South Coast Rail Update – September 2016

The South Coast Rail Project has been in the news a lot lately. This project has been in the works for over 20 years, believe it or not they had their groundbreaking ceremony in October of 1998. The current plan is to connect the South Coast to Boston by extending the Stoughton Branch. The right of way continues south of the Stoughton MBTA Station. This line was abandoned many years ago in stages. The railroad track is gone and it’s just a path in the woods now. This option is one of the most direct routes to connect Boston to New Bedford and Fall River. This past June, the MBTA announced that the project would cost $3.42 billion and would not be completed until 2029. (Note: Some of the images below are from the slide show from the September 2016 public meeting)

South Coast Rail - Project Overview

Getting There From Here
Back in 2008 five alternate routes were looked at including using routes via the Middleboro/Lakeville Commuter Rail Line. This alternative has been the topic of discussion because the current Stoughton route is running into environmental concerns and projected to be costly to complete. This hasn’t stopped the work on the New Bedford and Fall River branches with track, railroad crossings, and bridge upgrades.

The Stoughton Route would provide new rail service to the city of Boston for the following communities: Easton, Raynham, and Taunton.

Middleboro/Lakeville Line Alternative
By using the Middleboro/Lakeville Commuter Rail Line, the South Coast trains would use the western leg of the wye, heading down the Middleboro Secondary to Cotley Junction (Mozzone Blvd, Taunton, MA). At Cotley Junction, trains would need to head south on the New Bedford Branch continuing to Myricks Junction (Near Grove and Myricks Street, Berkley, MA). At Myricks, trains staying on the line would go right into New Bedford and trains taking the southwestern switch would head directly into Fall River. This option wouldn’t be as costly and would eliminate building stations in North Eastern, Eastern, and Raynham. The right-of-way and tracks are currently used by local freight, so track upgrades would be needed for the Middleboro Secondary and Cotley Junction.

South Coast Rail - Middleboro Option

Braintree Choke Point
The Middleboro/Lakeville alternative was taken off the table in the past due to only having one track available between South Station and Braintree. Currently, Middleboro/Lakeville, Greenbush, Plymouth, and Kingston trains share this section of right-of-way. There is already too much rail traffic already, never mind adding New Bedford and Fall River trains. This option could work but it would reduce down the amount of originally planned round trips to the South Coast. Right now, there is talk of expanding the Southeast Expressway and building a 4,000 foot tunnel for the commuter rail tracks. The tunnel would allow space for an extra commuter rail track.

September Meetings
Early in the month of September, the Middleboro/Lakeville route became the hot topic of discussion again. I was able to attend the Taunton meeting inside the Silver City Galleria Mall’s Bristol Community College Campus. I was sitting in a packed room of local residents and politicians. Most of the the people in the room were very vocal about how bad the “Middleboro/Lakeville” option for the city of Taunton and all the communities north of the city up to Stoughton.  – Click here to see full sideshow – South Coast Rail Update – September 2016

Photos below (top to bottom) MA Senator Marc Pacheco, MA Rep. Shaunna O’Connell and Taunton Mayor Tom Hoye.

ma-senator-marc-pacheco

ma-rep-shaunna-oconnell

taunton-mayor-tom-hoye
The Middleboro/Lakeville option would require moving the already planned Taunton Cotley Station south of the junction. Taunton would have two stations on the Stoughton option. The Dean Street station would connect downtown Taunton to the city of Boston. Residents and politicians both agreed Taunton needs the train to go through it city. It would draw people to the area and create jobs. On the other hand past New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang spoke at the meeting and he was very vocal about the Middleboro/Lakeville option as a good option to get the city of New Bedford and Fall River connected to Boston within two years, not ten years.

Below is a video of Lang talking about the Middleboro/Lakeville Option from 2015:

Middleboro Connection
I think the Middleboro/Lakeville alternative would be one of the best “temporary” options to get this project on track (no pun intended) and to reduce some of the cost. But could it work with the one track between South Station and Braintree for now? I’m not sure. Once the New Bedford and Fall River Trains are through the “Braintree Choke Point”, they could run express down the rest of the Middleboro/Lakeville Line, topping speeds of 70 mph. During the sideshow there was talk about moving the Middleboro/Lakeville station or making reverse move to the station. I didn’t understand the thinking behind doing that. I think the trains should run express up the line, not stopping at stations that are already serviced by Middleboro trains.

