Sunday, December 25, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree!

Happy holidays and a merry Christmas to everyone! To celebrate this day, here's a post about a time-honored tradition and symbol of the holiday season--the Boston Common Christmas Tree! 


Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the annual tree lighting is a staple of the local traditions ringing in the holiday season in the city. Thousands gather every year to storm the Common and partake in the festivities, with local celebrities performing and WCVB-TV broadcasting the event live on the air. This year's guests included Joey McIntyre of New Kids on the Block, American Idol finalist Siobhan Magnus, the Radio City Rockettes, Rockapella, the Boston Ballet and the Boston Children’s Choir. There was even a fireworks display! Once the Christmas tree is lit up, the entire city lights up with the rest of its decorations, from the lit stars hanging in Downtown Crossing, to the other trees strung with lights in the Common and Public Garden.


This tradition has an interesting history that many may not be aware of, however. For the past forty years, Boston's Christmas tree has been donated to us by the people of Nova Scotia, as a gift recognizing the assistance that the Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee provided when the province's capital, Halifax, suffered an explosion in its harbor in 1917. The following year in 1918, the province sent its first Christmas tree, and then in 1971 the gift was revived by the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association in order to spur Christmas tree exports in addition to acknowledging Boston's support in the disaster. Years later, the Nova Scotian government took charge of overseeing the annual gift in efforts of also promoting trade and tourism for the region. Realizing the importance the tree has come to have for both cities, the Nova Scotia Department of Naturnal Resources have defined a very specific set of guidelines for the selection of the tree. 


In addition to donating the tree, representatives of the Nova Scotion government also make a point to attend the tree-lighting celebration, and the people of Nova Scotia also tend to support Boston's major sports teams!


This year's tree is a 45-foot white-spruce, donated by Ken and Donna Spinney of Central Argyle, Nova Scotia. According to BostInno, this year is the first year that the tree will be lit extra bright using 4000 LED lights, in addition to 48,000 other ones adorning the sixty other trees lit up in the Common and the Garden. 


So, armed with your new knowledge about one of Boston's beloved holiday traditions, enjoy the rest of the day with your family and friends! In the meantime, you can also check out boston.com's photos showing what the official Christmas tree has looked like throughout the years. It looks like it used to be a lot taller back in the 30s. Click here!


Happy Holidays from Boston to a T!


-Aaron & Dan

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Commuter Rail to New Hampshire

As most of you know the MBTA's Commuter Rail system only crosses state lines (into Rhode Island) on the south side of the system. It has been proposed for many years however, to extend some of the north side lines into the state of New Hampshire.

Before the days of MBTA.com
these pamphlets could be found for each line!
To think NH-Zone 13 was $6 1-way!
First, let me give a brief history of the MBTA trying to bring passenger rail back into the state of New Hampshire. During the 1980's the Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M) was the contractor for the MBTA Commuter Rail system (just like the MBCR today). On January 28, 1980, the B&M started an experimental service  that would run from Boston's North Station running along the Lowell line and eventually merging onto the New Hampshire main line terminating in Concord NH. It was dubbed the "Minute Man Service". This service was very popular among tourists, but it was not as popular as the B&M had first hoped it would be, resulting in federal funding being taken away and causing its demise on March 1, 1981, only a year after it first started operating.

B&M "Minute Man Service" near North Chelmsford, MA
After the Minute Man Service's early demise, it would take until 2008 for legislation to come about that might actually allow MBTA Commuter Rail to travel into NH. In July of '08 the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority proposed a plan to extend MBTA Commuter Rail from the current Lowell terminus to Downtown Manchester, NH. The project would create nine new stops: North Chemlsford, Tyngsboro, Nashua, NH (Pheasant Lane Mall), Merrimack, NH, Manchester Regional Airport, and Downtown Manchester, NH. The plan also called for 12 to 15 round trips per day during weekdays and eight to ten round trips per day on weekends. The plan even received a total of $41 Million in Federal Grants to help fund the planning of the project. In early 2011 however, a bill was introduced into the New Hampshire legislature that would end the project's planning and give up its federal funding. Currently the project is still in limbo and, unfortunately, no one really knows what will come next.


Although the fate of this project is uncertain, another project is currently making headlines. The MBTA, NHDOT, Rockingham Planning Commision, and the Town of Plaistow New Hampshire are all working together to try and extend the MBTA's Haverhill Line from its current terminus in Downtown Haverhill to Plaistow, NH and relocate the current layover facility in Bradford to a new location on the border of Atkinson, NH. The project is currently set to cost around $25.5 Million. The projects largest obstacle however, is opposition from residents who do not want a layover facility in their area. 


