MBTA Commuter Rail system map
|Locale||Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island|
|Dates of operation||1964 (beginning of MBTA subsidies)
1973 and 1976 (MBTA asset purchases)
1981 (full consolidation)–present
|Predecessor||Boston and Maine Railroad New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad New York Central Railroad Penn Central Transportation Company|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) (Standard gauge)|
|Length||398 miles (641 km)|
The MBTA Commuter Rail system serves as the commuter rail arm of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's transportation coverage of Greater Boston in the United States. Trains run over 398 miles of track to 137 different stations, with 58 stations on the north side with the remaining 79 stations on the south. It is operated under contract by Keolis, which took over operations on July 1, 2014 from the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR).
The system is the sixth-busiest commuter rail system in the U.S., behind the three New York areas, Chicago area, and Philadelphia area systems, and is tied for fifth-busiest with Philadelphia's SEPTA Regional Rail in terms of weekday ridership. The line's characteristic purple-trimmed coaches operate as far south as North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and as far north as Newburyport and as far west as Fitchburg, both in Massachusetts.
Trains originate at two major terminals in Boston — South Station and North Station — both transportation hubs offering connections to Amtrak, local bus, intercity bus via South Station Bus Terminal, and subway lines, but with as yet no passenger rail infrastructure directly connecting them, other than the existing MBTA subway lines. MassDOT is currently entering into a study phase of the North–South Rail Link, which would provide a solution to the problem. In the third quarter of 2017, daily weekday ridership was 133,000.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts's involvement with the operating facets of commuter rail began in 1967 when the Boston & Maine Railroad (B&M) petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to discontinue all passenger services. Service north of the state line was discontinued, but most service in Massachusetts was preserved through a contract between the Commonwealth and the B&M, at this time still an independent railroad company. The Commonwealth and MBTA began to purchase several lines, like the Lowell Line between Somerville and Wilmington, from the B&M.
In 1969 the B&M transported 24,000 passengers every weekday on four separate routes. Its yearly deficit was US$3.2 million. A pool of 86 Budd Rail Diesel Cars provided the service. B&M filed for bankruptcy protection in 1970. All remaining B&M commuter assets, with the exception of yard tracks and freight-only branches, were sold to the Commonwealth on December 14, 1976, though B&M was contracted to operate the service using its existing fleet of diesel railcars.
The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (NYNH&H), the long-time operator of most South Station commuter trains, filed for bankruptcy for the last time in 1961. Two years earlier in 1959, the railroad had discontinued passenger service on the Old Colony division in southeastern Massachusetts. On July 28, 1965, the MBTA signed an agreement with the New Haven Railroad to purchase 11 miles (18 km) of the former Old Colony mainline from Fort Point Channel to South Braintree in order to construct a new rapid transit line along the corridor. The line was expected to be completed within two years. The agreement also provided for the MBTA to subsidize commuter service on the railroad's remaining commuter rail lines for $1.2 million annually.
The NH was included in the Penn Central Transportation Company (PC) merger in 1968, which itself filed bankruptcy in 1970. MBTA purchased many PC southside commuter lines on January 27, 1973, including the Providence/Stoughton Line as far as the Rhode Island border plus the branch to Stoughton, the Franklin Line and Needham Line and the Framingham/Worcester Line from Riverside to Framingham, as well as a number of abandoned lines and lines without passenger service including the Old Colony mainline from Boston to Braintree and the Plymouth/Kingston Line (which were later restored). PC merged into Conrail on April 1, 1976; the MBTA bought the equipment but Conrail took over operations of the southside lines. The MBTA also purchased the Fairmount Line to restore it for passenger service as a bypass during Southwest Corridor reconstruction.
The Framingham/Worcester Line, historically part of the Boston & Albany Railroad (B&A), was merged into the New York Central Railroad (NYC) and its ownership subsequently passed to PC in 1968. As part of the Massachusetts Turnpike Boston Extension's construction in the 1960s, the Worcester Line's roadbed between Route 128 and Boston was sold to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, with the proviso that the control of the railroad remain with NYC. Conrail inherited the line which formed a vital freight artery between Boston's Beacon Yard and Conrail's Selkirk Yard. The Riverside-Framingham section was sold to the MBTA in 1976 as part of their larger acquisition of PC commuter assets, but the section past Framingham remained in Conrail control. In September 2009, Conrail successor CSX Transportation and the Commonwealth finalized a $100 million agreement to purchase CSX's Framingham to Worcester tracks, as well as the Grand Junction Railroad plus lines which will be part of the South Coast Rail project, to improve service on the Framingham/Worcester Line. After several years of construction and negotiations, ownership of the line was transferred to the commonwealth on October 4, 2012, with increased service on the outer section of the line beginning several weeks later.
The Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981 compelled Conrail to transfer operations of all passenger and commuter services to local transit authorities, resulting in Conrail ceasing all subsidized passenger rail services. B&M won the contract for the southside lines; for the first time, all Boston commuter service was operated by one entity. After bankruptcy, B&M continued to operate trains under the protection of the federal bankruptcy court, in the hopes that a reorganization could make it profitable again. It emerged from the court's protection when Timothy Mellon's Guilford Transportation Industries (GTI) bought it in 1983. GTI let the contract expire in 1987, after a bitter strike had shut down most of the northside lines in 1986.
From 1987 to 2003, Amtrak managed all of Boston's commuter rail. The relationship between MBTA and Amtrak was often rocky, and Amtrak did not submit a bid when the contract expired in 2003. MBTA observers saw Amtrak as having been a reliable manager and operator, but Amtrak sometimes experienced strained relations with the MBTA. Quibbles centered on equipment failures, crewing issues about the number of conductors per train, and responsibility for late trains. Because of these issues, and Amtrak's repeated statements that the MBTA contract was unreasonable, few were surprised at Amtrak's decision not to bid again.
Two tenders were submitted, one from GTI and another from the newly formed Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR), a partnership between Connex (later Veolia), Bombardier Transportation and Alternate Concepts, Inc., the latter of which won the tender. MBCR took over the MBTA Commuter Rail operation from Amtrak in July 2003. The MBCR contract originally expired in July 2008 but had an additional five-year option; it was later extended three years to July 2011 and then another two to July 2013. After concerns about on-time performance, the 2011 extension increased the fine for late trains from $100 to $300.
In August 2012, MBCR and Keolis were the two bidders for the contract. On January 8, 2014, the MBTA awarded Keolis the contract for $2.68 billion over eight years, with the possibility of two two-year extensions that could bring the total price to $4.3 billion. Keolis took over the operations on July 1, 2014. Keolis lost $29.3 million in its first year of operation.
Several significant improvements have been made during MBTA's period of stewardship which started circa 1973. However, the Commonwealth's support for rail operations began in the 1950s with contracted operations and subsidies to railroads providing commuter service, and more so in 1964 with the advent of MBTA.
During the period of MBTA control, services have also been curtailed:
All MBTA commuter rail service is provided by push-pull trains powered by diesel locomotives with a cab car on the opposite end. Trains typically have four to eight coaches (with six the most common) and seat between 400 and 1400 passengers. Approximately 58 trainsets are needed for weekday service.
The primary heavy maintenance facility is the MBTA Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility, located in East Somerville on the former site of the Boston and Maine's Boston Engine Terminal. It is also used for midday and overnight storage of trains on the northside lines. Southampton Street Yard and the Readville Interim Layover facility are used for light maintenance and layover service. Various other layover facilities are used for midday and overnight storage; most are located near the outer ends of the lines.
As of June 2016[update], the MBTA owned 125 locomotives. Of these, 85 were in active passenger service, 4 used for work service, and 36 inactive for various reasons. The current fleet of diesel locomotives comprises a mix of purpose-built passenger locomotives (such as the EMD F40PH) and freight locomotives rebuilt for passenger use (such as the GMD GP40MCs, which were originally GMD GP40-2LWs). All passenger locomotives are equipped with head end power (HEP), though some locomotives exclusively used for non-revenue work service are not.
|1973–1975||GMD||GMD GP40MC||1115-1139||Rebuilt by AMF in 1997.|
|1987–1988||EMD||EMD F40PH-2C||1050-1075||Rebuilt by MPI 2001–2003. 1073 retired and scrapped after the 1990 Back Bay rail accident. Some units being rebuilt by MPI, and others in-house.|
|1991–1993||MK||M-K F40PHM-2C||1025-1036||Rebuilt by MPI 2003–2004. Some units being rebuilt by MPI, and others in-house.|
|2009||MP||MPI MP36PH-3C||010-011||Purchased from Utah Transit Authority's FrontRunner.|
|1957–1960||EMD||EMD GP9||904||Purchased from SEMTA. Ex-MBTA 902 is now at the Illinois Railway Museum.|
As of June 2016[update], the MBTA owned 481 coaches. Of these, 420 were in active service and 61 inactive for various reasons. Coaches whose designations start with BTC (Blind Trailer Coach) are conventional coaches, while those starting with CTC (Control Trailer Coach) are cab cars. Cab cars will occasionally also appear in the middle of a consist. Coaches acquired before 1990 were single-level cars with 88 to 127 seats; those since are bilevel cars with 173 to 185 seats.
