Help wanted – Seeking an MBTA General Manager
Looking for someone to manage aging infrastructure and equipment at all costs. Must be able to operate at 100% no matter what.
On Wednesday, February 11, 2015, the MBTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott submitted her letter of resignation to the MassDOT Board of Directors. Over the last couple of weeks the MBTA was crippled by multiple snowstorms dumping feet of snow to the Metro Boston area. The first storm caused huge delays and cancellations. Then, once the second snow storm rolled in, Scott took drastic measures to avoid more problems. She order an MBTA shut down for Tuesday, February 10th to clean up after the storm. – Read Scott’s letter of resignation
The new Massachusetts’s Governor Charlie Baker called the T’s performance “simply not acceptable”. With these remarks, Scott took the heat. In a perfect world, the city and regional transit system should be able to run at 100% no matter what is thrown at it, even a few punches from mother nature. In order for this to happen, the city/state would need to keep investing into the system and keep replacing old and tired equipment, and we’d need a perfect world of course. Sadly, a good amount of the MBTA rolling fleet is 30 years old or older, running with “band-aids”, so this is far from possible.
Green Line – Majority of its equipment is almost 30 years old.
Orange Line – Almost of its equipment is 35 years old.
Red Line – Majority of its equipment is almost 30 years old.
Blue Line – Majority of its equipment is only 8 years old.
The fleet is ranging in age, with the oldest being 10 years old.
Locomotives are ranging in age from 35 years to only a few years old. As for the rolling stock is varies.
The MBTA been working on replacing its fleet as the funds become available. It’s not an overnight fix, and a reliable transit system cannot run on a shoestring budget. When it comes to state and federal budget cuts, the rail and transportation systems become the first victims. The result of this is having to run on an aging system that’s far from dependable. There may be ways to tighten the MBTA wallet, but it will always need state and federal help.
Really, it isn’t fair to put the blame on Scott; she is doing the best she can with the equipment and funds available. We have had historical snowfall over a short period of time as of late, and the system really didn’t have time to recover from the first snow event. In amongst this mess, Scott became a casualty of mother nature and politicians looking for a scapegoat.
Rail infrastructure is the future because our highways simply cannot handle the demand. I hope this is a turning point for the state of Massachusetts, because other areas are trying to stay ahead of the curve; North Carolina being an example. North Carolina is investing millions into its current rail infrastructure. Studies show millennials (people in the age group between the 1980s to early 2000s) are parking their cars and using public transit versus going the conventional highway route. Some millennials don’t even own a car and are 100% dependent on public transit; this is the future workforce replacing the “baby boom” generation. If Massachusetts wants to keep people and jobs here, it needs to invest into its rail infrastructure.
I’ve haven’t meet Beverly Scott, but it seem like she truly cared about the transit system and I wish her well in her future endeavors.
Baker ‘disappointed’ MBTA couldn’t maintain schedule during storm
Video thanks to WCVB-TV
MBTA General Manager on shutdown: “This was a perfect storm”
Video thanks to WCVB-TV
Gov. Baker dials back anger about MBTA’s performance
Video thanks to WCVB-TV
I’m often asked what is the best portable antenna for railfanning with a scanner, The rubber duck antenna that came with your scanner is called a wideband antenna which covers all of the monitorable bands on your scanner. If you’re just monitoring the railroad frequencies from 159.8100 to 161.6100 MHz, a tuned antenna is your best option. A tuned antenna will work on a specific frequency band, providing optimal reception on that band. A tuned antenna would pull in those weaker signals better, and may even increase your range.
Most railroads are using line-of-sight communications, which means they are not on a repeater system. When you’re listening to railroad communications you would normally hear the dispatcher because they are transiting off a high tower or multiple towers along the right-of-way. As for the trains and crews you can hear them when you’re within close range, which is about 3 – 6 miles. This all depends on the terrain between you and them and their radio output power.
Some railroad use the same frequency for the train/crew and the dispatcher. Another railroads use two frequencies one for the dispatcher and one for train/crew. When its a two frequency operation you need to program both frequencies into your scanner to hear the full conversation.
