CLICK HERE FOR THE PETITION SUPPORTING DAVE'S PROPOSED NEW SCHEDULE
Certainly click above and sign the petition if you're just looking to do that. Also scroll way down to the end of this blog post for links to the survey and both petitions. But please take some time to read the entire blog post and understand the issues.
Note: I originally wrote this blog post and created the proposed schedule to focus on the overcrowding on P508, the 7 AM inbound departure from Worcester. From a railroad operations perspective, that issue is the problem that needs mitigation. However, many people have pointed out that my proposed schedule has benefits for almost every commuter west of Framingham. I've edited this post to highlight those benefits.
The primary benefit is that my proposed schedule below increases the amount of inbound AM express trains serving Grafton, Westborough, Southborough, Ashland, Framingham, and West Natick from THREE to FIVE trips. Worcester gets those five express trains too - an increase from the current four express trains (which includes the #HeartToHub). I would also argue that the five expresses from Worcester are more useful than the current three plus the #HeartToHub since these five express trains arrive in Boston at better times. Passengers from Natick to Newton have minor changes to their schedules with slight time changes and the consolidation of two trips between 8 AM and 9 AM to one trip.
The current condition
P508, the inbound 7 AM departure from Worcester, is one of the most overcrowded trains on the entire commuter rail system. Ridership data collected by our fellow riders (as noted in this blog post below) and by Keolis indicate that this train has had passenger loads approaching or exceeding 1,600 passengers this summer. Summer typically has lower passenger loads - so it is highly doubtful we will see lower passenger loads going into the fall. The possibility exists that the fall will bring even more sustained overcrowding.
P508 is currently scheduled to utilize a set of eight bi-level coaches. The MBTA assumes that each bi-level coach has 180 seats, which is a fair average even though there is some variability among the different models of coaches. Therefore P508 has a nominal capacity of 1,440 passengers. Note that this capacity assumes that all seats are taken and there are no standees - which appears to be the goal of MBTA set sizing calculations & set assignments.
My sources indicate that eight coaches is the current maximum size for an MBTA Commuter Rail train set. The constraint is not platform length, locomotive power, or any other consideration - the constraint is the size of storage sidings - there isn't enough room to store a nine coach set both overnight and during the mid-day layover periods. Not to mention that the MBTA doesn't own enough rolling stock (coaches) to create a nine car bi-level set.
Why is P508 so crowded?
One of the primary reasons that P508 is so crowded is that the alternatives for commuters west of Framingham are less than ideal. The next earlier express train is P504 - the 5:55 AM departure from Worcester.
For passengers between Grafton and West Natick, switching from P508 to P506 means boarding 30 minutes earlier than P508 but arriving in Boston only 13 minutes earlier than P508.
For passengers between Grafton and Ashland, switching from P508 to P510 means boarding 30 minutes later than P508 but arriving in Boston 37 minutes later than P508.
A potential solution
Constructing a better schedule for everyone west of Framingham will solve the overcrowding on P508 and result in many better options for commuters.
Simply adding a train to a schedule is not possible without considering the operational and logistical constraints. There are a limited number of train sets and only two tracks - so the possible solutions are limited by those constraints. Reassigning an existing train is a viable solution - and luckily, we have a good candidate train for reassignment.
P552, also known as the "Heart to Hub" super-express "bullet" service, has had low ridership since beginning in May. The MBTA cites average ridership of around 150-160 passengers through July. The equipment for the "Heart to Hub" train actually starts the day as P500 in Worcester. Upon arrival in Boston, it immediately turns and goes back to Worcester as a non-stop "deadhead" (non-revenue, no passengers) move. It passes westbound through Framingham at approximately 7:10 AM.
My proposed schedule shown below eliminates the P552 "Heart to Hub" service and uses that set as a new local train originating in Framingham. This allows P506 to become an express train. My schedule also converts P510 from its current "limited" service to a true "express" service.
As noted above, my new 7:18 AM Framingham origination inbound train (P584) will utilize the current P552 set which is already passing through Framingham at close to that time. The only other change which has operational considerations is the earlier departure of the new P588 train from Framingham. This is possible with no changes to current equipment usage since the current equipment assignment has the current P586 (8:40 AM Framingham inbound departure) using the outbound P587 equipment after a 30 minute layover in Framingham. My new schedule changes this to a 10 minute layover.
It is possible that minor tweaks will be needed to implement my proposed schedule, but my proposed schedule is logistically possible with no major changes to crew or equipment schedules. The only other consideration that may affect the implementation of this schedule is arrival slots at South Station. South Station is a significant bottleneck during both the AM and PM rush hour peak periods, and I have not considered all of the track assignments and track availability at South Station for my proposed new arrival times for some of my modified trains.