Various coaches are equipped with electronic doors for use on the Old Colony Lines and Greenbush Line, which have full-length high-level platforms at all stops. All BTC-3, CTC-3, BTC-4C, and BTC-4D coaches have restrooms. Trains usually have one of these cars adjacent to the locomotive, as that car will be platformed at all high level platforms regardless of length, and thus handicapped riders will be able to access the restroom car.
During winter months, a Ski Train serving Wachusett Mountain runs on the Fitchburg Line, using a coach car which is equipped for carrying bicycles or skis. During summer months, some Newburyport/Rockport Line trains to Rockport include one of two cars equipped to carry bicycles. The CapeFLYER uses car 224, which has been modified as a cafe and baggage car.
|Year built||Builder||Model||Fleet ID||Seats||Notes||Image|
|1978–79||Pullman||BTC-1C||200–258||114||The BTC-1C cars were rebuilt from BTC-1 and CTC-1 cars in 1995 and 1996, at which point they were renumbered; coaches 203 and 215 were not rebuilt and are no longer used. Coach 219 is a bike/ski car, 221 a bike car, 224 a cafe car, and 225 planned to be a bike car.|
|1987–88||MBB||BTC-3||500–532||86||Only railcars ever built by MBB. Only 10 of 33 BTC-3 cars remain in active service as of June 2016[update].|
|1987–88||MBB||CTC-3||1500–1533||96||Only railcars ever built by MBB.|
|1989–90||Bombardier||CTC-1B||1600–1652||122||Cab controllers have been deactivated in coaches 1600–1624; they are used exclusively as blind coaches.|
|1990–91||Kawasaki||BTC-4||700–749||185||700-749 are being overhauled by Alstom in Hornell, New York. They will have some features identical to the 800 series cars, including destination displays and LED lighting.|
|1990–91||Kawasaki||CTC-4||1700–1724||175||1700-1709 and 1711-1724 are being overhauled by Alstom|
|1997||Kawasaki||BTC-4A||750–766||182||750-766 are being overhauled by Alstom|
|2001||Kawasaki||BTC-4B||767–781||182||767-781 are being overhauled by Alstom|
As the Commonwealth assumed the control of the Commuter Rail during the 1970s, it inherited various non-standard equipment from predecessor railroads. These included:
The program started with a $262,000 pilot in January 2008 on the Worcester Line, where 45 coaches were fitted with routers which connected to cellular data networks. This was the first wi-fi available on a commuter rail service in the United States. The Worcester Line was chosen for the pilot phase in part to compensate for low on-time performance, as well as to test the service across the line's varied terrain. The program was considered successful; in December 2008, the MBTA announced that wi-fi would be available on all trains by mid-2009. 258 of the 410 coaches then owned by the MBTA would receive wi-fi equipment at a rate of about 30 per month.
In July 2014, the MBTA announced that a private company would be building a new $5.6 million network to replace the 2008-built network. The MBTA is not paying for the new network; instead, the company expects to recoup its investment by providing a two-tiered offering. Free limited-bandwidth wi-fi will continue to be provided, along with local television broadcasts; a monthly fee will be charged by the company for access to higher bandwidth and other broadcasts, with 7.5% of the fee returned to the MBTA. The new system was to be completed in 2016, with the revenue agreement lasting until 2037.
By December 2016, the new system was still in permitting and design, except for enhanced wifi at Back Bay, South Station, and North Station expected to be complete by the end of the year. In August 2017, the MBTA canceled the $140 million plan due to local opposition to the erection of 320 monopoles, each 70-foot (21 m) tall, as well as the need to focus on more critical projects like the Green Line Extension.
The MBTA Commuter Rail uses a fare zone policy whereby origin and destination stations are not individually priced, but assigned a zone based on distance from Boston. There are a total of eleven zones (1A, then 1 through 10) with an increasing fare to or from Boston the higher the zone number. Zone 1A fares are the least expensive and cost the same as rapid transit ($2.25), while the highest priced Zone 10 fares are $12.50 per ride. Travel between suburban zones without going to Boston is charged an "interzone" fare based on the number of zones traveled. Seniors, those with a disability, and middle and high school students with proper identification receive a 50% discounted rate; children under eleven travel free with a paying adult. Fares are collected by train conductors; while fare evasion is explicitly illegal, it is not criminal.