The layover station has been located at Haverhill's Bradford commuter station since 1987. It is extremely small and has no room for expansion. Neighbors of the facility have complained for years that the idling trains wake them up in the early morning hours and send fumes through the open windows of homes during the summer. The new layover facility, which would be located in Atkinson, could accommodate six train sets, allowing for anticipated service expansion on the line. Like many of the MBTA's new layover facilities, when the trains are stored, they will be connected to the yard's power to allow for the train systems to run without use of power from the locomotive. The state-of-the-art energy controls and electrical systems will allow the MBTA to prohibit idling when an engine is not in active service. The facility would be owned by the NHDOT, and would be leased to the MBTA for operation.


The people of Atkinson really dislike the idea of this facility. This past Monday, December 19, 2011, The Plaistow Area Transit Advisory Committee met for the first time in more than 10 years to discuss the project. The meeting, which took place at the Atikinson Community Center, was attended by many Atkinson residents and local state officials. The meeting eventually turned into a shouting match between residents as committee member Tim Moore tried to explain the facts of the project. According to The Eagle Tribune, the meeting got out of hand numerous times, with people shouting and interrupting each other. Overall, Atkinson residents are truly showing that they do not want a layover facility in their area. 


Right now the project is still in the planning process, but they would like to have the extension open for revenue service by 2013. Hopefully Atkinson residents come onboard with the project and it can move forward as soon as possible! The next Plaistow Area Transit Advisory Committee (PATAC) will be held on February 9th. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Boston Common Renovation Part II

Last March Aaron and I posted that historic Boston Common would be going under extensive renovation! Now, a little less than a year later the rehabilitation is almost complete.

The Liberty Mall, which runs from Park St. Station up to the Massachusetts State House, received the largest facelift from the project. Since I pass by the project everyday on my way to class I was able to follow the renovation every step of the way! The entire mall was completely torn up to take away all of the dead grass, cracked concrete, dead trees, and frost-heaved asphalt. Soon after everything was ripped up, huge amounts of loam were brought in and the reconstruction began! The entire Plaza that surrounds the historic Brewer Fountain received new granite tiles and wooden benches. All of the paths were repaved and received new granite sidings and drains. Most importantly however, yards upon yards of fresh sod was rolled down and numerous new trees were planted, creating and even greener Boston Common. To keep the new trees and grass lush and healthy all year long, a new sprinkler system was also installed along the entire mall. Currently, huge fences can still be found surrounding the newly planted sod and trees to make sure that the grass takes properly, but all of the paths are now open to allow pedestrians to walk through and see what's new! 

The visitors center under construction
this past summer
Another major part of the project was to restore the Boston Common Visitors Center. Now fully revitalized and open for business, the center received a head-to-toe facelift. All of the siding was taken down and replaced, a new granite walkway and new outside lighting were installed, and a fresh coat of paint was slapped on. The inside also received some attention with the installation of two LCD display screens, new lighting, and a totally reorganized gift shop. The center is now not only visually appealing, but a wonderful place for Boston's tourist to find out information. 

In the last post I stated that free Wi-Fi would be installed throughout much of the common and that  a stand or building would be installed near the Brewer Fountain. Currently, neither of those have happened and I have not seen or read anything that tell me they will be happening in the near future. Not to worry, though, as I'm sure they will be coming along once summer hits! Overall, the $1.5 Million project, funded by the Friends of the Public Garden, seems to be an overall success. All of the landscape development was done by Valley Crest Landscape Architects


Right now this is an eyesore but soon
it will be site of the new elevator!
View from the Red
line platform 
This post would not be complete, however, without a small tidbit about the MBTA. As many of you know, the MBTA is currently underway with its construction of a new elevator at Park St. Station. Although the project is still a ways away from its estimated completion date, Fall 2012, the project seems to be moving along full speed. When all is said and done this $8.7 million project will install two brand new elevators in the station. One will go from the Common to the Green Line westbound platform and the other will go from the Green Line westbound platform to the center platform of the Red line. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

MBCR North Pole Express!

It's almost Christmastime! For me, Christmas means hot chocolate, huge christmas trees, bright strings of lights, and OF COURSE The Polar Express!

 This year Aaron and I were lucky enough to be invited to ride on the MBCR's version of The Polar Express which they dubbed the North Pole Express! 