Best Portable VHF Railroad Antenna
If you have a portable scanner dedicated to rail-fanning, then I would highly recommend the VHF 150-162 Professional Portable. This antenna is 6 ½ inches tall with a BNC connector. This antenna is a similar size and design to a rubber duck antenna, and retails for the extremely-worth-it price of $30. – Order this antenna
Forgotten Railroad Lines
Middleboro & Lakeville, Massachusetts
Do you ever drive by a trail or a building that looks like an old railroad building? There are thousands of miles of abandoned railways, making these sightings common. During the fall and winter months, these trails become exposed as the trees shed their foliage. Some of these right-of-ways are easier to spot while others would take some research first As a teenager I became fascinated with railroad history and abandoned railroad lines.
As you may have read in past blog entries, I grew up in Middleboro, MA. You wouldn’t know it today, but Middleboro was once a railroad junction point for connecting to all points in Southeast Massachusetts.
Plymouth to Middleboro Line
Opened 1892 – Abandoned 1939
At one point, you could go from Middleboro to Plymouth by rail; the 15 miles route would run thru Plympton and Carver (running parallel to the current Route 44). When you cross over the Nemasket River in Middleboro on Route 44 you can see the old railroad bridge’s substructure. This may be the largest remnants of this line, since most of the right of way is overgrown now. You can see it with Bing’s bird’s eye view to the left of Route 44. – View here – http://binged.it/1Hf2CSD
Middleboro to Myricks
Opened 1846 – Abandoned 1937
Middleboro also had a direct connection to Myricks Junction (Berkley, MA) which is where trains can go to New Bedford or Fall River. You can see some of the right-of-way over its 5 miles. The Lakeville Train Depot is still standing and is located on Route 18 (162 Bedford Street Lakeville, MA). You can see a good stretch of the right-of-way across the street near the old depot.
Lakeville, MA Train Depot
Another shot of Lakeville, MA Train Depot
Trains are a buzzing topic in Buzzards Bay. Earlier this week, I attended the Bourne transportation meeting. Right now there are multiple project on the table, including updating track infrastructure near the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge along with a new CapeFlyer station on the capeside. The meeting was about a totally separate project, however, that involved extending MBTA commuter rail service to Buzzards Bay via the Middleboro/Lakeville Line.
During the hour and half meeting, the transportation committee went over the Cape Cod Commission’s “Potential Economic and Transportation Impacts” – Buzzards Bay Commuter Rail Study. The study went over everything from parking options to how traffic would be impacted. The proposed MBTA station would be at the current site of the Buzzards Bay Train Station (at the corner of Main St. and Academy Dr.). The study predicted that nearly 800 passengers would use this station. Two parking alternatives were presented, the first one with 120 parking spaces, which would slightly change the current parking lot, and then there was the other option; to build a parking garage that will accommodate 400-600 parking spaces. The study also goes into great detail about how traffic would be impacted by passengers traveling to and from the train station by car. As for the economic impacts, the study shows potential business growth and real estate values going up over time.
What happens from here?
There will be a special selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, January 20, 2015. During this meeting, there will be requests to add a question to the May 2015 ballot: should Bourne become a MBTA Community? A vote for yes does not mean the train station is definitely coming, however; basically, this will get the conversation going with the MBTA on a potential commuter rail station. If the project gets a green light, it will be a few years before we will see daily commuter rail service to Buzzard Bay.
the CapeFlyer is such a success story and based on that, there is great potential for a Buzzard Bay Commuter Rail Station. I feel the project should start out slow, starting with the 120 parking-space option; rather than investing in a multi-million dollar parking garage that might not be needed. The one in Wickford Junction, RI is a perfect example; they had the idea that if the garage was built, people would use it, but sadly they are still waiting for them to do so. This is a perfect example of why they should be “testing the waters” before investing tons of money into a project that might not be needed. They may find that passengers are getting to the station via carpooling, walking or via bus. With the CapeFlyer operating on this line, they have made some improvements in the track conditions and railroad crossings. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but I feel this project would be done before the South Coast Rail Project. I will keep a close eye on Buzzards Bay, and updates are soon to follow.
By Jonah Soolman
Taking the day off to drive from Boston to Waterbury, Vermont, ride Amtrak’s Vermonter south to Amherst, Massachusetts, and then disembark the train only to board its northbound counterpart and retrace my steps all the way back home may strike you as odd.
You have to understand who I am though. When I lived in Amherst about 50 yards from the tracks, I watched the Vermonter pass from one window on my townhouse’s top floor and then excitedly ran to the opposite-facing windows in time to get a second glimpse at the train as it curved around the bend. Getting “stuck” at the crossing gates on North Whitney Street always struck me as fortunate timing despite whatever rush I may have been in at the time.