Tickets may be purchased at automatic vending machines located in principal stations and at suburban stations from nearby businesses and vendors. Passengers joining at stations without ticketing machines or vendors can purchase tickets on board. Alternatively, riders can use the MBTA mTicket app to purchase tickets on iPhone and Android devices, which allows them to display their tickets on their mobile phone screens rather than presenting paper tickets or passes. Travelers can purchase tickets as a one-way, round trip, ten ride (no discount), or monthly pass (discounted over daily round-trip purchase).
Ridership levels on the Commuter Rail have grown since the MBTA's involvement began in the late 1960s, with overall average weekday ridership growing from 29,500 in 1969 to 76,000 in 1990 and 143,700 in 2008. This was accomplished by a series of rationalizations, such as closing lightly used lines, concentrating service on heavily utilized lines, and re-opening formerly abandoned branches with high traffic potential, such as the Old Colony Lines. A general growth of transit usage in the Northeastern United States also contributed. Growing ridership in this way required substantial capital investment, which was provided by a mixture of Federal mass transit funds and Commonwealth transportation bond issues.
Like most commuter railroads in the Northeastern United States, MBTA is a member of the Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee (NORAC) and uses the rulebook promulgated by that organization. Much of the MBTA Commuter Rail system is governed by NORAC rule 251, as the tracks are signalled for movement in one direction of travel only. During the 1990s, parts of the system, such as the Framingham/Worcester Line, were re-signalled to allow a more advanced mode of operations known as NORAC rule 261, which allows trains to operate in either direction on both tracks where double track is available. During the morning rush hour, both tracks can be simultaneously used for inbound traffic, allowing one train to make local stops while an express train overtakes the local train.
On each train, the cab car is attached at the end closest to the downtown Boston terminal station for the particular line (either North or South Station), and the locomotive is attached at the end farthest from the terminal station. On each train serving the North Station lines, the "ADA" coach used to carry mobility-limited persons is attached right behind the locomotive, allowing level boarding at all suburban stations featuring mini-high platforms. On the other hand, on each train serving the South Station lines, the cab car also serves as the "ADA" coach. (The "ADA" coaches support compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.)
Trainlined doors that open automatically via central control are available on some equipment, but at low level platforms the conductor in each car must manually open a trap to allow passengers to descend via stairs onto the platform.
Positive Train Control is scheduled to be implemented on the entire system per a federal mandate, which requires installation by the end of 2018 with the possibility of a two-year extension. As of November 2015[update], the MBTA expects to complete PTC on the southside lines by December 2018, on the northside lines by March 2020, and an overlay for freight on the sections of Pan Am Railways' Freight Main Line which overlap MBTA territory by August 2020.
The South Coast Rail project is proposed to extend commuter rail service to the South Coast cities of Taunton, Fall River, and New Bedford. After previous service was discontinued in 1958, the project surfaced in the 1980s. A full planning process was held from 1990 until its suspension in 2002. Planning restarted from the beginning in 2007; the Final Environmental Impact Statement was issued in August 2013. Several separately-funded projects, such as bridge reconstructions, have been undertaken, including major tie replacement (beginning in November 2013), and $2.3 billion was appropriated to the project in an April 2014 state bill. However, full construction has been repeatedly delayed. Plans were changed in 2017 to have limited Phase 1 diesel service via the Middleborough/Lakeville Line in 2022, with full electric service via Stoughton in 2030. The modified plan, which is expected to cost $3.42 billion, proved immediately controversial.
In September 2010, the MBTA completed a study to determine the feasibility of extending regular commuter rail service to Foxboro via the Franklin Line. Currently, the station is only served during special events at Gillette Stadium. The study looked at extending some Fairmount Line service to Foxboro, running shuttle trains from Foxboro to Walpole, or a combination of both. No determination has been made as to if or when this service would begin.
A Providence Line extension to Wickford Junction, in North Kingstown, Rhode Island opened on April 23, 2012. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation is also studying the feasibility of serving existing Amtrak stations in Kingston and Westerly as well as constructing new stations in Cranston, East Greenwich, and West Davisville. Federal funding has also been provided for preliminary planning of a new station in Pawtucket.
