The scheduled publication, retraction, and actual publication of new schedules has been very confusing, especially for the North side commuters. But now we know we'll have a new schedule effective Monday 12/14/2015.
There are a number of issues to consider with this schedule. But first, a reminder of where we're at now. The current permanent 'real' schedule is dated 7/1/2014. However, since June 2015, we have been operating under a slightly modified version of that schedule due to construction on the line.
This new 12/14/2015 schedule maintains the temporary construction modifications of the June version and makes some other critical changes. Let's take a look at each of these issues:
1) New permanent change: P509, a morning rush hour outbound train, is no longer going to stop at any of the Newton stations. I have no idea if any Newton passengers currently use this train for a 'reverse' commute away from Boston, but unfortunately for them the elimination of the Newton stops from the P509 schedule means that no outbound trains stop at the Newtons before 10:30 AM. However, the benefit for the thousands of inbound commuters justifies the inconvenience for those passengers (if any).
Since the Newton stations only have platforms on track 2, there was a complicated shuffle that was required to keep traffic moving in both directions in this area. The crossover tracks at CP 11 (the Weston switch) and at CP 4 (in Allston) are essentially on either end of the Newton stations (see the map), and are used to execute this shuffle. So, with the (old) current schedule, the following shuffle was required:
a. From just before 7 AM until about 7:15 AM, P582 uses track 1 to go express inbound past P504 on track 2 through the Newtons. So during this time, both tracks are functioning as inbound tracks in the Newtons.
b. After that, track 1 is used for outbound P505 and P507, while track 2 is used for inbound P506.
c. But just before 8 AM, outbound P509 needs track 2 to make the Newton stops, and therefore inbound P508 must use track 1 to pass P509 along this stretch.
d. Then after this, the track usage reverts again: P510 and P512 use track 2 to make their Newton stops.
So to recap, track 1 changes from inbound to outbound to inbound to outbound all in the span of ~7:00 AM to ~8:30 AM.
This constant changing of the direction of a particular track is not efficient. Think of a narrow one-way street: you can easily have a line of cars moving the same direction down a one-way street (even bumper to bumper!). But if you want to change the direction of that street in the middle of the day, you need to wait until the last car has come off the street before you can send a new car the other direction. Same thing with the stretch of track between CP 11 and CP 4. And if you keep reversing direction of your street (or your train track), the capacity of that street is greatly diminished. Same with trains.
Most of the time we don't notice this changing of direction of a particular track - the schedule is (or was) optimized to keep everything moving, even with all those swaps. But it was a precarious balance - any delays to any trains easily upset the entire apple cart, and trains would be stuck at one end of the 'one-way street' waiting for the opposing traffic to clear off the track they needed.
Eliminating P509's Newton stops greatly improves the track usage program. With the new schedule (12/14/2015), the shuffle will now be:
From just before 7 AM until about 7:15 AM, inbound P582 uses track 1 to go express past inbound P504 on track 2 through the Newtons. So during this time, both tracks are functioning as inbound tracks in the Newtons.
After that, P505, P507, P509, and P511 will use track 1 to travel outbound, while P506, P508, P510, and P512 will use track 2 to travel inbound.
2) Another permanent change: P522, a mid-afternoon inbound train, will no longer stop at any of the Newton stations.
Similar to the situation with P509 described above, this change is clearly an effort to reduce the changing direction of the tracks between CP 11 (the "Weston switch") and CP 4.
In fact, now that I study the June schedule a little more closely, this one seems to have been broken all summer. With inbound P522 making the Newton stops and therefore occupying track 2 and then the single Allston track from ~2:55 PM to ~3:12 PM, I can't understand how outbound P521 could have made a stop at Yawkey at 3:06 PM and then Newtonville at 3:14 PM (as scheduled on the June schedule). P521 would have to wait at CP 3 for P522 to get off the single track - meaning it couldn't get to Newtonville until ~3:20 PM. Seems like a broken schedule.