GM Kiley, Mrs. Menino, First Lady Patrick,
GM Davis, Secretary Davey
This past Saturday we arrived to a busy South Station that was filled with young children and adults who were celebrating with holiday spirit. The MBTA did a beautiful job decorating the station for the holidays, completing it with a large scale model train set that buzzes around in an inclosure at the center of the station. I have always had an interest with model trains and I always look forward to seeing the set at South Station! 

The MBCR invited children from local Boston charities like The Boston Housing Authority and Smart from the Start to embark on this fun adventure! The train departed South Station at 4:00pm and traveled down the Fairmount line to the Readville Yard (The North Pole) where we reversed directions and headed back to Boston.

Right as you entered the train you could tell that the Holiday Spirit was in the air. Each coach on the MBCR's special train was decorated to the rafters! Long strands of colored Christmas lights, garland, and ornaments lined the inside of the coaches. Throughout the ride each coach featured a different "celebrity," if you will, that read the story of The Polar Express aloud over a P.A. system to the families and children and they also sang christmas carols! Some of the celebrities included MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis, MassDOT Secretary Rich Davey, MBCR GM Hugh Kiley Jr., and First Lady Diane Patrick.

When the train came to a quick halt at the Fairmount station, Santa, along with his elves and some other special guests made their way onto the train. The Children were very excited as Santa came down the isles of the train giving each and every one of them a brand new hardcover copy od The Polar Express and a single silver bell!

I had the chance to speak with the Matta family right as Santa was passing by them. Julie and Bill, brought along their three sons to the event Jared (8), Michael (6), and Josh (3). "This is our first year attending this event and we think it is spectacular" said Julie, "It is wonderful that the MBCR is doing this for the children."

After returning to the station all of the children were invited to watch The Polar Express movie (starring Tom Hanks!) on a huge blowup screen that was set up in the main concourse of South Station! A few vendors at South Station also pitched in to give out snacks for the showing. Doc Popcorn, a new vendor to South Station, gave away free bags of popcorn  and there were also some delicious cupcakes being given away!

 "We wanted to give back to our customers" said MBCR GM Hugh Kiley Jr., "this is the most rewarding part of my job". Overall, this was a wonderful experience and it was a privilege to be a part of it.

Now you are probably all wondering, being around all of those MBTA higher ups did I get to actually talk to them. The answer to that is yes! I was able to speak with Kiley and Davis, but unfortunately I was not able to talk to Secretary Davey, although I hope that day will come soon! Kiley, gave me a little more information on the new locomotive and coach procurement. He told me that prototypes for the new Hyundai-Rotem will begin arriving as early as the new year and that the first of the new Motive Power locomotives will begin arriving in 2013! GM Davis also gave me some insight into the possibility of the MBTA raising fairs. He explained to me that it is in the works to host over ten different public hearings to get customers feedback, these will most likely be happening after the new year. He explained that they will be making the process as public as possible! 

Special thanks to the MBCR!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The T opens its doors and then some

©2011 Boston to a T
For years the MBTA has struggled to keep their riders informed about whats happening behind the scenes at the nations fifth busiest mass transit organization. Over the past year the MBTA has been very busy trying to keep the system in working order. They have been plagued by their ever aging equipment, started new construction projects, deciding on what to do with their commuter rail contract, and drafting a new capital investment plan. During this time many commuters who utilize the MBTA have been looking for information in regards to what is being done behind the scenes to improve the system but have been left with few answers. But in recent weeks the MBTA has gone through a significant Public Relations overhaul making them a lot more user friendly.

The Old Website 
The New Site 
One of the largest improvements that the T has launched in the past few weeks was their new mobile website.The original site, which was launched in 2006, was considered to be cutting edge for its time. Over the past few years however the site has become subject to the ever increasing use of smartphones. The old site was very hard to maneuver on today's touch screen smartphones causing commuters to try and find other ways to get MBTA information on the go. The new site is a huge upgrade form the original design. The site is designed for large screen smartphones, with more features and a full color design. It also introduces a real-time Google Maps trip planner, a service-alerts box color-coded by subway line and mode of transit, and a customer comment form. The new comment form allows riders to report anything from a maintenance issue to an unruly passenger or they can praise excellent service all while on the go. These comments get sent directly to an MBTA customer service representative.The customer comment form is inspired by Boston’s award-winning Citizens Connect application, which lets people snap pictures of problems and beam concerns to City Hall.The most interesting feature that I have found on the new site is the fact that it can actually recognize the type of smart phone you are using and present a format optimized for that specific phone! The T paid $25,000 for the site, which was built by Usablenet, a firm that has designed mobile sites for Amtrak, British Airways, jetBlue, and others.

