On December 1, 2016, this blog post provided a preview of the draft morning Framingham-Worcester weekday schedule to be implemented on May 22, 2017. The entire weekday schedule is now available. The schedule is shown in the three images below - the entire schedule plus 'zoomed in' images of the AM and PM rush hour service. Click on any of the images below for a PDF of the entire schedule.
Comments / thoughts:
1) Caveats: This is the official draft proposed schedule, which the MBTA and Keolis have agreed can be implemented in May 2017. But that also comes with a bunch of caveats:
a) This is the final draft developed as a result of the Worcester Line Working Group meetings. There might be some minor tweaks to some times as the MBTA completes simulations of the 'runs' over the next few weeks but the concepts shouldn't change - there won't be any stops added to or taken away from particular trains, locals and expresses will stay where they are, and trains won't be shuffled around before the final draft schedule is published by the MBTA.
b) The intent is that in a few weeks, this draft / proposed new schedule will be formally published by the MBTA. That will be followed by a formal public comment process. More on that below.
c) This is only a PROPOSED schedule, and the public comment process may result in changes being made before it is implemented in May 2017. There is no way to predict if those changes could be substantial or not.
2) Publication of this draft: All members of the Working Group agreed that this draft schedule could be published here on my blog to offer everyone a 'sneak preview' before it gets published officially by the MBTA and the public comment period starts. So if you see something you hate, don't get too fired up yet - remember, this isn't cast in stone.
Enough with the disclaimers...
Morning Rush Hour Inbound Service:
3) Our Petition worked! The AM service is essentially my proposed schedule from the petition that many of you signed, with two major changes:
a) the Heart To Hub train is NOT eliminated; and
b) P510 stops at Natick Center & 3 Wellesley stations.
3a) Heart to Hub: How did they keep the Heart to Hub? Easy - we're getting another train set. Currently, the AM peak service is serviced by eight train sets. With the addition of another set to increase the number of sets assigned to nine, the Heart To Hub can stay on the schedule. Or another way to look at it is new train P586 (7:14 AM departure from Framingham) can be added to the schedule with the ninth set.
As you can see, there will now be 12 inbound trips between the start of service and 10:00 AM arrival at South Station - 13 if you include the P512 'shoulder service.' It's relatively easy to see how 9 train sets can make 12 or 13 trips - the sets from the first four trips go back outbound and then come back inbound. Those turns would theoretically be:
P500 goes back out to Framingham and is 're-used' as new P586.
P502 goes back out to Framingham and is 're-used' as new P588.
P504 goes back out to Framingham and is 're-used' as new P590.
(P582 goes back out to Worcester and is 're-used' as P512, but P512 is outside of rush hour, so it doesn't count towards the 12 inbound peak trips, but it is the fourth of the four re-used sets to get to 13 trips from 9 sets.)
As previously noted on other blog posts, 4 train sets start the day in Worcester after spending the night in the layover yard. The other 5 sets come from storage in Boston.
Where do they get a ninth train set? How do they get more equipment when they have been struggling to maintain set sizes recently? The MBTA & Keolis have recently undertaken some relatively drastic steps to increase the availability of locomotives & coaches, and the expectation is those projects will be complete well before May 2017. This includes:
a) Off-site overhaul of 10 existing out-of-service locomotives. The request for proposals for this project was recently published and bids are due in mid-December.
b) Overhaul of additional out-of-service locomotives by Keolis and other local repair facilities.
Technically speaking these projects are a mix of true 'overhauls' and more modest comprehensive repairs or proactive component replacement, but it's easier for me to just say 'overhauls.'
c) Off-site execution of 4-year inspections for 19 coaches which have been out-of-service awaiting those inspections. This work will be done in Delaware by a railcar maintenance company.
When complete, these tasks will result in growth of the overall fleet size for the South Side Commuter Rail operations - allowing us to get a ninth set and allowing everyone to benefit from better equipment availability.
