INTRO: Richard Hope reports on the reopening of a three-line network partially abandoned since 1959 which forms one of the biggest current commuter rail projects around US cities

NOVEMBER 30 saw all day service introduced on 106route-km of the former Old Colony Railroad to the southeast of Boston after a two-month start-up phase.

From September 29, four morning peak trains running at 40min intervals had been carrying commuters into Boston South terminus from newly built stations along each of two routes commencing at Middleborough/ Lakeville and Kingston/Route 3; the pattern was reversed in the evening (RG.10.97 p646).

Since the CTC signalling became fully operational in November, peak service has been stepped up to five trains on the Kingston line. Off-peak frequencies are generally 90 to 120min. Plymouth, close to Kingston/ Route 3 but served only during off-peak hours, also opened on November 30. Journey times from Boston are 65min to all three end points.

The number of one-way journeys each weekday quickly reached 8000 during the start-up phase. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was projecting 5000 daily one-way trips on each route, and is confident this will be achieved now that the full service has started. This will lift the steadily expanding weekday total for commuter services into Boston’s South and North termini from 100000 to 110000.

Work is expected to start soon on the third Old Colony route to Greenbush, which should add a further 5000 trips when it opens in 2001-02.

MBTA expands rail network

Rail commuter services operated or funded by regional public transport authorities like MBTA are being introduced around an increasing number of North American cities. Typically they use track owned by private freight railways, but where substantial investment in upgrading track or signalling is necessary the authority will sometimes purchase the route and grant operating rights for freight service to continue.

MBTA, already responsible for buses, trams and a three-line metro, has been active since the 1960s in developing commuter services on existing railways radiating from Boston.

Services are currently provided by a fleet of 325 cars and 54 diesel locomotives. These are formed into 54 push-pull trainsets (22 northside and 32 southside). They are operated under contract by Amtrak to five destinations out of Boston North and eight from South station, operating a total of 450 trips per day. There are long term plans to join the two networks by a cross-city tunnel adjacent to a road tunnel now under construction (p30).

What puts the Old Colony project in a different league to previous commuter lines is the heavy engineering work necessary to restore passenger service on routes that were partially abandoned. This has lifted the total cost to $530m, with a further $200m to be spent when the go-ahead is received for Greenbush.

Southeast gap

Opened in 1845, the Old Colony Railroad linked historic communities such as Plymouth along the southern shore of Massachusetts Bay with Boston until completion of the Southeastern Expressway in 1959 led to wholesale abandonment. A few months later, a trestle bridge over the Neponset river was destroyed by fire, severing the four-track Main line out of Boston South.

However, other connections allowed limited local freight (now operated by Conrail) to continue over parts of the Old Colony network. Rights-of-way were largely preserved intact although track was removed in places, notably on the Greenbush branch beyond West Hingham.

As MBTA gradually restored passenger service to other railways out of Boston in response to spreading road congestion, the decision was taken to use the vacant Old Colony trackbed as a way of extending the Red line of the metro to Braintree, 20 km from the city centre. Widely spaced stops permit higher-than-average speeds on this section, encouraging car users to park and ride.

Despite this, commuters from the Old Colony sector face severe road traffic congestion in the morning peak, with 12 km tailbacks from central Boston. Car parking at Red line stations fills in a cascade, rippling outwards until space at the Braintree terminus is typically exhausted by 07.30.

To plug the gap, MBTA was asked by the state legislature in 1984 to investigate complete restoration of the Old Colony Railroad between Boston South and Middleborough, Plymouth and Greenbush. With federal and state funding in place, the project to restore the Main (20 km to Braintree), Middleborough (40 km) and Plymouth (43 km) lines was launched in June 1992.

The 27.3 km Greenbush branch was put back because of concerns about the impact on historic sites, notably at Hingham where the residual track through the town centre was barely visible. After considering alternatives such as tunnelling under Hingham, or commuting by boat into Boston, the then Massachusetts Governor William F Weld announced in November 1995 that surface rail was the best option.

MBTA expects to complete its final environmental impact report in May. If state funding is forthcoming, construction could begin later this year - leading to a start of service to Greenbush and the six intermediate stations at the end of 2001 or early in 2002.