Social media has also been a huge venue that the MBTA has been trying to tap. In the past year the MBTA has launched a Twitter account, a YouTube Chanel, and more recently a Flickr Photo Stream. All of these social media platforms have been allowing the MBTA to become a little more transparent. The Twitter account which uses the name @MBTAgm allows customers to tweet the GM any issues questions they may have during their commute. The MBCR has also set up a twitter account (@MBCR_info) that allows Commuter Rail customers to ask the company questions and get a quick response! The T's new Flickr account (created only a few weeks ago) has been a great asset to their social media platform. The site allows them to post pictures and videos of ongoing construction project around the system. Currently the site shows some great shots of the ongoing Red Line shutdowns! Although the MBTA has been doing very well with these other social media ventures YouTube has been a bit of a struggle for them. Unlike New York's MTA , which posts new videos about construction, history, or employees once a week, the MBTA hasn't posted a new video in seven months and the quality of the six videos on the account is subpar. Other than the YouTube account the MBTA has really done a great job breaking themselves into the social media network. If they want to continue to strive however I feel like they must base what they are doing off of other transit agencies social media platforms like the MTA.

Another interesting program that the MBTA has recently launched to create more of a link with its passengers is the new "MBTA Opens its doors" campaign. This pilot program is going to allow the public to go into different MBTA buildings to check out what makes the system run behind the scenes! The buildings being featured are the Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility (BET), the Everett Subway Maintenance facility,  and the Operations Control Center. This is the first time that the MBTA has ever opened up its facilities to the public. Personally, I am very excited to get the chance to go on one of these tours. In my opinion these tours will show the public that the T isn't failing because of incompetence or lack of  laziness. If you decide to tour one of these facilities you will find MBTA employees who are working hard and take pride in their work! The only reason the MBTA is having all of this trouble is the lack of funding not lack of work ethic! I really hope these tours show the people of Boston this! Currently all of the tours for December are booked over capacity but the MBTA says they will be scheduling tours quarterly so keep a look out: HERE. Or email Topendoors@mbta.com 


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Upgrade

The state's oldest and currently worst performing Commuter Rail line will soon be getting a face lift. The Federal Transit Association announced last month that they will be providing $75 Million in funds to the MBTA/MBCR in order to make improvements to the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line.

 The line, which runs from North Station through Acton to Fitchburg, is constantly plagued by issues. The line's track record (no pun intended) is terrible compared to other commuter rail lines. It has the highest rate of late arrivals in the entire Commuter Rail system. Nearly 20 percent of the line consists of single trackage, and its maximum speed is only 60 miles per hour. A total of 35 revenue service trains run daily on the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line, but only 25 of those provide service to Fitchburg and the other western end communities. Only five daily inbound trains arrive at North Station before 9 AM,and none arrive at Fitchburg before 10:15 AM. Only sixteen daily trains operate on weekends, with eight each Inbound and Outbound.

Thankfully, this is all about to change. With this newly added investment by the state and federal government the Fitchburg line will soon become one of the most up to date lines on the North Side of the Commuter Rail system. Although the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line has the poorest operating characteristics in the MBTA system, it has great potential to attract new riders if quality service were to be provided. Along the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line there exist several significant infrastructure issues which greatly contribute to the delays and the overall poor performance of the line. Most significant of these constraints are the presence of single-tracked segments and constant interaction with freight service on the line. 

Waltham Tower! You can still see the old semaphore signal!
Two significant stretches of the Fitchburg Line are presently single tracked: an 8.8 mile stretch between South Acton and the Willows Freight Yard in Ayer and a 1 mile stretch near Waltham Station. The speed on single-tracked sections is currently restricted to 30 mph in Waltham and 40 mph between South Acton and the Willows. The new upgrades call to add new double trackage to the stretch between South Acton and Ayer and also a small section in Waltham making most of the line double tracked. A good amount of pre-made track is already set along the line ready to be put into place. Other track improvements on the line will also be done during the upgrade. A plentiful amount of track will go through a horizontal and vertical alignment process which will make for a much smoother ride. Also, 13 grade crossings will be renovated and replaced, six bridges will be replaced or repaired, and much of the lines right of way will be renovated for improved drainage. All of these improvements will increase the top speed on the line to around 80mph which in turn will help to decrease trip times.


