1) West Natick mini-high platforms
2) Tie replacement project
3) Framingham parking lot
I'll cover Boston Landing and the single track through Beacon Park in a separate blog post.
Mini-High Platforms at West Natick
The mini-high platforms (one for each track) at West Natick are the platforms at the far western end of the station where the platforms are at the same level as the train vestibule, enabling passengers to board the train without climbing up stairs. They provide handicapped accessibility for boarding and deboarding trains. The mini-high platforms were removed from service at least a year and a half ago - I can't find a reference to an exact date but the situation was noted in this Fox 25 report in March 2016.
The mini-high platforms were removed from service due to deterioration of the concrete structure and the unsafe condition of the 'folding' portion of the platform. The folding platform along the track is used to allow wide freight trains access past the station. When the station originally opened in 1982, Conrail (predecessor to CSX) needed the ability to transport wide loads to Boston and the Beacon Park freight yard. What is a wide load? As described in this blog post, wide loads are most frequently electrical transformers around here, although out west they ship airplane fuselages by train (unless they fall into a river (please click that link, you won't be disappointed)). The ability to fold out of the way is the reason that the edge of the platform sometimes feels 'bouncy' on mini-high platforms.
The delay in rebuilding these mini-high platforms appears to be related to the normal capital planning process along with the potential that the work would trigger ADA (Americans With Disabilities) requirements. For any stations that are not 100% handicapped accessible, any construction work that exceeds 30% of the assessed value of the station triggers full ADA compliance. Full ADA compliance at commuter rail stations means full length high platforms - similar to Boston Landing or Yawkey, with fully accessible paths from the surrounding area to both platforms. It's possible that with such a simple station as West Natick, constructing new mini-high platforms would exceed this 30% threshold. This would force the MBTA to do nothing or build full length high platforms - a substantial and complicated capital project for West Natick, since the 'grade crossing' walkway across the tracks to the track 1 platform would need to be replaced with a bridge with elevators. That ain't cheap.
As you can see, this is an odd glitch in the ADA requirement. The effect is to force the MBTA to avoid repairing the mini-high platforms so they don't trigger the 30% threshold. Obviously they should just build full length high platforms, but the capital budget isn't unlimited. I have heard rumors that the MBTA was negotiating with the relevant authorities for some relief from the ADA requirements so they could implement logical repairs such as West Natick without having to trigger the complete rebuild of stations. This makes sense, since without that relief the MBTA would be forced to make no repairs to the mini-high platforms. Even if they were going to build a full length high platform station, the planning, design, permitting, and construction of that would take years - so allowing them to repair the mini-high makes sense in that context also.
As some of you have noticed, the existing mini-high platforms have been demolished. The current plan is to replace them with construction scheduled for June. I don't have details regarding if this is part of an agreement or waiver for the ADA requirements or if that was even a factor. But the good news is they are finally getting fixed!
It will be interesting to see if the rebuilt platforms include folding platforms for wide freight trains or if they construct fixed platforms. I have been told that CSX has waived their rights to take wide freight loads east of Framingham. With the closure of the Beacon Park freight yard, the only scheduled freight service east of Framingham is tank cars to the Houghton Chemical facility in Allston & boxcars to a produce warehouse in Everett. Neither of these customers require wide freight cars, and there are no facilities for 'special' loads to be delivered via the Framingham-Worcester line to Boston. Eliminating the folding platform would allow for the construction of a fixed platform, which is much easier to maintain and less susceptible to failure. If I get more information, I'll edit this blog post.
Tie Replacement Project
We're into the final stretch of the tie replacement and railbed resurfacing project. Work on track 2 from mile 14 to mile 28 will commence on Monday April 3 and should be complete in early June. Many of you may have noticed that they have already staged bundles of new ties alongside track 2 on this stretch. Track 2 is the southernmost track and the track that both inbound and outbound trains use between Framingham & Boston (why? see this blog post).
The tie replacement project has been completed on all other sections of the line: the entire length of track 1 (except directly within Framingham station), from Boston to mile 14 on track 2, and from mile 28 to Worcester on track 2.
Mile 14 is between Wellesley Hills and Wellesley Square, while mile 28 is between Southboro and Westboro. You can see the exact locations of each mile marker on this awesome mapping website. Therefore the project limits are from Southboro to Wellesley. This project also includes both tracks directly within Framingham station.