My favorite bicycle route took me north from Amherst along route 63 to Northfield. The eastern part of the rail trail connecting Northampton to Belchertown, on which I frequently jogged, runs parallel to the train tracks through the rivers, swamps, and farmlands of the Brickyard Conservation Area.
Oftentimes, I thought about how fantastic it must be to take in the same scenery through the lens of a train window. In 2007, I got a chance to do just that when I took the Vermonter south from Amherst to New York City and back. Points north of Amherst though? That was a different story, that is, until a few weeks ago when I learned of Amtrak’s plans to alter the Vermonter’s route through Massachusetts by utilizing tracks along the west side of the Connecticut River while abandoning the Amherst station and the stretches of track so far mentioned.
Although I wished that the route remained east of the river for the sake of nostalgia and scenery, nothing could stop the inevitable change that was about to occur. Amtrak and the other transportation organizations involved with the switch have their valid reasons. Besides, truth be told, going from Brattleboro to Springfield via Amherst and Palmer makes just about as much sense as driving from Philadelphia to Boston by passing through Pittsburgh. Instead of fighting, I made immediate plans to ride those northern rails before the opportunity dissolved.
The ride did not disappoint. Some of the views of the Northfield farmlands and Sunderland forests were spectacular, even in the dead of winter, while my favorite spots were crossing the Miller’s River high above the water and passing over the Mill River Conservation Area gorge. Although I have many pictures from the trip, my amateur photography skills are an injustice to what I saw with my own eyes. If you ever had the experience yourself, you know exactly what I mean.
The Boston suburbs in which I now live are home to many stretches of track that are no longer in use, such as the rails that stretch from Needham Junction to Medfield and from Newton Highlands to Needham Heights. Whenever I see these tracks, I think about what it must have been like to ride them. Now those who see the Vermonter’s old tracks east of the Connecticut River are destined for the same fate: to only ride those rails in their imaginations. For me and for everybody else who was able to ride the Vermonter before the switch, I am grateful that we got a chance to do it for real.
When you think about Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, you probably think of Cape Cod and the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge. The bridge is 544 feet across and raises 134 feet when its in its upright position, and was built in 1935, replacing the original bascule bridge built back in 1910. Last Monday, this area became the topic of discussion at the MassDOT Rail and Transit Division meeting in Buzzard Bay.
MassDOT is proposing a new CapeFLYER station “Bourne/Canal Landing” on the Cape side. This station would be a short distance from the railroad bridge. It will have a drop off and pick up location, limited parking, and a 400 foot platform. Studies show that people are getting off at the current Buzzard Bay Station and getting into cars and are still fighting the traffic going over the two bridges getting onto Cape Cod. The whole idea of the CapeFlyer is to reduce the amount of traffic going over the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges. Adding this on-Cape station will allow people to be picked up on the Cape side reducing traffic vehicle on the bridges. From what I understand, this will be an additional stop; there will be still a stop at Buzzard Bay Station on the off-Cape side.
MassDOT is also proposing multiple upgrades to the area’s rail infrastructure which includes adding sides at both the north and south approaches to the railroad bridge. This will allow multiple trains to used the bridge in one opening. A new 2,500 foot siding would be added on the mainland crossing Buttermilk Bay. Along with adding the new siding, MassDOT would repair the bridge crossing the bay. The on-Cape siding will be just south of the bridge running 4,000 feet past the new proposed Bourne/ Canal Landing Station. Both locations of the right-of-way had two tracks in the past, so there is ample space for the sidings. Along with adding sidings, they will be adding signals between Middleboro and Buzzards Bay. Signals would help with rail traffic and would give the dispatcher remote control of all the switches.
There is also talk to change the CapeFLYER’s Friday schedule. Right now, the train makes all commuter rail station stops between Boston and Middleboro/Lakeville; new plans would have the train departing South Station to Braintree then expressing to Wareham Station and then to all the normal station stops after that.
It’s my understanding that MassDOT wants to get this project underway right away; they hope to completed the project before the 2015 CapeFLYER season.
Bourne Commuter Rail Station?
There been talk about extending commuter rail service to Bourne via the Middleboro/Lakeville line. The new station wouldn’t be used for commuter rail service. MassDOT officials say if the idea comes to fruition, the station will be located off-Cape, which means commuter rail service wouldn’t cross the Cape Cod Canal.