"Darth Vader" Signals proposed for
Fitchburg Line 
Currently, the line has one of the oldest switching and signaling systems in the state. The system is so old that MBCR personnel sill operate the line's signaling and switching out of a control tower in Waltham. The tower has been in continuous use since it was erected in 1928. Once the line is upgraded, however, this tower, which is the only one sill in operation in Massachusetts and one of a handful in New England, will become obsolete. The upgrades call for  a complete replacement of the current signal and switching system between Cambridge and Acton. The signal upgrade is still currently in design phase, but will hopefully be put out to bidding soon.



 The Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line is also an extremely active freight corridor, with most freight traffic controlled by PanAm Railways.The majority of freight traffic on the line operates between Fitchburg and Ayer, and in the Willows Freight Yard. Daily freight operations on the line are significant and typically include 3 East Bound, 3 Westbound, 2 Local trains out of Fitchburg and 2 local trains out of Ayer. With improvements to signaling and the addition of double trackage there will be less interference with freight traffic allowing for more commuter trains to travel on the line.

Proposed Littleton/Rt. 495 Station
Station renovations are also a large part of this project. Due to the new double trackage some stations along the line will need to be rebuilt. Proposed renovations are set the South Acton, Wilmington, and Littleton/Rt. 495 stations. Currently the only station out of those three that is in the design phase is the Littleton/Rt 495 station. The plan calls to relocate the station, build high level platforms, and a new enclosed ramp from the parking lot. The line will also be extended west to a new terminus. The new station, which will be called Wachusett Commuter Rail station in Fitchburg, will be located 4.5 miles west of the current Fitchburg Station. The station is currently in the design phase, but there is really no information on it. The plan calls for a new layover facility right past the station that will replace the current facility which is very decrepit. The station is set to be completed by the end of 2013.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How the MBCR is planning to tackle Old Man Winter!

Commuters who regularly utilize the MBTA to get from point A to point B usually dread the winter months. The winter here in New England is much longer than just a couple of months. It can run anywhere from October all the way to April! Last year was one of the worst winters I have seen in quite a while and it was also one of the worst winters on the commuter rail for the MBTA and MBCR. Last year the MBCR, the company which operates the Commuter Rail for the MBTA, was plagued by numerous mechanical failures (which ranged from broken air hoses to locomotive failure), signal problems, trackage issues, and many other problems leaving commuters stranded on platforms in the cold or stuck on trains for hours. The most famous incident that occurred last year was when a train bound for Worcester had its locomotive breakdown in Newtonville  turning a regularly hour and a half ride into a four hour nightmare.

This year however the MBCR says they are more than prepared to take on Old Man Winter! I was lucky enough to recently be invited to the MBCR's headquarters in downtown Boston, and I learned a lot! I met with Ed Motte, the MBCR's Transportation Chief, who informed me of the many plans they have set in place to ease the difficulties brought upon by our fierce New England winters. I was also given these wonderful photos! Currently  the MBCR's largest obstacle for the winter months is keeping its fleet of aging locomotives, many of which are over 25 years old, in working order. Currently the agency has 76 active locomotives plus 5 ex-MARC units being leased from Motive Power. During an average rush hour the MBTA needs exactly 60 locomotives to efficiently run service. According to iRidetheT the MBCR also has 5 locomotives receiving top deck repairs out of state and more than 10 are having minor work done, on sight, at the BET. This leaves very little room for error.

The MBCR and MBTA have a plan for this however! This year, when extreme and severe weather hits the area, the MBTA will be implementing an emergency snow schedule. This schedule, which will have the commuter rail running less trains on each of their lines, will help the MBCR free up space on the tracks to allow for more crews to clear snow and debris. Less traffic on the rails will help crews get tracks cleared quicker so that trains can return to full service as fast as possible. The reduction of trains will also free up locomotives to serve as rescue trains. The leased MARC locomotives will also give the MBCR a little bit of flexibility when it comes to mechanical failures, but according to Ed Motte they will only be used in extreme emergencies.