3b) P510 at Natick Center & 3 Wellesley stations: My original proposed schedule converted P510 to an express train with similar service as the other express trains - express from West Natick to Yawkey. However, it was pointed out that Natick Center and the 3 Wellesley stations have had inbound service with stops in the 8:20 to 8:30 AM time frame for many years. I went back and checked and it's true - the ~7:30 AM departure from Worcester making all stops to Wellesley Farms has been on the schedule for at least 16 YEARS. So there is something to be said about not removing long-established service that people have built their routine around. From a purely schedule fairness perspective, I'm not thrilled that these 4 stations end up with better service than any other stations, but keeping those 4 stations on the P510 schedule only adds 8 minutes to the duration of P510.
4) Boston Landing: Adding Boston Landing to the local Framingham-originating trains actually allows everyone to get to Boston Landing relatively easily without adding more time to the duration of the express trains. For anyone west of Framingham wishing to go to Boston Landing, they can de-board in Framingham and transfer to the next inbound local train. Each Framingham-originating local departs Framingham only about 8 minutes after the express, so the transfer wait is not onerous. This transfer process actually allows reasonable service for anyone west of Framingham going to any of the stations between Natick Center & Boston Landing.
4a) Boston Landing added to P510: Since 12/1/16, the decision was made to add Boston Landing to P510. This is because the Heart to Hub train prevents a Framingham originating local train from leaving right after P510 comes through Framingham. Passengers on P510 originating west of Framingham would face a 40 minute wait at Framingham to transfer to P590 to get to Boston Landing if P510 didn't stop at Boston Landing.
5) P506 now an express: The major element of my proposal and petition was the conversion of P506 to an express train, with a new local Framingham-originating train right behind it. That's what we wanted and that's what we got! Our hope is that this change moves some passengers from P508 to P506, thereby alleviating some of the overcrowding on P508. So if you are a P508 passenger, start thinking about what you can do to move to P506!
6) Addition of Ashland to P590: For the first time ever a local train will start in Ashland, rather than Framingham. There are a number of reasons we decided to do this:
a) The outbound set of equipment used for this service can continue west to Ashland without needing to depart Boston substantially earlier. In other words, the equipment & personnel are available and it's possible.
b) There are no conflicting train movements in the area which would preclude P590 making a 'turn' in Ashland.
c) Ashland has the largest parking capacity on the line, and both lots never come close to being filled at any point during the day.
d) A later morning inbound trip from Ashland could theoretically align with the addition of Ashland to the outbound evening "Heart to Hub" express train which is later in the evening (see below for details on PM schedule). In other words, perhaps some passengers will be able to take advantage of a slightly shifted workday schedule in Boston (~10 AM to ~7 PM?) by taking P590 in the morning and P552 (the Heart to Hub) in the evening.
e) Adding Ashland to P590 should not impact the crowding on the train, since it has excess capacity.
f) Adding Ashland to P590 does not impact riders from Framingham east since the added stop has not changed departure times from any other station for P590.
7) Renumbering of trains: The MBTA has renumbered the local trains (vs. the current schedule and the draft I published on 12/1/16). The elimination of using "P580" as a train number and starting with "P582" now means that the equipment turns have increasing numbers for each set of equipment. For example, on the current schedule, train P581 comes outbound from Boston and turns in Framingham to become P580. By skipping the number 580 on this new schedule, P581 will now come outbound from Boston and turn at Framingham to become P582, which is much more intuitive - all outbound trains will increment by one digit UP at Framingham for their inbound turn.
Evening Rush Hour Outbound Service:
8) Consolidation of P517 & P589: The current schedule includes express P517 & local P589. The proposed May 2017 schedule combines these trains into one full length local train (which would be called P517) departing South Station at 3:30 PM. Three reasons for this change:
a) Ridership: The ridership for P589 is quite low. The ridership for P517 isn't terrible, but it still isn't incredibly high.
b) Set utilization: By eliminating one set from the early rush hour 'rotation,' a set becomes available to serve as a spare for the rush hour commute. This increases the resiliancy of the equipment fleet for the entire rush hour service schedule.
c) Track utilization: By eliminating one set from going to Framingham and coming back into Boston early in the evening commute, the tracks have less trains running across them, allowing for less congestion and better resiliancy.
