressing project is only addressing destressing of half of the tracks: track 2 from Boston to Framingham and track 1 from Framingham to Worcester. Therefore, track 1 from Boston to Framingham and track 2 from Framingham to Worcester are NOT being fixed. Keolis management indicated that the MBTA did not (or could not) provide enough funding to do all tracks everywhere (the manager suggested I complain to the legislature!).
Most outbound rush hour trains follow the path of the tracks being fixed. In other words, most outbound rush hour trains travel through Newton, Wellesley, and Natick on track 2, switch to track 1 after Framingham station, and then continue to Worcester on track 1. So completion of all three phases of the project will eliminate the heat restrictions for the majority of evening commuters.
BUT, even when it is fully complete (all three phases), the project will not eliminate the heat restrictions for these trains:
1) Inbound evening rush hour trains;
2) P583, the 'super express' (that's what I call it); and
3) Potentially, inbound morning rush hour trains from Worcester to Framingham, in the rare event heat restrictions are imposed in the morning (I'm pretty sure I have seen it occasionally). These trains usually operate on track 2 in this stretch at this time, which as explained above, is not being fixed. They could solve this by putting the inbound trains on track 1, the track that gets fixed. But the tweets and comments and chaos that will occur in the event of an AM heat restriction with a track change for all those stations will be quite the experience. I digress...
The inbound evening rush hour trains will continue to be affected by the heat restrictions in the future because they will be operating on the tracks that didn't getting fixed (since the outbound trains are occupying the tracks that DID get fixed).
P583 is a pretty unique and special case. If you take a look at the schedule, P583 leaves Boston 15 minutes AFTER P529, but arrives in Framingham seven minutes BEFORE P529. Magic, huh? That's why I call this one the super express. Just like P582 in the morning, it skips everything between Boston and Framingham.
The way that P583 arrives in Framingham before P529 isn't magic or a time warp or a secret tunnel. It simply passes P529 between CP 11 (Weston) and Framingham. The only crossover switches to enable this to happen are at CP 4 (in Boston at the west end of the Beacon Park freight yard), CP 11 (Weston, as described above), and CP 21 (just east of Concord Street in Framingham, east of the Framingham station). So usually P583 travels outbound on track 2 from CP 4 to CP 11, then crosses over to track 1 at CP 11, passes P529 which is on track 2 around Natick Center, and then crosses back over to track 2 at CP 21 to make the station stop in Framingham. A close inspection of the schedule shows how this is possible - there are no inbound trains between Framingham and Weston during the time P583 and P529 are both traveling outbound on the two parallel tracks.
So there's the problem. P583 is supposed to be running at 59 mph all the way from Weston (CP 11) to Framingham (CP 21) on TRACK 1, A TRACK THAT ISN'T GETTING FIXED. [P583 goes back to track 1, the 'fixed' track, from Framingham to Worcester. So no delays on that stretch.]
Therefore, even after all of the current 3 phases of the destressing project are complete, P583 will still be affected by heat restrictions for the 10 mile stretch from Weston to Framingham.
One solution is to keep P583 on track 2 that has no heat restriction, but it will quickly catch up to P529 and get stuck behind it. My guess is that this is actually exactly what they will do (let P583 get stuck behind P529 on track 2), because by going slow on track 1 it wouldn't be able to get around P529 before Framingham anyway. Either way, it's delayed. But I don't think the overall delay should be more than 10 minutes or so. [I know, 10 minutes is 10 minutes... especially for all you folks going all the way to Worcester...]
A really creative solution that they will NEVER implement would be to put P529 on track 1 from Weston to Framingham, under the theory that letting the frequently stopping local train incur the heat restriction delay is more efficient than putting the fast express train on the track affected by the heat restriction. But they will never do that because that would mean the passengers getting off of P529 in Wellesley Hills and West Natick would need to cross over the grade crossing wooden walkways and walk across both tracks 1 and 2 to get to the station exit, all while P583 is barreling along from behind them on track 2 with no heat restriction.
So that will be the topic of my next post - why do the outbound evening rush hour trains cross back and forth between track 1 and track 2?
PLEASE provide your experience with heat restriction delays in the comments below. Did you go fast between Boston and Weston when a heat restriction was announced? Did you go fast between Westboro and Worcester when a heat restriction was in place? Do you just want to get out your own blow torch and set fire to me, the MBTA, Keolis, and all the rail between Boston and Albany? The more observations we collect, the more accurate we'll be in our assessment of how this foolishness works.