The MBCR has also invested quite a bit into new and used snow equipment for the winter ($500,000 to be exact). The MBCR recently purchased two (one new and one used from PanAm Railways) high powered and self propelled jet blowers. These jet blowers, similar to the MBTA's "Snowzilla", use a high powered jet engine to clear and melt snow that accumulates on rails and switches. In addition to the two self propelled jet blowers, the MBCR has also acquired a new ogger (a gigantic snow blower) and two smaller non-propelled jet blowers, all of which can be attached to a front end loader.
The New Ogger
The 2 smaller jet blowers
Self propelled Jet Blower
Protective sleeves 













The MBCR has also invested in new protective sleeves that cover air hoses and couplers on locomotives and coaches. These new sleeves will ensure that this sensitive equipment dose not receive any water damage. It will also make it easier in the event of a mechanical failure for a rescue train to attach to a disabled train. Additional personnel have also been hired by the MBCR for the winter months to help with snow removal around switches. This extra help will ensure that frozen switches won't wreak havoc on the morning or evening commutes.

Most of you know that last winter wasn't the greatest for both the MBTA and the MBCR but I feel that with this new added investment by the MBCR, Old Man Winter is going to be getting a run for his money! Although unpredictable failures can still cause major delays, the MBCR seems very well prepared to tackle any type of failure when and if it happens. For a commuter rail system that still uses locomotives that are way over their estimated life expectancy on a daily basis they are doing pretty good. Let's just hope this winter is going to be MUCH different than last year!

For more information on how the MBTA and MBCR are preparing for winter check out: www.mbta.com/winter

Also, if you're on Twitter, Tweet your questions and concerns to @MBCR_info or @MBTAGM


Monday, October 31, 2011

Wi-Fi roll out on Amtrak Northeast Regional!

Ahh WI-FI! Commuters who ride the MBTA Commuter Rail know WI-FI all to well. I feel that we are very spoiled to have full (sometimes high-speed) wireless internet access on basically every train in the system! Yes, sometimes it does get frustrating when your trying to publish a post and the internet cuts out and everything is erased (yes it has happened) but c'mon its free!

Ever since its initial trail process in 2008, which made the MBTA and MBCR the first railroad operators in the U.S. to offer free WI-FI service on Commuter Rail trains, the service has been implemented on 258 of of the MBTA's 410 coaches and is being utilized by over 10,000 commuters daily!

In 2010 Amtrak launched its first free Wi-Fi service on their Acela Express service between Boston and Washington. Right away the service took off leaving commuters who use Northeast Regional and other Amtrak routes around the country demanding Wi-Fi service on their trains! After the Acela launch Amtrak created similar programs for their Cascades train in the Pacific Northwest and my favorite train The Downeaster! Well finally the day has come where more trains in the Amtrak system are receiving free Wi-Fi !

Today, October 31, 2011, Amtrak is rolling out full free Wi-Fi service on 7 of their routes including: Northeast Regional, The Vermonter, Empire Service, and The Carolinian! Limited Wi-Fi service (only selected coaches per train) is also being rolled out on four other Amtrak routes including: The Adirondack and The Palmetto. For a full list of Amtrak's new Wi-Fi connected routes visit Amtrak.com!

Wi-Fi- service has long been a priority for Amtrak. Their largest barrier for expanding service was that there was limited bandwidth on many of their routes. Amtrak's Wi-Fi service or "Amtrak Connect", just like the MBTA Wi-Fi, receives its coverage from cellular companies (The MBTA's is at&t). This sometimes causes inconsistencies in internet access as the trains travel along their routes due to the fact that some areas still don't have 3G towers. Amtrak is currently working with numerous cellular companies to try and expand their coverage. The "Amtrak Connect"technology is currently running on existing infrastructure but the way that it is designed it can take advantage of upgrades like 4G connectivity.



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MBTA to close Red Line north of Harvard!

Well, October is almost over and what a month it has been! Unfortunately, it hasn't really been that great for the T. This month has been a very interesting and frustrating one for commuters on the Red Line. In the past week there has has been over four disabled trains, a power outage, and a fire! I always try to be understanding when it comes to the MBTA's problems, especially when I get caught on a disabled train (like I did Friday at Davis!), but it's starting to get very old.

Disabled Train at Harvard Station
The infrastructure of the Red Line is a mismatch of old and new. The Red line fleet consists of cars that were put into service between 1968 and 1994. The stations on the Ashmont branch are brand new and the stations north of Harvard haven't been touched since the extension was built in 1985. Overall, the entire line is trying to cling to its youth, but it's just not working out!