South Coast Rail - Middleboro Station

Downside to Middleboro Connection
But knowing the MBTA the Middleboro option wouldn’t be a temporary one. This would become a permanent route for the line and the Stoughton options would be put off longer or abandoned. I understand New Bedford and Fall River just wants a connection to the city of Boston somehow some way. But the Stoughton option also allows downtown Taunton, Raynham, and Easton to get this much needed connection to Massachusetts’s capital city.

Tabled Option
One other option that was on the table back in 2008 was a train running down the Northeast Corridor and then using the Middleboro Secondary from Attleboro. I think this option would make the trip longer. This route would run right through Cotley Junction into Myricks Junction. Both the Middleboro/Lakeville and Northeast Corridor alternatives would require upgrading about 9 miles of track on the Middleboro Secondary. I think the Northeast Corridor route would be more costly to upgrade the Middleboro Secondary with all of the railroad crossings going through the city of Taunton. There are fewer crossings heading down the Middleboro/Lakeville route.

As this project starts to heat up again I will be posting more updates here, stay tuned!

Avelia Liberty | Amtrak Next-Generation of High-Speed Rail

Coming soon – faster, modern high speed rail!
The new trainsets will be entering revenue service 2021 and the current Acela fleet with be retired by the end of 2022.

  • Press Release: New trainsets to enter service in 2021; Station upgrades and improvements for track capacity and ride quality among infrastructure upgrades – Read more
  • Photos of the Next-Generation TrainsetsSee here
  • Fact Sheet – Amtrak® Next-Generation High-Speed Trains – Download here

Depot Square Railroad Station – Holyoke, MA

Amtrak Holyoke Station
Holyoke, Massachusetts is located just north of Springfield, MA. In its day, the city was one of the largest suppliers of office products in the world and got the nickname “The Paper City”. In August 2015, passenger railroad service returned to the city after Amtrak re-routed its “Vermonter” service on the Conn River Line. The re-route would shorten the ride by 25 minutes and eliminate the Amherst Station on the old route.

Amtrak Holyoke Station
Amtrak Holyoke Station
Depot Square Railroad Station – Dwight Street
400 foot high level platform
170 foot long canopy
25 parking spaces

Connecticut River Railroad Station
A little over 1,000 feet up the track from the new Holyoke Depot Square Railroad Station you can see the Connecticut River Railroad Station. The station was built in 1885 and was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. Richardson designed 9 New England railroad stations, including Palmer’s Union Station. In 2014, Connecticut River Railroad Station was cited as one of Massachusetts’s top ten most endangered historic sites. Currently, the station is owned by the Holyoke Gas and Electric Company. Right now there aren’t any plans to restore the station. – See photos below of the Station

Connecticut River Railroad Station

Connecticut River Railroad Station
Holyoke Express Office
Next door to the Connecticut River Railroad Station is the Holyoke Express Office. This office used to handle packages coming on and off the trains.The building was built in the early 1900s.  – See photo below
Holyoke Express Office
My Thoughts
Re-routing the Vermonter line would have been a great opportunity to restore this historical landmark and bring new life into this railroad station; the property even has the space to accommodate parking. Looking at the 2011 Holyoke Station Feasibility Study, restoring this station was one of the options on the table. Looking over the report, it would have cost a little over $3 million to restore the station and up to $1 million for the platform. A full station renovation including the platform would have cost anywhere between $5 to $6 million dollars, and with only two passenger trains traveling daily through Holyoke, it didn’t quite seem worth it.

The MBTA wants to expand train service to western Massachusetts, and it would be nice to revisit the idea of using the historical landmark, but it is highly unlikely because they already invested $3.2 million on the new Depot Square Railroad Station. If only the timing was better, with Amtrak and MBTA Commuter Rail service coming to Holyoke, it would have been nice to see this historical landmark restored and used as a railroad station again.

Adventures in Railfanning: Munising Junction and mud (lots of mud!)

An old but true story:

My brother-in-law Tom and I were up in the Munising area in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan some 35 years ago and went out to Munising Junction to try and catch the Soo switch job we had heard was going to be there that afternoon. Munising Junction is where the LS&I’s isolated Munising branch interchanged with the Soo, the LS&I having abandoned its own line between Marquette and there years before. (The LS&I line was sold to the Soo Line later on, and it is all CN there now.)

3 days earlier I had bought a brand new 4WD Ford Bronco II SUV. It had rained for the last 5 days straight. We figured we could get to the junction thru the mud with this fancy new 4WD but after a hundred yards or so it sank deep into the muck and we just dug it in deeper and deeper by spinning the tires. We got in so deep that we could not open the doors and had to climb out the windows.