In September 2013, the state announced plans to run diesel multiple unit (DMU) service between Back Bay and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Track 61 beginning in 2015. In 2014, the MBTA announce it would purchase DMU self-propelled rail cars for the Fairmount Line with eventual expansion to five other lines, including Track 61, to be known as the Indigo Line. The planned DMU procurement was canceled in 2015. A new West Station, is planned to be built on the Framingham-Worcester line in the Beacon Park Yard site, where it may also connect to North Station via the Grand Junction Railroad.
There is a proposal to build a South Salem station in Salem, Massachusetts, to improve access to Salem State University, as well as to extend Commuter Rail to Peabody, Massachusetts and Danvers, Massachusetts.
The former state Secretary of Transportation James Aloisi indicated in 2009 support for commuter service from Worcester to North Station via Clinton and Ayer, presumably along the Worcester, Nashua and Rochester Railroad right of way, owned by Pan Am Railways as of 2009[update].
A 2008 article in the Eagle Tribune claimed that Massachusetts is negotiating to buy property which has the potential to extend the Haverhill Line to Plaistow, New Hampshire. Funding is available, and Plaistow is potentially interested, but wants to better understand the potential drawbacks of being the location of the layover station.
No direct connection exists between the two downtown commuter rail terminals; to travel from one station to the other, passengers must use the MBTA subway or bus lines to make the connection. Passengers using the Providence/Stoughton, Framingham/Worcester, Franklin, and Needham lines can transfer to and from North Station via the Orange Line subway, connecting at Back Bay. Passengers using the Fitchburg Line can transfer to and from South Station via the Red Line subway, connecting at Porter. All other passengers have to change subway trains at either Park Street or Downtown Crossing stations, thus requiring two distinct subway lines to complete a trip between North and South Stations.
A North–South Rail Link has been proposed to unite the two halves of the commuter rail system; but, because of the high cost, Massachusetts has, as of May 2006[update], withdrawn its sponsorship of the proposal. The link is back in the spotlight thanks to the efforts of former Governors Michael Dukakis and Bill Weld, and Congressman Seth Moulton. Meanwhile, for non-revenue transfers of equipment, the MBTA and Amtrak use the Grand Junction Railroad Company main line.
On the North Side lines, as part of the original sale agreement, B&M and its successor Pan Am Railways (formerly Guilford Transportation Industries) retains "perpetual and exclusive" trackage rights for freight service. Pan Am provides freight service on those lines.
Boston Sand and Gravel has an agreement with Pan Am to operate its shortline New Hampshire Northcoast Railroad trains from Ossipee, New Hampshire to just north of Boston's North Station to supply aggregates to its plant on the Boston/Cambridge border. An occasional move occurs with run-through power from Norfolk Southern Railway to supply coal the Merrimack Station power plant in Bow, New Hampshire, over the Fitchburg Line. The Haverhill and Fitchburg lines also host four to six PAR manifest freight trains per day.
On the South Side lines, CSX Transportation retains trackage rights over much of the former New Haven territory. Limited service is also provided by the Providence & Worcester Railroad on the Providence Line, principally from Central Falls (the intersection with its main line to Worcester) through Providence towards New Haven (although some freights go as far east as Attleboro before leaving the corridor). The Bay Colony Railroad provides a limited amount of service on some lines.
CSXT used to provide intermodal, autorack, and general merchandise over the Worcester Line, a part of CSXT's Boston Line. This part of the Commuter Rail network could host over 12 mainline freight trains per day, including descendents of Conrail's expedited intermodal Trail Van trains. Currently most freight service terminates in Framingham, and a trainload facility in Westboro, with limited freight service east through Beacon Park Yard in Allston to a few local customers. In 2013 CSX moved its intermodal service from Beacon Park to an expanded yard in Worcester.
On its former Old Colony division, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (NYNH&H) essentially vacated its right of freight operations by abandoning the tracks in 1959. As MBTA rebuilt the tracks, it gained freight service rights, and those rights were franchised to Conrail (predecessor to CSX), which provided freight service on the former Old Colony division.
As parts of their Arts on the Line program, the MBTA has public art at certain commuter rail stations. Large sculptures and murals are present at South Station, Back Bay, and Lynn, while a number of other stations include historic information panels on station signs.
MBTA extends MBCR contract another two years.
First, it provides one of the best opportunities from a geographical perspective to test Wi-Fi capabilities as it runs from Boston to central Massachusetts (Worcester) through various terrains (hills, wooded areas, etc.) Secondly, we are aware that the Framingham/Worcester trains have experienced significant performance issues due mainly to the owner and operator of the line (CSX). For that, we want to offer Framingham/Worcester customers the first opportunity.
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