9) Addition of Framingham & Ashland to Heart to Hub train: The PM Heart to Hub train departing South Station at 7:35 PM has excess capacity (OK, that's the politically correct way of saying it has low ridership). Adding Framingham and Ashland does not substantially increase the transit time of the trip to Worcester, and may draw additional ridership onto this train. Why Framingham and Ashland?
a) Framingham has the highest ridership of any station on the line. Also, due to the signals, grade crossings, and physical characteristics of the line, trains already operate at reduced speed through Framingham, so adding the station stop is not eliminating a high speed segment of the trip. Finally, the construction of the new parking lot on the north side of the station will add over 200 parking spaces to the station area.
b) Ashland (as noted in #6 above) has excess parking capacity. Also, matching it up with the AM P590 trip offers a possible 'alternative' workday schedule for some commuters / potential passengers for the Heart to Hub. Finally, a new Transit Oriented Development project near the Ashland station may result in increased ridership to/from Ashland station - some of whom could potentially utilize the evening Heart to Hub train.
10) Standardized headways: From 4:20 PM to 5:50 PM, the schedule now operates on a fixed 40 minute headway for each local train and each express train, with 10 minutes between an express and a local train. In other words, with the exception of West Natick and Framingham (which are serviced by both express and local trains), a train departs for each destination west of Boston every 40 minutes. For example, Worcester bound passengers can depart South Station at 4:20 PM, 5:00 PM, and 5:40 PM. Passengers bound for Natick Center (as an example) can depart South Station at 4:30 PM, 5:10 PM, and 5:50 PM.
These standardized headways are the best compromise between frequent service and the spacing of trains to avoid conflicts. As many of you are aware, the 25 minute spacing between the current 5:15 PM local (P593) and the 5:40 express (P523) is just too close - P523 frequently 'catches up' to P593 before Framingham. Increasing that spacing to 30 minutes (along with changing the equipment rotation) should solve that problem.
Many of you may recall the 20 minute headway between local trains on previous schedules - a 5:15 PM local departure from South Station was followed by a 5:35 PM local departure from South Station. As previously discussed on this blog, that was only possible with a 'leapfrog' move - the 5:30 PM express train went AROUND the 5:15 PM local train. While that was a nifty move, it was perilous for the schedule - if anything went wrong and there were any delays, the delays could rapidly become widespread and substantial. We just don't have good enough infrastructure to keep a leapfrog move on the schedule. A (quite long) third passing track is really needed to be able to reliably include a leapfrog move on our schedule.
We spent a fair amount of time exploring the options for evening headways and looking at the pros and cons of various options. The Worcester Working Group feels that the 40 minute headway system for the height of the rush hour is the most reliable schedule at the most frequent service interval possible. We spent time learning about the infrastructure constraints that if solved would allow for more frequent service. Hopefully there will be announcements in the near future about some infrastructure projects that will benefit us.
11) The 5:50 PM train no longer operates to Worcester: The current P525 departs South Station at 5:50 PM and operates all the way to Worcester. But P523 departs South Station at 5:40 PM and operates all the way to Worcester, so having the Ashland to Worcester stops on P525 is somewhat duplicative. Removing the Ashland to Worcester segment from P525 improves congestion at Worcester, which has been a problem in the ~7 PM to ~9 PM window on the current schedule. Service to stations from Ashland to Worcester is not substantially or realistically reduced.
12) Only minor changes to trains between 6 PM and 7 PM: The important factor for this later half of the evening rush hour is the constraint at Worcester: trains should arrive at Worcester no more frequently than every 30 minutes. This has been discussed on previous blog posts, and is the result of four factors:
a) The dead end track at Worcester station (MBTA doesn't have permission to go west of the station);
b) The single platform at Worcester station;
c) The arrangement of interlockings on the approach into Worcester station; and
d) The positioning of the layover yard EAST of Worcester station.