I’ve been a huge fan of the CapeFLYER ever since I took a ride on its first trial run back in 2013. All these upgrades seem to make sense. The improvement wouldn’t only benefit rail traffic; it would also benefit the canal’s marine traffic. Fewer and shorter openings would keep the boat traffic moving. I hope to provide updates on the progress of the project in a future blog post.
It’s been talked about a few times in the last 10 years to bring passenger rail service back to the Foxboro area. Multiple ideas were expressed, but none of them gaining any traction. For many years now, the MBTA has been providing a special commuter rail service for Patriots games. These trains come from both the north and the south via the Northeast Corridor. Trains come from South Station in Boston and the TF Green Airport in Warwick, RI.
Background on the Framingham Secondary Line
Back in 1867 the Mansfield & Framingham Railroad built this 22 mile route providing freight service right from its beginning. Passenger service was on and off from 1893 to 1933. Freight is still alive and well on this 22 mile route now know as the Framingham Secondary line. Most weekday CSX trains make their way back and forth between Framingham and Mansfield. Once in Mansfield, rail traffic merges on to the Northeast Corridor. CSX services both industrial parks in Mansfield plus points north and south when needed.
One of the most photographed spots on the line is the diamond near the historic Union Station in Walpole, MA. This is where Mansfield & Franingham Railroad meets the Norfolk County Railroad line built in 1847. Nowadays you would see over a dozen Franklin commuter trains crossing over the diamond using a good portion of the Norfolk Country Railroads route.
The Selectmen Meeting
This past Tuesday, I attended the Foxborough Selectmen meeting in the auditorium of Ahern Middle School. The auditorium wasn’t full but there was a good amount of people that showed up for this hearing. Representing the state was David Mohler, the Executive Director of the MassDOT Office of Transportation Planning. He placed two maps on the stage, one displaying how the Foxboro Station will play a role with the current MBTA Commuter Rail lines while the second one displaying the existing Foxboro station, proposed parking, and support facilities.
The proposed Foxboro Station would become a part of the “Fairmount line” via the Franklin line. The MBTA would run approximately five trains weekdays: two AM peak trains, one mid-day train and two PM peak trains. Studies show that this new MBTA station would attract nearly 600 new riders. Currently, service on the “Fairmount Line” ends service in Readville, but if the Foxboro station is approved, trains would run express to and from Foxboro.
Back in March, the MassDOT met with the Kraft Group, the owners of Gillette Stadium. Nothing is written in stone, but the Kraft Group like the idea. Currently there is a platform already in place and ready to use parking is available as well. The Kraft Group with allow 500 of their current parking spaces to be used by the daily commuters. The Kraft Group would collect parking fees and maintain the parking lot (plowing, cleaning, etc.). The parking fee would be split between the Kraft Group and the MBTA. Also proposed is a five acre lot for support (layover) facilities, which would include storage tracks for the MBTA Commuter Rail trains. The layover facilities wouldn’t be built right away, but this is something that would happen over time.
MassDOT is currently acquiring the Framingham Secondary right of way from CSX. The deal should be done by the end of the month or no later than the end of the year. The price tag for this 22 mile right-of-way, is 23 million dollars. Mohler states MassDOT is investing in the future with this purchase. Without this purchase, the Foxboro Station proposal wouldn’t be possible. Whether or not the Foxboro station gets approved, this right of way would be a key connection to three major MBTA Commuter Rail Lines; Worcester, Franklin and Providence/Attleboro Line. This line could be used in emergency situations, allowing trains to bypass an incident such as derailment. Right now with the current track trains can travel at speeds of 15 MPH, but once the MBTA updates the track, that would bump up speeds to 45 MPH. This would also open up opportunities for a “Worcester Patriots” game train.
The Selectmen board and the general public seem to have mixed feeling on this proposal. I heard everything, as far as complaints, from noise to safety concerns. But, on the other hand, one resident was very vocal about how great it would be to be able to get in and out of Boston without dealing with the traffic.
Not that I know everything about Foxboro, but it seemed like the selectmen have a bitter taste in their mouths because of the Krafts’ involvement in this project. Multiple times during the hearing, Mohler was asked, “why didn’t you meet with us first before the Kraft Group?” His reasons were that the station is a part of their private property and to see if they have an interest in this project was a private matter. Bob Kraft recommended meeting with the town of Foxborough selectmen before processing any further, which prompted this meeting.
