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Woo, woo: Sunday choo-choo

Needham Line train in Roslindale on a Sunday

Joe D. shows us something Roslindale hasn't seen in decades: Sunday service on the Needham Line, part of the T's post-pandemic commuter-rail schedule changes.

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Comments

The parking lots are empty and there are little or no passengers. Is this anyway to run a railroad?

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Voting closed 15

They can't stop and resume services and frequency change the schedule and wonder why people won't take the train.

It takes a decade for a line to become well known and trusted for people to use it. But it only takes a few months of it being gone without a clear indication of when it's going to return for people to completely abandon it. Once people go through the trouble of finding an alternative they aren't going to come back.

The T needs to commit to frequent service - for at least 10 years - and without the annual scare tactics of threatening severe service cuts. Once they even make the suggestion of cuts, people aren't going to wait and see if that becomes a reality.

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Voting closed 66

Where do you get the 10 year figure?'

Most people in Needham have a car, and can switch back and forth between the train and driving really easily. The few that don't have a car or don't drive aren't going to pick up and move out of town on a moment's notice because the train that ran every 2 hours on Saturday stopped running for a few months.

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Voting closed 10

The Mass Pike has little traffic at 3AM. Is that any way to run a highway?

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Voting closed 51

If there were meaningful incremental costs for keeping the Mass Pike open between, say, 1 AM and 5 AM. But there aren't and MassDOT would likely end up losing money by forgoing toll revenue and incurring the costs of closing and opening the Turnpike daily. Further, it's probably not desirable to divert truck traffic in the overnight hours to alternate routes like Routes 9 or 20.

Commuter Rail on weekends does carry an appreciable operating cost and those trains burn diesel, too. If you've only got 20 or 30 passengers on that train, it's probably more friendly to the environment to run a bus instead.

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Voting closed 24

The bus, that is. Commuter rail off-peak is like wheelchair ramps: They cost a lot and they are infrequently used. But for those that need them, there is no suitable alternative.

Commuter trains are not widely used because the schedule sucks and big diesel trains make little sense. If instead trolly-like trains were used and they ran every 30 minutes or less, they'd get a ton of use once people got acclimated.

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Voting closed 34

The marginal cost of running weekend Commuter Rail service is quite small. The trains are there, the stations are there, the signals are there, etc. The trains actually only have to carry a few dozen people to break even. This is (or at least used to be) a very hard concept for the MBTA to understand (marginal costs) but once you build infrastructure for peak ridership, running service at other times of day can be quite cost-effective. About 75% of MBTA Commuter Rail costs are fixed, the marginal cost of operating service is relatively low.

Regarding running a bus, the issue is that no one will ride said bus because it quickly loses the time benefits of running on a separate right-of-way. A bus going from Needham Heights to Downtown Boston would probably take an hour and a half to make the trip which the train makes in 40 minutes (and ought to be faster if, say, it were electrified). This bears out on the Fitchburg Line: the train from South Acton to Wachusett takes 47 minutes, while the weekend bus during PTC work takes 1:28.

Finally, about the Turnpike: we built the roadway with three or four lanes even though there's only enough traffic to fill the third and fourth lanes for a few hours per day. The extra lanes weren't cheap to build, and aren't cheap to maintain (bridge and pavement costs generally scale linearly). While it wouldn't make sense to close them down at off-peak times, that's only because we've already spent this money up front.

I've heard (but haven't actually seen data) that in recent weeks weekend Commuter Rail trains have been busier than they were pre-pandemic.

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Voting closed 25

Everyone else gets MBTA train service seven days a week now, except them. (And the two Rhode Island stations south of Providence.)

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Voting closed 16

Stoughton may never see a weekend return to service unless users can demonstrate a need and actual bodies to buy tickets. Wanting it and using it is two different things.

The extension to Wickford Junction on the Providence Line was originally also supposed to include a shuttle between Wickford-TF Green Airport-Providence that never happened. Rhode Island dropped the ball on that. Everyone you talk to supports increased service to TF Green and Wickford but it's a Catch-22 situation. As it is, only select trains are running that far on weekdays and most of those people pass through to Boston.

We should also add that South Attleboro remains closed to all due to the deterioration of the station, and no solid plans on the drawing board to repair it yet. I'd cross that station off the list are at least a year or more at this point. The last time I used it was 6 years ago and it was crumbling then.

The Saturday drop on the Needham branch was due to the pandemic and to some extent low ridership, so a Saturday return is mostly a pandemic restoration. The Sunday return of service will be subject to monitoring as will many other lines now seeing Sundays to see just how many people will take the train. So Sunday service on the Needham line is subject to annulment down the road if no one uses it. Wanting the convenience present, vs. actually using it counts.

Much of the new schedules are experimental as the MBTA tries to come up with a hybrid between commuter schedules and subway schedules.