Even without that schedule problem, the June schedule required these changes in direction for track 2 through the Newtons:
a. ~1:18 PM to 2:55 PM: outbound for P517 and P519
b. ~2:55 PM to 3:12 PM: inbound for P522
c. ~3:12 PM to 4:15 PM: outbound for P521
d. ~4:15 PM to 4:30 PM: inbound for P524
e. ~4:30 PM to midnight: outbound for rush hour and evening service
So this new 12/14/2015 fixes the broken conflict between P521 and P522, as well as eliminating the direction change around 3 PM. P524 is now the only inbound service for the Newton stations between Noon and Midnight.
3) Introduction of the "severe weather" trains. There are now 6 outbound and 6 inbound trains that will be eliminated during severe weather. There has been some criticism of this plan, but I think most people are missing the context for these cancellations in their criticism.
Most of us remember the horrible month of March 2015 with very reduced service. The reduced service of March 2015 resembles the severe weather schedule. But the big difference is that the reduced service in March was for an entire month when the weather was generally pretty good (except for the remaining snowbanks). So ridership levels were close to 'normal' even though there weren't enough trains.
In the case of the new 'severe weather' schedule, the "SW" trains will probably only be cancelled when the weather is really bad - think school cancellation snow days. Speaking from personal experience and my own observations, ridership is very low on 'snow days' - so I don't think the reduced overall capacity of the "SW" reduced service will be a big problem.
I'm not suggesting that it's a great solution to cancel service during bad weather, but they were really already doing that even before the bad winter of 2015. From where I sit, it appears this just formalizes something that was probably already being reinvented during each storm.
Why those 6 trains? Notice that none of the 'layover' trains are being cancelled. Those sets are already in Worcester, so no reason to cancel them. The first train to be cancelled, P582, makes sense in that it is a deadhead move from Boston very early in the AM (see the turn table for details). Keeping this set in Boston makes sense. After that, cancelling P510 makes sense if P508 becomes a local to sweep up the passengers waiting for P510. And again, even though P508 is usually packed by West Natick on a normal day, it should have plenty of capacity to accommodate more passengers on a low ridership 'snow day.'
The other cancellations throughout the day seem to be spaced evenly and where they make sense. The idea of cancelling P529 AND P583 might scare you at first - but turn P527 into a local and the low ridership of a 'snow day' can be accomodated by P527 and P531. Cancelling P583 makes sense because it deadheads back into Boston after reaching Worcester, so it makes sense to cancel this train that only has one revenue move while it needs to make a full round trip.
Remember - the appropriate comparison for this "SW" schedule is NOT our experience of March or the current ridership levels on nice days. The only valid comparison is a day of weather so bad that there are widespread school cancellations.
But we'll see how my optimistic predictions work out...
4) Temporary construction impacts: The new 12/14/2015 keeps the construction related changes in place. The most interesting construction related impacts are buried in the schedule and I didn't notice them until someone complained: Both outbound train P519 and P524 have an extra long (~10 minute) stop in Framingham. This is to allow trains to meet in Framingham where they can be crossed over and around each other to allow for certain sections of track to be kept out of service for construction.
The strange thing about this is that the construction is scheduled to be completed this month (or at least put on hold for the winter). Keolis confirmed to me in a conversation that the construction is almost complete (more about that in another post) but that the 'temporary construction' schedule that is carried forward by the 12/14/2015 schedule will not be adjusted. So for a few months (at least) it appears the ~10 minute layover in Framingham is really unnecessary, but will be kept in the schedule.
Seems like it would have been better to fix that and implement another 'temporary construction' schedule if needed in the spring.
Some other mid-day trains have had their entire schedule changed for the temporary construction schedule (for both the June 2015 and the new 12/14/2015 schedules), but those changes were not as drastic as the addition of the ~10 minutes pause at Framingham for P519 and P524.
So even though this wasn't a big schedule change, there was still a lot to talk about!