On Wednesday October 7, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito held a press conference at Union Station in Worcester to announce the invention of what we are all now calling the 'bullet train' - a non-stop super express train that will go direct from Worcester to Boston, bypassing all stops.
As quoted by both the MASS DOT blog and the MBTA official press release, Lt. Gov. Polito said, "For the first time ever, non-stop train service between Worcester and Boston in under one hour will become a reality."
MY definitions first:
"bullet train" - direct, non-stop train to/from Boston to Worcester with no other stops.
"zone express" - some kind of express train that bypasses all Wellesley and Newton stops. Some 'zone express' trains bypass West Natick and/or Natick Center.
"limited" - a train which makes ALMOST all local stops. For example, P512 skips 2 Newton stops. So it can't be a local - therefore let's call it a 'limited.'
"local" - train that makes all stops. It may originate or terminate in Worcester or Framingham.
We'll tackle AM rush hour first. Note that the AM 'rush hour' is defined as start of service until 9:00 AM (as measured at the origination of a departing train). In other words, the entire trip of a train that leaves at 8:55 AM is considered rush hour service, even though it doesn't arrive in Boston until after 9:00 AM.
Current schedule: 9 inbound trains. 7 from Worcester, 2 from Framingham. Both Framingham departures make all local stops. 4 of the 7 Worcester trains are locals (one is actually a limited, P512, as noted above). Therefore there are 3 'zone express' trains from Worcester.
The new schedule is advertised as: 11 inbound trains. 7 from Worcester, 4 from Framingham. We'll have to assume the Framingham trains will make all local stops. 6 of the 7 Worcester trains will be express, with 1 of those six being the bullet train. Therefore there will be 5 zone express trains from Worcester. This text explanation is taken from the MBTA press release.
Let's compare the current schedule to the new schedule, as best we can, based on the limited data we have to work with thus far:
1) New 4:45 AM Worcester departure mimics current P500. Based on arrival time of new train, this appears to be the one 'local' from Worcester (same as current P500).
2) New 5:15 AM Worcester departure replaces P502. P502 is already a zone express train, but has a duration of 1:28 vs the duration of the new train at 1:21. Not sure where they save 7 minutes. Maybe it skips both Naticks. I'm just speculating, Natick people - don't shoot me yet, wait for the official schedule, please. NOTE that the tweet above does NOT have this train highlighted as a zone express, but the duration on the tweet table is not consistent with a local.
3) Here is the spot where I see space for the first Framingham local. A 5:15 AM Worcester train gets to Framingham around 6:10 AM. Therefore a Framingham local could depart at 6:15 AM and arrive Boston about 7:00 AM. This would offer a schedule similar to the current P504 for passengers from Framingham to Boston.
4) New 6:00 AM Worcester departure mimics current P582. Zone express.
5) New 6:30 AM Worcester departure has similar departure time to current P506. But P506 is a local, and this train is being advertised as a zone express. The duration indicates it is a zone express (25 minutes shorter duration than P506).
6) Perhaps this is where they insert another Framingham local, to replace the loss of P506 for passengers east of Framingham. Possibly a 7:30 Framingham departure with a 8:25 South Station arrival?
7) New 7:00 AM Worcester departure mimics P508, but with a 14 minute shorter duration. Where do they get 14 minutes off this train with very heavy ridership? Do they eliminate West Natick and Natick Center? This train could 'leapfrog' my 7:30 Framingham departure.
8) One more Framingham departure to replace P510 here? Depart ~8:10 AM and arrive ~9:10 AM?
9) New 7:30 AM Worcester departure looks like a replacement for P512. P512 is currently a 'limited' with a duration of 1:33. New train has duration of 1:21. Saving 12 minutes somewhere; probably making this one more of a zone express (vs. 'limited'). Perhaps it 'leapfrogs' my 8:10 AM Framingham departure.
10) Finally, the bullet train. Departs Worcester at 7:55 AM and arrives 8:57 AM (as I complained above, 1:02 duration). It would also have to 'leapfrog' my 8:10 AM Framingham departure.
11) Final AM rush hour train would be a 8:45 AM Framingham departure that mimics P514.
So there you have it. Eleven AM rush hour trains. I think I have more 'leapfrog' moves than the line can accommodate, but who knows...