This past Saturday the MBTA announced that they would be closing the Red Line north of Harvard during weekends, from Nov 5th, 2011 until March 5th, 2012, so they can perform $80 million worth of back logged maintenance. The first note I would like to point out about this entire situation is that the MBTA did not actually formally announce this closure until mid-afternoon on Monday but the Boston Globe broke the story on Saturday! This left many commuters, especially ones who live in Somerville, the area affected by the closures, very angry.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand! The closures will leave commuters who regularly travel from Davis, Porter, and Alewife on the weekends scrambling. The MBTA, however, is providing shuttle bus service between Alewife and Harvard but we all know it will probably be faster to just walk to Harvard. The project will allow MBTA crews to plug tunnel cracks, seal water leaks, replace eroding concrete bases and electrical wiring. They will also be replacing damaged sections of track and third rail.

Crews working on Tunnel
Near Davis. You can see the water leak at the top!
Originally published on Boston.com
This project has been needed for many years now but because the MBTA has an ever building maintenance backlog, now estimated at well over $4.5 Billion, it has been pushed off. It first came into public light in 2009 when Gov. Deval Patrick ordered an independent study on the safety of the T. The report came back to say that on this particular section of trackage if maintenance was deferred any longer the threat of train derailment would become even more significant and eventually make it unsafe to travel between Harvard and Alewife.

The T did, however, put this on its five year capital improvement plan which plans to spend $420 Million this year to maintain and replace vehicles and maintain infrastructure that is in despair. They also received a little over $4.3 million in stimulus money to help outset the cost of the project. Here is the actual funding request (You'll notice that the request says "high priority!")

Despite what the 2009 report stated, the MBTA is continuing to stress that there is no immediate danger of a derailment. The T fully inspects the tunnel twice a week, but if the maintenance was prolonged it would eventually cause major problems.

One of the main reasons why this project has been put off for so long is due to its complexity. The Harvard to Alewife extension, which opened in 1985, has a specialized track that runs along thousands of concrete slabs instead of wooden ties. These slabs float on rubber disks, almost resembling hockey pucks, that help to cushion the trains vibrations. Over the years, though, tunnel leaks have caused these slabs to crack and their rubber disks to corrode, which poses a risk of rail movement.

The T expects to work most weekends through the end of March, though trains will run during the Christmas and New Year’s weekends. Buses will otherwise provide substitute service, picking up and dropping passengers off outside the closed stations.The project cannot be managed solely within the 3 ½-hour window each morning when the T is closed, without disrupting service. Materials must be hauled in and out each weekend on special trucks outfitted to drive on rails, with the nearest entry point at the mouth of the tunnel near Kendall Station two miles from Harvard and nearly five miles from Alewife. 

Lastly, for those of you who are still complaining about how inconvenient this is ask yourself this: 
Would you rather the T willingly suspend service to address the problem or have a derailment cause the T to suspend service to address the problem?

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Night at South Station

This past weekend Aaron and I decided were going to go on a photo shoot around the city! Our first stop on the trip was South Station and then we got stuck on a disabled train at Davis, but thats a story for another time.

One of the first things I noticed when I walked onto the platform was a set of Pullman and Budd Coaches! After some investigation I found that they were part of a Coors Light advertising campaign! Coors Light had two V.I.P. trains (one departing from Washington and one from Boston) traveling to New York City for a special concert. Legal-drinking-age consumers won trips on the Silver Bullet Express through local promotions over the past six weeks, including pre-parties where tickets to the big event in New York City were given away.
 Each Silver Bullet Express train featured special Coors Light d├ęcor inside and out, and also a local DJ. The trains also featured Coors Light bars, video game stations, and iPads so winners could provide social media commentary about their experience!
The coaches for the train were leased from The Mid America Rail Car Leasing Company and consisted of coaches once used on the Souther Pacific Railroad. We did not end up seeing the Locomotive that would be pulling the train set. In the past companies that do campaigns like this will utilize Amtrak for their operation.
 Something I have been wanting to see for a while at South Station was an MBTA coach that is used for Old Colony Service! Before reading a post on iridetheT I had no idea that all of the MBTA coaches have power doors! Unfortunately the only lines that the power doors can be used on are the Old Colony lines because there are no low-level platforms. You will notice on this bi-level that there is no door handle! Gotta love Automatic doors!


This is is a Acela Express train just coming in from D.C.! This is an older train set you can see how the aluminum body of the coaches is dented every where!
Well I will leave you with a shot from the platforms at South Station looking out into the Financial Districts skyline! If you want some more cool photos of interesting things found at South Station visit iridethet!


Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Boston. Occupying What?