Benefits of my proposed schedule
1. Passengers boarding between Worcester & West Natick have two additional express trains (P506 & P510) which were previously local or limited trains. With these trains now having transit (en route) durations almost the same as P508, they should be more attractive to current P508 passengers. P508 is probably still at the most ideal time on the clock, so it will probably remain the most utilized train, but some passengers should migrate to these other options - and hopefully enough to alleviate overcrowding on P508.
2. Reallocation of the underutilized "HeartToHub" equipment set benefits more passengers throughout MetroWest, rather than a handful of Worcester passengers.
3. Passengers originating at stations between Worcester and Ashland with destinations between Auburndale & Newtonville benefit from the new possibility of more expedient transfer from P510 to P588 at Framingham. Passengers who previously utilized P506 to make that journey have a minor change with a new requirement to transfer to P584 at Framingham.
4. Fairness. With the exception of Framingham & West Natick, every other station has service at almost exactly 30-40 minute intervals between the start of service and 9 AM. The interval is almost exactly 30 minutes between approximately 6:30 AM and 9 AM. This is an important consideration in my mind - there is no reason for any station to get more frequent service than another. In addition - and it is a more minor point than just the inherent fairness issue - having predictable intervals means similar transit times / trip durations for all passengers from a particular station. This presumably increases the likelihood that passengers may utilize different train trips rather than focusing their usage on particular train trips that offer the quickest duration from a particular stop. This is the same concept that I note above when comparing the current durations of P506, P508, and P510.
Drawbacks of my proposed schedule
1. Elimination of the "HeartToHub" super express "bullet" train. Let me be perfectly clear: I have nothing against the concept of the "HeartToHub" super express service. If there was enough equipment, crews, and trackage to keep it on the schedule, I would not object. But the constraints of the Framingham-Worcester line mean that the implementation of the "HeartToHub" results in dubious benefits for a handful of passengers while removing options for other passengers throughout the region. There simply isn't enough track capacity for this super express train to be implemented at an ideal time. Having it arrive in Boston at or slightly after 9 AM is less than ideal and this presumably limits the appeal of the "HeartToHub." So let's use that equipment more effectively and not get hung up on the sound bite of "under an hour" service. Let's use the equipment to benefit the most number of passengers at the best time on the clock. But I must acknowledge that there are passengers who use the "HeartToHub"- and ridership may increase after Labor Day - so the loss of the "HeartToHub" is not without consequence.
2. Reduction in service between Natick Center and Wellesley Farms between 8 and 9 AM. With P510 currently making these station stops, those four stations have 3 trains scheduled between 8 AM and 9 AM. Converting P510 to an express train to make it a more attractive alternative for current P508 passengers means eliminating those stops from its schedule. The loss of this service is somewhat mitigated by my proposal to have the new P588 train operate 20 minutes earlier, offering service similar to the current P510 schedule. Although we were only able to collect one data point in the ridership survey earlier this month, it appears that the current later P586 schedule is not attracting many passengers - so effectively moving that train earlier should have minimal impact.
Can a Change Be Made?
If we think my proposal is a viable schedule and a good idea, how can we get it implemented?
The "HeartToHub" was a political invention - it was NOT invented by the MBTA. This is a fact. So lobbying the MBTA for my proposed schedule modification will be ineffective - they can't do anything without buy-in from the politicians. At this point, especially for anything involving the "HeartToHub" train, the "chain of command" for the Framingham-Worcester schedule is:
Politicians (invent / advocate for the concepts) -> MBTA (implement the concepts / create the schedule) -> Keolis (implement the schedule as dictated by their client, the MBTA)
However, there is a window of opportunity to influence the schedule process. In general, the MBTA & Keolis only have two opportunities every calendar year to implement major schedule changes. Engineers, conductors, and assistant conductors are given the opportunity to 'bid' on their work schedules every 6 months. More senior crew members get to select their desired assignment rotation first (and therefore presumably get the 'better' schedules). Making system schedule changes in the middle of these 6 month periods is not practical - both due to the logistical complications of re-creating the entire crew schedule and then bidding it out and finalizing the assignments.
Since the last major schedule change was in May, it is expected that there will be schedule changes published in November. The MBTA has made passing references to these upcoming schedule changes, and the recent schedule tweaks that were implemented on July 27 are another indication that the schedules will change later this year.
Therefore it is possible that my proposed schedule could be implemented during the schedule change in October or November. But the window is rapidly closing - the schedules need to be finalized soon so that equipment and crew schedules and rotations can be finalized. The crew bidding process takes approximately 6-8 weeks - and it must be complete well before the schedule implementation date.
