At about 6:10 AM, outbound P503 (with locomotive 2009) died between Wellesley Farms & Wellesley Hills. As is usual, this train was on track 1 at this time. After a number of attempts to repair it and get it moving, it was determined that it was beyond the capabilities of the crew to rectify the failure. I never did hear what the actual problem was.
A decision was made to use inbound train P504 as the 'rescue set' - this was partly due to the lack of a 'rescue set' in Boston. The normal operations plan for the south side includes one standby ("protect") train set that can be used in these circumstances. For whatever reason, that protect set was unavailable.
P504 was already past Framingham on track 2 when the decision was made to use it as the 'rescue' set. There are no switches between Framingham and Wellesley, so P504 had to continue east past the broken down set in Wellesley, through the "Weston Switch" (CP 11) and then back west on track 1 to the dead P503. Once at the broken down P503, the crew requested "protection" on track 2 while they worked to hook up the trains. "Protection" means that the dispatcher stops trains on the adjacent track to avoid striking the crew walking around the trains. The dispatcher accomplished this "protection" by holding P506 in Framingham until the P503/P504 crew had completed the hook-up. P506 was delayed about 10 minutes in Framingham.
Timeline, for those of you keeping score:
P504 stopped eastbound past Weston Switch at 6:53 AM
P504 moving west on track 1 at 6:59 AM
P504 stopped and ready to hook-up to P503 at 7:08 AM
P504 hitched to P503 at 7:11 AM
P504-P503 double draft moving east at 7:20 AM
While the situation unfolded in Wellesley, the equipment that was designated to operate as P582 was sent to Worcester to operate as P510, since P510 is usually the 'turn' of the P503 equipment. P582 was cancelled.
The 20 passengers who were originally on P503 wanting to go west were now on an eastbound train (the P503-P504 double draft). So the double draft stopped in Wellesley Farms and discharged those 20 passengers. But with the cancellation of P582, the passengers waiting for P582 were directed to cross over from track 2 to track 1 (using the Glen Road bridge) to get onto the double draft. This further delayed the double draft, which didn't end up leaving Wellesley Farms until 7:31 AM.
The P582 cancellation also left inbound passengers waiting at all three Newton stations. Although I didn't hear the discussion on the scanner (there was at least one phone call from the crew to management during this event), it is probable that there was a concern that leaving all the P582 AND P506 passengers for P506 would have overloaded P506. If P506 became overloaded, P508 (an already notoriously overloaded train) would have had to stop and pick up passengers in the Newtons. So the decision was made to have the P504-P503 equipment double draft make all three Newton stops to pick up the stranded P582 passengers (and by that time, a fair share of P506 passengers also).
Eventually the double draft made it to the Boston stations about one hour late vs. the schedule of P504. Some P582 passengers who made it onto the double draft were about 30 minutes late. P506 arrived at the Boston stations about 12 minutes late, meaning the passengers intending to take P582 who were on P506 were 41 minutes late. P508 arrived in Boston close to on-time.
But that's not the end of our story, because with track 1 blocked by the rescue maneuver, delays cascaded for later trains.
As noted above, the P582 equipment was sent west to replace the dead P503/P510 equipment. P582 is actually the turn of outbound P583, and it usually travels well west of Framingham to make its 'turn' in Ashland. This is just an operational sequencing move to keep the traffic flow moving. In this case, it was somewhat advantageous, since the equipment was already a few miles closer to Worcester when it was ordered to keep going west to Worcester.
Once it arrived in Worcester, it was able to make the turn and depart on time as P510.
But back in Wellesley, we still had 20 passengers at Wellesley Farms wanting to go west but stranded after the death of P503. The next westbound train after P503 is actually not on the schedule - it is a deadhead / non-revenue move (that is called train 6501). That deadhead move starts the day in Worcester as P500, goes into Boston and then turns and goes outbound with no passengers. It usually goes express / direct from South Station to Worcester where it becomes P552, the infamous "Heart to Hub" super express train. It usually passes through Framingham at about 7:10 AM.
Train 6501 and P585 right behind it were stuck on track 1 at CP 11 (the Weston Switch) waiting for the double draft P504-P503 to move east off track 1 and onto track 2. P585 terminates in Framingham to become inbound P584. But since at least some of the stranded P503 passengers wanted to go west of Framingham, train 6501 was converted into a local train to pick up the stranded passengers at Wellesley Farms and any other westbound passengers waiting for P503. But this meant that P585 was stuck following close behind 6501 - further delaying it and therefore delaying P584.
In fact, with the on time performance of P510, it actually made it to Framingham BEFORE P585 could make the turn at Framingham to become P584. This created an out-of-sequence problem, where P510 was now gathering all passengers east of Framingham who were waiting for P510 AND P584.
P510 is also notoriously crowded, and even with the light ridership of election day, P510 rapidly became very crowded after Framingham. P510 usually skips all three Newton stops, but the initial decision was that P510 should make the Newton stops to gather stranded passengers waiting for P584. Text messages indicated this plan. As P510 became overcrowded, this decision was changed - and P510 went express from Wellesley Farms to Yawkey - skipping the Newtons. But this was only announced on the train, causing confusion for everyone - passengers on the train trying to figure out the discrepancy between the announcement and the text / official twitter alerts, and for passengers waiting at the Newtons. There were also numerous reports of problems with passengers on P510 not sitting in middle seats and not moving into the coaches - and both of those problems cause overall reduced train capacity.
P510 arrived at South Station at 9:11 AM - about 14 minutes late, while P584 arrived at South Station at 9:26 AM - about 42 minutes late. Passengers from Framingham to Wellesley Farms who intended to take P584 but got on P510 were 27 minutes late.
6501 eventually arrived in Worcester and was so late that it operated on the P512 full local schedule.
As I've previously mentioned, it is somewhat unfair of me to question the decisions that get made, but in this case, I'm not convinced that having P504 rescue P503 was the best decision. Another strategy could have been to have outbound 6501 come up to P503, hitch onto it, and push it to Worcester. It could have been dragged back to Boston with an inbound trip (delayed P510 for example). The inbound Heart To Hub would have been the cancelled trip in this scenario - which would be appropriate - cancel the trip with the least number of passengers. This strategy could have kept all inbound trips (except P510) somewhat close to schedule. I wonder if they thought that the P504-P503 rescue maneuver would go quicker?
As many of you are aware, the MBTA Rail Tracker app - created by a fellow Framingham-Worcester rider - has a feature that allows for passengers to share 'reports' (or actually any comments) regarding their trains. The 2 pages of comments from Tuesday morning are here - and they are presented unedited, so warn small children about the coarse language. The comments do provide some good insight into the frustrations that we all feel regarding the rather frequent recent delays. Some of the more interesting comments include:
Train 506, 7:19 am: So annoying. Late yet again. When will someone do something about this?
Train 504, 7:50 am: The conduct lady is being nice, let's try to not give her too much shit today.
Train 504, 7:51 am: they should change the name of this app to "Therapist for those who love to complain"
Train 510; 8:37 am: "For the last time, this train will be stopping at Wellesley Hills, Wellesley Farms, Yawkey, Back Bay, and South Station. Period."--grumpy conductor over intercom on p510
Hopefully service will improve and we won't have too many more mornings with 2 pages of irate comments.