Squeezing in the Main line

The biggest challenge facing engineers was how to restore a single track between Braintree and Boston South, including two 3 km double-track sections where opposing trains could be scheduled to pass on the move.

Fortunately, the need to continue freight service to industries north of the Neponset river prevented Red line construction from blocking surface access to Boston South.

Ernest Deeb, Project Manager Design & Construction, explains that ’although the Red line has only two tracks, they were spread across the original four-track right-of-way. However, there was generally enough space on the west side for a new track once signalling equipment and power cables had been moved.’ Where the Ashmont and Braintree branches of the Red line run parallel for 2 km south of JFK/ UMass station, the single Old Colony track was squeezed in between them.

Construction work has been required at Quincy Centre station to create a single platform for Old Colony trains below the concourse spanning the Red line’s island platform. Quincy Centre is the only interchange with the Red line between Boston South and Braintree. Greenbush trains will join the Main line 2 km north of Braintree and will thus call only at Quincy Centre.

At Braintree, a new island platform for the Old Colony services has been built a short walk from the Red line terminus, displacing various freight sidings. A new three track yard has been created alongside the station for use by Conrail, which will continue to serve industries along the Old Colony routes.

Civil engineering

About 1 km from Boston South, the Main line crosses the Fort Point Channel on one of three parallel through girder bridges originally designed to be opened for shipping. These are currently being refurbished.

The largest structure on the whole project costing $20m carries the Main line over the Neponset river 8 km from Boston South. The 10 spans totalling 360 m of weathering steel beams have been built for double track so trains can pass on the bridge; concrete piers line up with those of the Red line bridge alongside.

The second largest bridge is a parallel pair of single track spans to replace a level crossing with Pearl Street, just beyond the Red line stabling sidings south of the Braintree platforms, and close to the junction where the Plymouth and Middlesborough lines diverge. To achieve the required headroom, the track had to be raised 2.4m and the road surface lowered by 4.1m.

Beyond Pearl Street, track has been almost entirely renewed using continuously welded 66 kg/m rail on concrete or timber sleepers, and 51 existing bridges and culverts were refurbished. A total of 45 road crossings have been provided with lifting barriers and flashing lights.

At the outer end of the Plymouth line the decision was taken to construct a 3 km branch to reach a site closer to Kingston where sand and gravel extraction had created space for parking 1000 cars. Provision has been made for a total of 8000 parking spaces to be created at various stations.

All trains likely to be used by commuters start from this station, named Kingston/Route 3 to emphasise its good highway access. Alternate off-peak and weekend services run to Plymouth, which is intended to tap the leisure and tourist travel markets.

Five intermediate stations have been constructed on each of the two branches. Most are on or close to the sites of original Old Colony stations. Seven consist of a single platform constructed from precast concrete elements, with a centrally supported galvanised steel canopy matching the length of two coaches. They are unmanned, but equipped with remote public address and telephones. Both the Middleborough and Plymouth lines have three 3 km double track sections sited so that trains can pass; Montello, Brockton and Halifax stations each have two platform faces for this reason.

Even before the service started, developers saw the new stations raising property values. Lakeville Corporate Park & Retail Centre is being constructed near Middlesborough/Lakeville station to exploit this opportunity, which could result in reverse commuting.

Refurbished trains

Many of MBTA’s commuter services are now equipped with double-deck coaches to maximise capacity, and Kawasaki is currently delivering a further 17. However, single-deck cars will be adequate for Old Colony trains in the first year, so a fleet of 56 built by Pullman-Standard in 1979 have been heavily refurbished.

Traction is provided from MBTA’s fleet of GP40PM-C diesel locomotives, 25 of which are currently being delivered by GEC Alsthom. These are 3200hp units remanufactured in Montréal by the company’s Canadian subsidiary AMF Transport.

Each refurbished single-deck car seats 114, and the Old Colony lines are currently worked with five sets of six cars. Minimum length of platforms as constructed is 252m, which would accommodate nine-car trains.

As all the Old Colony stations have been provided with high platforms, it has been possible to fit remotely operated sliding doors which enhances safety and reduces the number of crew members required.