The current schedule includes a number of trains which arrive at Worcester less than 30 minutes after the preceding train. While that can sometimes work, it is only possible if everything happens precisely on time. Increasing the interval to 30 minutes for each arrival increases the resiliancy and reliability of the entire schedule.
So, how does this affect the 6 PM to 7 PM window of Boston departures? With the Heart to Hub arriving in Worcester at 8:45 PM, the latest arrival of the previous train is ~8:15 PM. This pushes it back to a 6:45 PM departure from South Station, which also squeezes the departure of the previous train between that and the 5:50 PM local. Taking a closer look at these timings, you can see that it is impossible to continue the 40 minute express / local pattern after 5:50 PM - everything would get jammed up and there would be a long interval of no service to particular stations. Therefore keeping the ~6 PM to ~7:30 PM Boston departures similar to what they are now offers reasonable service to the most stations.
The current 6:20 PM "limited" train departing South Station is moved earlier 5 minutes, but it can't become an express and skip the Wellesleys and Natick Center. If it did, then those stations would not have service for an entire hour between the 5:50 PM and 6:45 PM Boston departures.
13) Boston Landing: As with the morning commute, only local Framingham terminating trains will stop at Boston Landing. This does present a minor problem for Boston Landing passengers bound for destinations west of Framingham, since the express-local sequence at Framingham is not conducive to a transfer there (transfer times of ~20 minutes). There are a couple of solutions / mitigations for this issue:
13a) Boston Landing passengers can get to P521: P521, the 5 PM South Station express to Worcester, is the most popular evening train. Although it doesn't stop at Boston Landing, those passengers can take INBOUND P520 from Boston Landing at 4:59 PM and get off at Yawkey at 5:04 PM. They can then board outbound P521 at Yawkey at 5:11 PM.
13b) Boston Landing added to P525: Without a similar inbound-outbound trick to reasonably access P523, the next train servicing stations west of Framingham is P525. A stop at Boston Landing has been added to that train since there is also no corresponding inbound-outbound trick for Boston Landing passengers to access P525. Boston Landing passengers can use P593 to Framingham and transfer to P523, but that requires a ~18 minute wait at Framingham.
14) Public Comment Process: The current conceptual plan for implementing the new schedule is:
a) Worcester Line Working Group completes finalizing entire new weekday draft proposed schedule by Christmas (COMPLETE).
b) Early January: MBTA formally publishes draft schedule and begins 6 week public comment period. Public Hearings will be held, although the venues and schedule haven't been worked out yet.
c) Mid-February: End of 6 week public comment period.
d) Mid-February to Mid-March: MBTA, Keolis, and Worcester Line Working Group reconvenes to review public comments & finalize new schedule.
e) Mid-March to early April: Keolis builds final equipment & crew rotations for new schedule.
f) Early April to mid-May: Crews choose new assignments (this always happens for 6-8 weeks prior to every new schedule being published in May or November).
g) May 22, 2017: New schedule implemented.
ALL OF THAT IS DRAFT AND SUBJECT TO MAJOR REVISION
This is a pretty exciting example of activism and everyone coming together behind a petition with a government agency responding and making the requested change. Our voices did matter and we're on the way to a better schedule!
Even though we're not done, it's important to note that the Working Group included many people who all contributed and engaged very constructively. It has been a very collaborative process and I'm glad I got to be a part of it. Besides me, the Working Group includes Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Rep. Alice Peisch (D - Wellesley), Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D - Southboro, Westboro), Rep. James O'Day (D - Worcester), Stuart Loosemore (Worcester Chamber of Commerce), Jessica Strunkin (495/Metrowest Partnership), Brian Shortsleeve (MBTA General Manager), Jody Ray (MBTA Assistant General Manager in charge of Commuter Rail Railroad Operations), two Deputy Directors of MBTA Railroad Operations, David Scorey (Keolis CEO/GM), the Keolis Manager of Operations Planning, and another general public member / commuter from Wellesley.
Stay tuned to this blog and I'll publish updates on the Public Comment process as soon as it is finalized. Subscribe to get e-mail updates when the blog is updated.