The Call to Action
First, I have created a survey to quantify the possible interest that current P508 passengers may have to switch to another train. This survey is not intended to capture statistical data on ridership - but rather, if there is a significant raw number of passengers who fill out the survey and express interest in changing trains to something other than P508, it strengthens the argument that my proposed schedule may accomplish the goal of alleviating overcrowding on P508. Conversely, if only a handful of passengers indicate a willingness to switch away from P508 then my concept may not be as good as I think it is.
CLICK HERE FOR THE SURVEY ABOUT P508 ALTERNATIVES
The primary way to advocate for this change is through a petition. I have created an on-line petition for you to sign if you would like to see my proposed schedule implemented:
CLICK HERE FOR THE PETITION SUPPORTING DAVE'S PROPOSED NEW SCHEDULE
In fairness, I have also created a counter-petition for anyone who does NOT want to see the schedule changed. Although I am advocating for my proposed schedule, I want to allow the voices of those who disagree to be heard. And this isn't intended to be a vote - I'm not looking to see which petition gets more signatures. But others may see it in that context.
CLICK HERE FOR THE PETITION TO KEEP THE SCHEDULE THE SAME AS IT IS CURRENTLY
Both petitions are directly aimed at the following politicians who I am certain have some influence over & interest in the Framingham-Worcester schedule:
Lt. Governor Karyn Polito
Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack
Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty
Senator Karen Spilka (D - Natick, Framingham, Ashland)
State Representative Hannah Kane (R - Shrewsbury, Westboro)
State Representative Kay Khan (D - Newton)
State Representative Alice Peisch (D - Wellesley)
Worcester Chamber of Commerce President Tim Murray
In addition, the survey results & petitions will be sent to the following state legislators who represent districts along the line:
Senator Cynthia Creem (D - Newton, Wellesley)
Senator Richard Ross (R - Wellesley, Natick)
Senator James Eldridge (D - Southboro, Westboro)
Senator Michael Moore (D - Grafton, Worcester)
Senator Harriette Chandler (D - Worcester)
Representative Ruth Balser (D - Newton)
Representative John Lawn (D - Newton)
Representative David Linsky (D - Natick)
Representative Tom Sannicandro (D - Ashland, Framingham)
Representative Carmine Gentile (D - Framingham)
Representative Chris Walsh (D - Framingham)
Representative Carolyn Dykema (D - Southboro, Westboro)
Representative Danielle Gregoire (D - Westboro)
Representative David Muradian (D - Grafton)
Representative John Mahoney (D - Worcester)
Representative James O'Day (D - Worcester)
Representative Mary Keefe (D - Worcester)
Representative Daniel Donahue (D - Worcester)
Note that I have included e-mail addresses for all of the politicians above. Feel free to send them your own comments on this topic. If you're not sure who your legislator is, use this search function to narrow it down.
Finally, why me?
Long time readers of the this blog will remember that I am quick to acknowledge that as a passenger boarding in Framingham I have the best possible service with options for express trains & local trains, all with reasonable transit times. So this topic has very little bearing on my experience, and I'm not doing it to improve my own experience. I'm really just trying to help fix a problem - and trying to help focus all of our attention on where it needs to be - which is the politicians, not the MBTA.
If you do talk to any of them, feel free to mention the foolish funding system for the MBTA and that we would love for the MBTA to get their fair share of transportation funds so that they can continue to make the improvements in both rolling stock and physical plant infrastructure that we really need. <stepping off soap box>...
Please spread the word and encourage your fellow commuters to sign one of the petitions!
I have created a flyer for distribution to fellow commuters. As of 9/5/2016, I have distributed this flyer to everyone I could on P508. The petition now has over 200 signatures! We'll keep this petition open for another week or so just to make sure everyone is back from vacation and has a chance to sign it.
Terrence Curley created this flyer that does a better job advocating for the new schedule than my flyer did - especially for non-P508 commuters. We're going to try and get his flyer out to other riders.
I really don't want this to be perceived as an attack on any politicians. They invented the "HeartToHub" train with good intentions - but it just doesn't work. I don't begrudge their efforts or advocacy - and in the end, we may end up with better service than we had prior to May 2016. I'm interested in working with them (and you, my fellow commuters) to do what's best for all of us.
My draft schedule is somewhat inspired by a previous draft schedule published by the MBTA when the "HeartToHub" bullet train was first invented. I would be remiss in not acknowledging that original schedule that bears some similarity to my proposed schedule. You can read about that original draft schedule in this blog post.