Saturday and Sundays the Needham branch will see a train every 2 hours which matches most other MBTA lines for weekend service. The last inbound train to Boston on weekends leaves Needham at 8:10 pm. The last outbound train from South Station is 10:45 pm.

On weekdays the Needham schedule is set at 1 hour headways. Morning options inbound to Boston are much better with the first train leaving Needham at 5:05 AM. The last train from Boston at night has a special jog to be aware of.

There is no direct train from South Station to Needham after 9:20 pm. 9:20 pm is the last direct train. However, travelers will take an 11:00 pm Providence train which will make a new special stop at Forest Hills. There, people will cross the platform and board a waiting Needham train to continue the journey outbound. This is new thinking by the MBTA so we will have to see how it works out.

So, that last train on weeknights will "dead head" (no passengers) from Needham Heights yard to Forest Hills. People will need to be aware that train will not make stops going to Forest Hills and it is not on the schedule. People in Roslindale should already be used to a couple of daily "dead heads" that moves rolling stock back into Boston for re-assignment or service.

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Voting closed 20

as of a few months ago. I don't know which one is supposed to return to service first, that station or South Attleboro. The T should have waited until Pawtucket opens before closing South Attleboro. (Which is one of the T's newest stations. Why is it already falling apart?)

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Voting closed 15

Winchester has been on the rebuild block for a long time. There was a threat they might close it altogether at one point due to proximity to Winchester Center. The distance between the 2 stations is deemed the shortest distance between any 2 stations in the MBTA service area and maybe beyond.

So. Attleboro had gaps in the stairs on both sides of the tracks and those were closed already 6 years ago only leaving the ADA ramps to access the Inbound platform. They also corroded in places and from what I understand at least in one place in the bridge over the tracks had reached the tipping point. While they covered ADA needs with the ramps it was not ideal so I expect they will demolish and totally rebuild with elevators.

So. Attleboro was the end of the line for a long time until they got Rhode Island on board. They would end service there and side off near Orms Interlocking, then switch ends to come back. Once they opened to Providence and cut the deal for the layover in Pawtucket things got a better.

There's some scuttlebutt that Metro is looking at possibly extending to TF Green (way down the road) and if that happens you might be able to book a ride from Boston to NYC without Amtrak. Serious pipe dreams there but one can visualize.

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Voting closed 11

as the stop that is very close to Winchester Center, which is the one currently closed. The stop in the center has much more parking (and a higher passenger count) than Wedgemere, even though that stop has been partially renovated within the past several years and received new mini-high platforms.

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Voting closed 9

Yes. Been a while since I was commuting on that line for work.

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Voting closed 9

Highland to West Roxbury appears to be slightly shorter than Wedgemere to Winchester.

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Voting closed 12

It would have been nice to stage the South Attleboro closure. But it's not a renovation by choice. It's an emergency shutdown.

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Voting closed 16

The "tiny" stations of Plimptonville, Prides Crossing, Hastings, Silver Hill, and Mishawum had no service on weekends. But a few months ago with the pandemic cuts, these stations lost all their weekday service. And it didn't come back with the service restorations.

Plymouth is also closed, but supposedly it will reopen in July 2022.

River Works is still weekday-only.

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Voting closed 16

Apparently, Needham residents feel that Sunday trains are somehow louder than Saturday trains, and don't want the service...

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Voting closed 10

before they moved somewhere with an active railroad going through town?

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Voting closed 53

For those of us not living in needham but directly on the CR route it’s a big quality of life issue to be woken up at 5:30am on Sat/Sun (plus a dead train at 4:30). No noise machine and ear plugs will allow you to sleep through 45 bells. No one is riding these trains so early in the am

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Voting closed 12

I don't mean to be harsh here, but the tracks have been there for a pretty long time. And if you're sound asleep until these trains come by, I'm not sure you're a reliable authority of how many people are riding those trains.

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Voting closed 22

The article mentions train horns. Don’t the Needham crossings have a whistle exemption, like almost all the other crossings on the T Commuter Rail? If I lived near a crossing with horns, and had no intention of taking the train myself, I’d certainly oppose an end to the Sunday break from the horn noise.

Of course the diesel engines themselves are pretty noisy. Yet another reason why electrification should be a no-brainer. The rest of the First and Second Worlds figured this out about 100 years ago

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Voting closed 24

The MBTA offered weekend cut backs to Needham Junction and voted to accept the offer. The MBTA then decided to drop that offer and continue to the Heights.

The MBTA was trying to sell them no horns at grade crossings. What they did not visit was the potential for idling trains at Needham Jct. That situation burned the T at West Gloucester and they had to move trains down the track where residents would not complain.

Also dropping service back to Needham Jct did not address ADA access for people needing it at the last 2 stations. No modification to offer ADA shuttle to meet the trains. The truncation might also have moved auto parking to the Jct and maybe even Roches Market.

Lots of variables not worked through.

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Voting closed 9

Turbo charger on fire again ?

Those sets are as old as dirt .

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Voting closed 8