©2011 Boston to a T

This was an Op-Ed piece that I wrote for one of my classes this semester. I went down to Occupy Boston last week and I was personally disappointed by it. 

For about three weeks now, a rather large group has made a home for themselves in the financial district of Boston. They have dubbed themselves Occupy Boston. Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protesters, they are people who think that this country is in need of some serious change.
Last week I had the opportunity to go down to Occupy Boston. Before I set foot in the makeshift shanty town I had no idea what I was in for. All I knew before I went there was what I had gathered from some Tweets and from some op-ed articles. People either praised it or hated it with a passion. When I entered  Dewey Square, where Occupy Boston has set up camp, I knew that this was going to be something that was vastly different than anything that I have experienced before.
It is clear that all of the Occupy Boston protester are passionate about change, but what’s not clear is what exactly they hope to accomplish through their actions. The national Occupy movement has been unable to produce definite leaders or even a clear list of objectives beside a general series of extremely liberal talking points. I am completely fine with people being upset about our economy and political system, but being successful with a protest requires much more than just a huge amount of public frustration.
Being such a young campaign, the Occupy protester have definitely been, for the most part, organized. They have been very successful in using social media to get the word out. Nevertheless, with the current way that the campaign is put together, in the future, it will have more than a few problems as it tries to become more than just a turnout of frustrated Americans.
My largest issue, which it seems to be the issue of many other people, is that the Occupy movement does not really even know what it wants. As I was there looking at different signs that people were holding I saw issues that ranged from “Stop world hunger” to “stop outsourcing” and my personal favorite: “Fox News is the devil”. There is no definitive problem that everyone is onboard with. I talked to one gentleman who was the supposed head of their information desk. He didn't really have that much information for me, but he said, “We don’t really have one central argument...we have a lot, but our most basic issue with this country is that our democratic structures are broken,” I cannot comprehend how these people believe that saying our government is broken is a basic issue. It’s massive. I’m just trying to understand that whether the purpose of their protest is to demand a complete governmental overhaul or initiate a new economic system. If it’s either one, It’s going to take a lot more than some people holding signs and putting up tents to make it happen.
The feelings behind this movement are certainly understandable. People have a right to be angry, especially given the years-long downturn that this country is in. People also have the right to protest, but for these protests to effect change, they need to have goals and well-defined methods for how to obtain said goals.

MBTA Advertising Fail!

My camera isn't that good and I really couldn't get to close to the ad but this is currently at Copley station. The ad is for TheBostonGlobe.com and they added a QR code at the bottom right (kinda hard to see I know) I really don't know how I'm supposed to cross the tracks to scan that!


Monday, October 10, 2011

MBTA snapshots!



I have been wanting to do a post like this for a while. This post is full of funny and interesting pictures of graffiti, signs, wraps...ect. that I have seen on the T over the past year!

Wraps


Wraps are a very familiar sight on the MBTA. Especially now because they are always looking to find more ways to receive revenue from advertising.
The bus wrap to the left was an ad campaign done by L.L. Bean which allowed anyone that rode that specific bus to ride for free. The campaign was promoting their free shipping for L.L.bean.com The bus was wrapped to resemble a huge package.




I have never seen Amtrak cars in a full wrap! This was a really cool sight to see. This was a Northeast Regional train that was sitting in South Station. The wrap was promoting the Looney Toons return to Cartoon Network.


Advertising.

                                                                                 
Advertising is one of the most interesting things that commuters see while riding the T. You can see everything from the Judgement Day ad's to the new really clever  Zip car ad's. Here are a few I have seen over the past year that have had peoples scribbles on them.

The photo to the left is not my photo but one of the coolest shots I have seen. It depicts an MBTA EMD F-10 locomotive that displays a "I want YOU Aboard" sign. I thought it was very neat ad campaign. 
Fails

 I love seeing stuff around the system that just makes me laugh out loud 

I hope no one is looking for Transit Police assistance!












Looks like the Red Line is giving away free money...
Maps


 Many MBTA employees try to make commuters lives a little easier by adding their own helpful signs to the system maps.

This one above is at Kendall/MIT on the Red line and is shows how to get to the airport. 

The System has changed a lot over the years. The commuter rail map to the left shows the system when   the B&M were running the show.



Lastly this is a map on the Red Line that had been scratched off but has since been re done in Sharpie.












Well guys I hope you enjoyed all the pics. If you have any funny pics of happenings on the T we would love to see them. Just leave a comment below. 
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