Trains are stabled and cleaned overnight at the Kingston and Middleborough layover sidings, but maintenance is carried out at Amtrak’s existing facilities for south side commuter services. A major traction and rolling stock maintenance centre was opened in November at Somerville, on the north side of Boston.

Maintenance of the Old Colony infrastructure will eventually be based in a converted warehouse that MBTA has acquired alongside the line at Abington. This will complement two other modern maintenance-of-way facilities at Readville and Salem, of which the Readville office is currently managing the work on the Old Colony routes.

CAPTION: Dignitaries at the Old Colony line inauguration on September 26 included Massachusetts Governor Argeo Paul Celluci (at stand), Boston Mayor Thomas M Menino (right), MBTA Chairman Patrick J Moynihan (third from left) and General Manager Robert H Prince Jr (fifth from left)

CAPTION: Left: With two Old Colony routes now operational, MBTA hopes to start renovation of the Greenbush line before the end of this year

CAPTION: Three 3 km sections of double track have been provided on each branch as extended crossing loops; pedestrian access between platforms at double-track stations such as Montello (above) is by foot crossings protected with flashing lights (inset)

CAPTION: Seven of the 10 intermediate stations comprise a simple 252 m long single platform with canopies, waiting shelters and car parking, as at South Weymouth

CAPTION: On the approach to Boston’s South Station, a third span of the Fort Point Channel bridge is being refurbished to provide extra capacity to handle Old Colony services

CAPTION: Space constraints mean a long walk for passengers interchanging between Red line and Old Colony platforms at the metro’s Braintree terminus

North-South Link on the agenda

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has invested heavily to create a modern rail network serving Boston, but it suffers from the fundamental disadvantage that many commuters must change at the rebuilt South and North termini on to crowded metro or light rail services before reaching their place of work.

The need for a North-South Rail Link has long been recognised, but attempts in the 1970s to tie it in with the Central Artery road tunnel now under construction failed. The Central Artery is currently the largest public works project in the USA, and it passes close to both rail termini.

With electrification of the Northeast Corridor into Boston South and the introduction of high speed tilting trains in prospect, there is pressure to extend Amtrak service at least to the north side of Boston, if not further. MBTA estimates that the Rail Link would at least double the patronage of its commuter services, many of which would be paired up to run through the city centre.

Current plans favour four tracks in bored tunnels driven below the Central Artery, and efforts are being made to ensure that the two projects are compatible. Trains heading north would enter the tunnels east of Bay Back station, and emerge north of the Charles river to join tracks fanning out from Boston North station which cross over the river.

There would be underground stations linked to the North and South termini, and another in between close to the waterfront. The cost is put at $2.6bn but this figure is likely to rise. Trains would have to be electrically powered, although electro-diesel traction such as is used for access to Penn station in New York is feasible.

The Central Artery is not expected to be finished until 2004. Work on the Rail Link is unlikely to commence before then, so it remains a distant objective. Meanwhile, MBTA presses on with expansion of commuter service, with extension of the Ipswich line to Newburyport later this year.

La Old Colony comble la carence en services d’abonnés à Boston

Le 30 novembre a vu l’introduction de services ininterrompus pendant la journée sur la ligne de 106 km de l’ancien chemin de fer Old Colony au sud-est de Boston après une phase de mise en marche de deux mois. A partir du 29 septembre quatre trains d’heures de pointe transportaient des abonnés à partir de gares nouvellement construites le long des lignes de Middleborough et de Plymouth. Richard Hope parle de la réouverture du réseau, partiellement abandonné depuis 1959, qui représente l’un des plus grands projets courants de services ferroviaires de banlieue autour des villes d’Amérique du Nord

Old Colony stopft Pendlerlücke in Boston

Nach einer zweimonatigen Anlaufphase wurde am 30 November auf einer Strecke von 106 km der ehemaligen Eisenbahn Old Colony der ganztägige Betrieb in den Südosten von Boston aufgenommen. Seit dem 29 September hatten vier Züge, die in den Hauptverkehrszeiten eingesetzt wurden, einen Pendlerverkehr von neu errichteten Stationen entlang der Middleborough- und Plymouth-Strecke bereitgestellt. Richard Hope berichtet über die Neuer