Boston Herald article
Boston Globe article
One of our Twitter friends, Meghan, even had her letter published in the Boston Globe.
The longest article was in the Telegram & Gazette, and it does the best job at explaining the difference between the "Worcester Working Group" and the "Worcester Line Rapid Action Group" (and that's not only because the article quoted me!). More on the Rapid Action Group below.
With regards to the delays, the data doesn't lie, and kudos to the MBTA for being transparent with the on-time performance data. Take a look for yourself at:
In general, delays are unacceptable. In reality, it's a bit more complicated than that. I'll offer my thoughts on the on-time performance and some potential reasons for the delays. But first, I'll offer one criticism of the data being provided by the MBTA and reported in those articles: the data provides no information about the MAGNITUDE of the delay. A 5 minute delay is the same as a 90 minute delay for the purposes of reporting how many trains were on time. I think that is an important fact - I'm not happy when my train is 6 minutes late, but it also doesn't ruin my whole day. But a 30 or 60 minute delay has the potential to really screw up my work or evening schedule.
I'm not trying to minimize any delays in the recent past, but my own completely subjective feelings are that:
1) There have been too many epic meltdowns recently (see blog posts about 10/24, 11/4, and 11/8. I didn't even write blog posts about some of the severe equipment shortages around 11/4 and the week of 11/7).
2) Those epic meltdowns result in some huge delays for many of us.
3) But overall, those epic meltdowns don't represent 40% of the trips I'm taking. Maybe 10%? That would be one per week on average. Maybe it's 2 per week? The other 2-3 delayed trips per week (to get to ~40% delays) are probably less than 10 minutes. Again, that's just my experience, and feel free to open the debate in the comments below...
Why are the delays happening at all? I think there are a number of factors to blame.
1) Bad luck. A fatality in Wellesley relatively early in the rush hour one evening not too long ago delayed some trains by hours. The train involved in the buffer strike at South Station being a Worcester train was bad luck (the incident itself wasn't bad luck - I'm just saying it was bad luck it was one of OUR trains).
2) The slippery rail season seems to have been bad this year. With only one 'wash train' for all the lines on the South Side, combating slippery rail is difficult. And it isn't clear to me that the wash train operated as much as it could, either because of equipment issues or other factors. This was what I was alluding to in my quote in the T&G article - slippery rail is bad luck, but was everything possible being done with the wash train to "make our own luck" to mitigate the related delays?
3) Equipment availability & mechanical issues. It is no secret to anyone that the last few months have seen a periodic shortage of coaches, locomotives, and/or entire train sets. The extensive delays and cancellations around 11/4/2016 could only have been caused by equipment issues.
What's the good news? Believe it or not, Keolis actually cares about these delays. Perhaps it's our advocacy, perhaps it's the political pressure, or perhaps it's the fines for late trains, or perhaps it's them just doing their jobs, but they're trying to fix it. They have created the Worcester Line Rapid Action Group to work on short-term solutions for the delays.
David Scorey, the Keolis General Manager (and a fellow Framingham-Worcester commuter) recently spoke about the Worcester Line Rapid Action Group. Watch this video - it has some nifty footage from some of the recent construction projects.
The Rapid Action Group is an internal Keolis-only group, focused on creative solutions to reducing the delays for our trains. Some of the solutions they have implemented include:
1) Adding conductors / crew members to the trains with the highest ridership. P508 actually went from 4 assigned conductors to 5 on the new crew rotation which was implemented on 11/21/2016. Other morning trains have had extra staff added on a temporary basis. Adding staff allows for more doors to be opened, speeding up passenger loading. Dwell time (the time a train is stopped in a station), especially at our stations which don't have full height platforms, can be a significant source of delays. Just 1 minute longer at five stations is 5 minutes - delays add up quick.
2) This next one is a little technical, but it's a great idea and it has been very effective. The basic idea is to have inbound express trains switch tracks well before Boston Landing - therefore avoiding a slow switch there.
"CP 4" is the interlocking / switch just west of Boston Landing. This is the switch where the two tracks from Worcester become one to get past the Boston Landing construction. Switches are not all the same - there are different switches with different geometries that allow for different speeds through them. A switch with a shallower angle off the straight track allows for higher speeds through the switch. Unfortunately, the switch at CP 4 is only rated for 15 mph.
As many of you know, rush hour trains (both inbound and outbound) usually use track 2. There's a long story behind that, but here at CP 4 the basic story is that the Newton stations have platforms only on track 2 - so trains making the Newton stops have to be on track 2 (there are no crossovers between CP 4 and the Newton stations). Trains not making the Newton stops don't have to be on track 2.
As shown on the diagram, going to or from track 2 to the single "shoo fly" track requires going through the 15 mph CP 4 switch. The 15 mph speed limit through CP 4 is effectively enforced by the fact that the 'best' signal a train can get going to or from track 2 is a "slow clear" ("Proceed at Slow Speed [15 mph] until entire train clears all interlocking or spring switches, then proceed at Normal Speed [maximum authorized speed for the track]").
Passing through CP 4 to or from track 1 avoids the effective 15 mph speed limit. Trains on that routing remain on a straight path. There is a 30 mph speed limit adjacent to the Boston Landing construction zone, so trains still have to slow down there, but the slow down is not as dramatic.
The Rapid Action Group came up with the idea to route morning express trains onto track 1 through CP 4. Since they don't need to stop at the Newton stations, they can switch to track 1 at CP 11 (the "Weston Switch"). This is the closest interlocking that allows for changing tracks west of CP 4. This change can save ~2 minutes for those trains, and every minute matters. This routing has been used for trains P502, P504, P508, and P510 for the last couple of weeks, and it appears to have helped with on-time performance. Believe it or not, P508 was actually early on Tuesday 12/6/2016.
3) Another change that Keolis has made involves the sequencing of the tie replacement project. In addition to the limitations described in this blog post, they are also not allowing the construction work to occupy track 2 until P512 passes through. As many of you recall, the tie replacement project in May and June did not have this restriction placed on it, and P512 was frequently substantially delayed due to the construction work. P512 is not technically a rush hour train, but it does have relatively high ridership, so this change helps those passengers. Mid-day trains after P512 are also less affected by the construction work, since the schedule through the mid-day has been structured to allow for areas of single track operation without dramatically affecting the schedule.
I'm sure there will be those of you who claim that the Rapid Action Group is just making changes that should be normal operational corrections, and there is an element of truth to that. But regardless of how it's happening, they are trying to make changes to improve on-time performance.
There are probably a combination of factors at play, but on-time performance has improved over the past few weeks. Those factors include:
1) End of slippery rail season;
2) Better equipment cycles with the new 11/21/2016 schedule (even though they didn't change our schedule, the changes to other lines allows for better equipment rotations);
3) Better equipment availability (apparently); and
4) the work of the Rapid Action Group.
Specifically, here is the on-time performance for peak trains for the following weeks:
11/21/16: 65% (Thanksgiving week)
We're still a long way from 90%, but at least the numbers are going in the right direction.