This blog post has some photos and videos of what the tie replacement actually looks like. But if you want just one video of what tie replacement looks like, this one is pretty good:
The MBTA has made two changes with this spring's tie replacement project in terms of communication & planning:
1) Announcement that mid-day trains may experience 5-15 minute delays; and
2) Change to the schedule of P512 to avoid a en-route delay at Framingham.
The communications are on this website but were also tweeted out:
The change to the time of P512 is related to the loss of track 2 through the Framingham to Wellesley stretch. On a normal day, the sequence between Wellesley Farms and Framingham is:
9:19 AM: outbound P507 at Wellesley Farms on track 1.
9:21 AM: inbound P512 at Framingham on track 2.
9:39 AM: outbound P507 at Framingham on track 1.
9:43 AM: inbound P512 at Wellesley Farms on track 2.
So from about 9:20 AM to 9:40 AM, both tracks are needed for the regular schedule between Framingham and Wellesley. This is actually the last time until the evening commute that both tracks are needed along this stretch. Mid-day train trips are sequenced such that only one train is travelling in either direction on this stretch. That's another good thing in the context of this tie replacement project since this means that those mid-day trains only see minor delays and no trains have to be completely cancelled.
The construction work does not start until after the AM rush hour in order to avoid delaying the high ridership commuter trains. P512 is the just outside the defined "AM rush hour" and therefore is subject to the mid-day construction delays. The construction crews move onto the tracks as soon as inbound P586 clears past them, which is anywhere from 8:40 AM to 9:20 AM, depending on where they are staged.
With only one track available between Framingham and Wellesley after 9 AM, it's impossible to have P507 & P512 on that stretch at the same time. By delaying P512 so that it essentially 'waits' for P507 to get to Framingham, P512 can then proceed past Framingham and occupy track 1 where P507 had just been occupying. There's the 20 minute delay - instead of departing Framingham at 9:19 AM as per the published schedule, it departs at 9:39 after P507 has passed by.
Keeping P507 on time allows P514 to operate on time - if P507 were delayed for 20 minutes, then a delay would cascade to P514 (which uses the equipment from P507).
The delay to P512 actually happened frequently in the early summer of 2016 - but P512 would depart Worcester on time and then sit at Framingham for 20 minutes with an announcement about the delay once the train arrived in Framingham. Proactively announcing this delay now and holding the train in Worcester for 20 minutes seems to be a better solution - passengers will be able to plan ahead and change their schedule if needed.
In the past I had advocated for the delay to be applied to P507, even if that delayed P514, since ridership on P512 is higher than P507 (and P514). As documented in this blog post, they implemented my suggestion in July of 2016. I'm not sure why they didn't consider it now. I'll suggest it again.
New Parking Lot in Framingham
Construction is just resuming on the new parking lot in the 'infield' of the CSX North Yard east and west wye tracks. Governor Baker presided over a groundbreaking ceremony for this project back in October of 2016.
Click on the image below for a PDF:
Existing "banana" lot: 118 spaces
"Improvements": lose 14 spaces
New parking lot: 220 spaces
New total: 324 spaces
(net gain 206 spaces)
Those statistics do not include the lot on the south side of the station (adjacent to Route 135) since no changes are being made to that side.
I've been told that the existing walkway across the freight track adjacent to the banana lot (actually called the "station track" by CSX) will be closed. People parking in the banana lot will have to walk across the freight track at the entrance to the new parking lot and walk through the parking lot (along a sidewalk) to the pedestrian bridge (where a new access point through the fence will be made). This will eliminate access to the easy but dangerous and illegal path that people use to cut across the main line tracks right near the old station building (now the Deluxe Depot Diner).
Construction is estimated to take "a couple more months."
In other Framingham parking news, the MWRTA is now enforcing the overnight parking ban for the train station parking lots. On a number of occasions this winter, cars were left in the lots overnight during snowstorms, preventing proper and complete snow removal.
1 AM - 5 AM Monday to Friday
12 AM - 7 AM Saturday & Sunday
Also, the MWRTA is interested in our feedback about the Framingham station and parking since they took over a few months ago. Send them an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or leave a comment below.