In my opinion, this would be a great opportunity to connect the town of Foxboro to the city of Boston. Everything is already there as far as parking, the right of way, and a station. Yes, it will cost some money to upgrade the track and the station, but this project is no different than the CapeFlyer Summer train service. Everything was there, it just needed some improvements. The CapeFlyer just completed its second year of service with much success. I’m going to keep a close eye on this, stay tuned.
When you think of Police Scanner Apps for your smartphone, you normally think of police and fire, right? Well, if you visit http://www.broadcastify.com, you can find over 4,000 online scanner feeds and nearly 100 of them are railroad scanner feeds.
I’m often asked, “well, how is that possible?”
You may already have the tools to stream your very own railroad scanner feed.
Setting up a Railroad Feed
If your scanner is buzzing with railroad activity because you live near an active railroad yard or busy corridor, you may want to consider setting up a feed. First, I would visit the Broadcastify website to see if there is a feed already in your area. If not, I would begin with the set up process.
You will need the following:
– A pre-programmed scanner that will be dedicated to the railroad broadcast feed
– A computer you can run 24/7 with a stable internet connection and a designated sound card
– An audio cable to connect your scanner to your computer sound card via the input jack
(Broadcastify will provide the audio software for streaming the audio up to their servers, once your feed is approved.)
– Read more about the requirements for approval and fill out the online application
Once your feed is approved, you and others can monitor your feed online and on smartphones. By the way, Broadcastify does not charge for streaming, so you just need to get the audio to their servers.
The most ideal scanner would be the Uniden Bearcat BCT15/BCT15X. This scanner provides an alpha tag display for if you’re scanning multiple railroads on different frequencies. This data can be sent along with the streaming audio. That means that the stream listener would be able to see who is talking if they are using a Java audio player. Sharing the alpha tags requires additional set-up and cables. This scanner also provides a record-out jack and the volume is pre-adjusted for streaming and recording. You can still use this scanner for listening, and when you adjusted the scanner volume it will not affect the volume of the stream.
Really any scanner can be used as long as it’s narrow band capable and it covers 160 -162 MHz. If it does not have a record-out jack, you will need to adjust the volume when setting up the stream, so it will not be too low or too loud.
If you’re able to put up outdoor antenna, you may want to look at getting a VHF Base antenna such as the TrainTenna – Vertical Outdoor Base Antenna. If you’re not able to put an antenna outside of your home, you may want to check out the TrainTenna Blade Indoor Antenna. Both of these antenna are highly recommend by railfans. I’m currently using the Austin Ferret Outdoor Antenna (photo on right) which is a great all band antenna and works really well on VHF. Having a great antenna is key to providing the clearest signal. Depending if you’re within close range, a basic telescopic antenna would be fine.
My Railroad Feed
As you may already know, I have a railroad scanner feed on Broadcastify called “Southeastern New England Railroads“. My feed covers Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. You will hear communications between the dispatcher and the trains running along this busy corridor, which includes Amtrak’s Acela, Amtrak’s Northeast Regional, CSX, Providence & Worcester and the MBTA Commuter Rail.
I hope this inspires you to share your railroad scanner with other rail-fans. This is one of the ways railfanning is moving into the digital age!
We would love to hear from you!
If you set up or already have a railroad scanner feed we would love to hear about it, so please e-mail us with all of the details. Your feed may be featured in an upcoming blog post!
Last weekend I made my way to Essex, Connecticut, the home of the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat. I made the trip for two reasons: to take a ride on the train and to see Amtrak’s Exhibit Train; a rolling, 510-foot museum of Amtrak’s history. This rolling museum includes two Amtrak locomotives, 3 display coaches, sleeper car and a café car converted to an exhibit store. The coaches date back to the early to mid-1950s; they display Amtrak’s timeline in history and their memorabilia. The 2014 tour is wrapping up, so before it’s gone, check out Amtrak’s Exhibit Train website for more dates.
One of my favorite places to go railfanning is the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine. This year they are celebrating their 75th anniversary. On Saturday, July 5th they had their annual “Founders Day” Trolley parade showing off its extensive collection. Leading the parade was the Biddeford & Saco Line No. 31 the museum’s first trolley. The parade was narrated by long time member Scott Hopper, giving detailed history about each trolley. The museum also reintroduced the Montreal “Golden Chariot” No 2, observation car, this car had underwent some much needed restoration. Below are a few of the many photos taken on that day, you can see all of them on the official Train Aficionado Fickr page.