1) There are changes to everyone's departure schedule no matter what origination station you board at. But the changes don't appear to be drastic. As far as I can tell, nobody is getting completely left out in the cold, except for perhaps Natick passengers who have been spoiled with expresses (see below).
2) Essentially this schedule removes the 2 full locals P504 and P506 and offers replacement express options for passengers west of Framingham and (probably) local options for passengers east of Framingham. Not bad.
1) I think the times of the 'bullet' train are not ideal. My gut feeling is the height of rush hour is earlier than the time for the bullet train. Add 10 minutes of walking time after arrival in Boston, and bullet train passengers (Back Bay OR South Station) aren't getting to their office until after 9 AM. I think that is too late for most people. But I'll bet that's the earliest they can squeeze the train through - the problem is that for a train to go express like that, there must be a clear track ahead of it which limits the schedule flexibility of EARLIER trains - both locals and expresses. They have to be off the tracks when the bullet comes through, and that results in long sections of track being empty waiting for the bullet train. No easy answers for the bullet train. All of this is why I call the bullet train bizarre. Especially when you look at the evening bullet train, it really starts to look like a politically scheduled train, rather than a practical one. Don't get me wrong - some people will think it is great and will benefit from it. But I doubt most Worcester passengers will be pleased with the scheduled departure and arrival times.
2) What happens to Natick Center and West Natick? It will be painful and difficult to remove express service from those stations, but probably the right thing to do for the passengers with longer commutes to the west of Framingham. A local ride from Natick Center or West Natick is only 45-55 minutes, while most express rides from Worcester, Grafton, and Westborough are from 1 hour to 1:15 even when skipping West Natick and Natick Center. [OK, Natick riders, shoot away.]
3) Squeezing eleven trains into the AM rush hour means more chance for cascading delays and traffic jams when delays / breakdowns / medical emergencies / etc. occur. Less 'slack' time on the line for the schedule to work itself out. ESPECIALLY with that gosh darn single track in Allston and the ridiculous lack of crossover switches, especially east of Framingham.
4) Why is the bullet train being implemented in May 2016, when we're being promised a new schedule effective 11/1/2015? My guess is they want to keep that bullet set in reserve for the winter. Or even more logical, it is a victim of the still unfulfilled order of new locomotives and unfulfilled order of new "Rotem" coaches. Approximately four of those new locomotives are still getting warrranty repairs prior to being placed into service. And 3 Rotem cars are out of service getting warranty work while 8 other Rotem cars that are in service still need to go down to Rhode Island for warranty service. Also, November 1 and May 1 are the dates when crews get shuffled around - they bid for six month job assignments. So the May 1 date is the earliest practical date to add a whole new train to the schedule after the winter from a crew scheduling perspective. Adding the train to the schedule between 11/1 and 5/1 might mean it would have to be crewed with an 'extra' crew (perhaps on overtime). It will certainly be odd if they implement the completely new schedule on 11/1/15 without the bullet train - that will leave a huge gap in the Worcester departures (nothing between 7:30 AM and 9:05 AM).
OK, this blog post has rambled on way too long. Perhaps I'll do a detailed analysis of the PM rush schedule at some point, but I'll leave with one last comment about the PM rush hour:
The PM bullet train will depart South Station at 7:40 PM and arrive Worcester at 8:42 PM?!?!?! That isn't even close to being within 'rush hour' as defined by the MBTA or any sane person! Having the bullet train that late will no doubt be a benefit to some people, but it CANNOT be called a rush hour train or even a commuter train. So that is a complete joke. I'll bet it is overrun with people who get on it by mistake and really want to get off somewhere between Boston and Worcester.
Granted, the PM rush hour is much harder to manage and tweak due to a number of factors:
1) Shorter window: 3 hours (4 PM to 7 PM) vs. 4+ hours (4:45 AM to 9 AM).
2) Inbound trains from earlier in the day already on the move (limits options for available trainsets and crews).
3) Inbound trains from earlier in the day prevent as many 'leapfrog' moves as might be desired.
4) And I think the 'height' of rush hour is really between 4:30 PM and 6:30 PM - I'll bet that is when most commuters board outbound trains.
Lots to think about... but we should have some answers soon enough!