Of course, it started to rain again, and there was no way to close the windows after we climbed out so my brand new truck was filling up with water. I climbed back in and got the one window closed to stem the tide but when we arrived back the interior was soaked.

We were a good 8 to 10 miles out of town and since this was the days before cell phones we started hoofing it to town. My brother-in-law’s brother Dan lived in Munising (and worked at the paper mill which provided most of the traffic for the Munising Branch) so we figured we would borrow some shovels to dig out the truck. 3 hours later we made to his house it just as Dan arrived home from work.

When we got to Dan’s house we were soaked to the skin, cold, wet and hungry. We ate a huge dinner, got some dry clothes then got in his pickup truck to go out and rescue my poor sunken Bronco. All the while Dan was laughing at his silly brother and I for what we did and that we drove 500 miles to watch trains. Some people just don’t get it.

After digging for a couple hours we were no closer to getting the truck out of the mud. It oozed back as fast as we could dig it out. We went back into town and bought a couple hundred feet of wire rope and some fittings and with Dan driving his truck and Tom and I pushing my truck we finally got my poor truck unstuck. It made a loud “plwapp” sound as the suction of the mud gave up. Thankfully both trucks had frame hooks. If that hadn’t worked I considered hiring the LS&I crew to come out and pull it out with the plant switcher. I kind of think they would have probably declined that but a couple cases of beer might have convinced them.

The holes were the tires were were knee-deep and my poor truck (with less than 700 miles on the odometer) was coated with mud in places Mr. Ford had never intended. We went to the local National Pride and $8 in quarters later (comparable to $30 or so in today’s quarters) most of it was gone. There was a ton of mud on the floor of the wash bay and I felt bad so we got a snow shovel and cleaned out the mud. There was still mud on (and in) the muffler and catalytic converter however and it stunk horribly as it burned off over the next couple of days. (Try burning a pile of dried mud sometime, you will catch my drift…).

We spent the next few days around Munising and SSM before heading over to Marquette and chasing the LS&I all over town. When we got back to Chicagoland I brought my truck to a restoration place who cleaned the interior as to avoid mildew issues later. I then went to the tire store and bought a set of decent M&S tires for the next trip.

Lessons learned:
1) 4WD just lets you get stuck further away from civilization.
2) Crap tires don’t help in mud.
3) If you get stuck, stop spinning the tires, that just digs a deeper hole.

The trip worked out well though. We got great shots of the RS-3 (1604) working the plant at Munising, and it’s mate (1608) sitting at Eagle Mills. We got a boatload of great shots at the dock in Marquette and at Eagle Mills, some Soo stuff, including a GP-30 and a peek in the roundhouse at Marquette . We listened to Alcos and GE’s working the dock job from the campground in Marquette a couple nights and climbed up the hill overlooking Lake Superior at Presque Isle Park. We took tons of pics of LS&I’s Alcos and first generation GE’s.

I love the U.P. and especially the LS&I but this turned out to be a bit more adventurous than we planned.

Cape Codder 2.0?

I rode the CapeFlyer a few weekends ago and it got me thinking about the relaunch of a local version of Amtrak’s Cape Codder.

Cape Codder 1996

What is the Amtrak’s Cape Codder?
The Amtrak’s Cape Codder was a seasonal service that ran during the summer months from July to the end of September. Amtrak provided this service between New York City and Hyannis for 10 years, from 1986 to 1996. The Cape Codder would make one trip from New York City to Hyannis on Friday evenings, with two return trips back to New York City, one on Saturday morning and one on Sunday afternoon.
– Below is the timetable for the 1996 Cape Codder

Cape Codder TimeTable 1996Cape Codder 2.0
Since the CapeFlyer is such a success, I was thinking the MBTA could provide a similar service starting in Wickford Junction, RI to Hyannis, MA. Using a similar route to the Cape Codder starting in in Wickford Junction. Below I will give an overview of each station stop and how it would be a great asset to the “Cape” train.

Wickford Junction (MBTA Station)
Wickford Junction is a beautiful train station that has 1,100 parking spaces in a four story parking garage. This station has been in the news quite a bit since it opened in 2012 because of the lack of MBTA passengers using this station. I think train service should start here, and it would attract users from Connecticut and southern RI. Charging a reasonable weekend rate to customers or offering free parking would attract passengers to this station.
Below are photos of Wickford Junction

Wickford JCT

Wickford Jct, RI

T. F. Green Airport (MBTA Station)
This stop would provide a link between air and rail transportation to Cape Cod south of Boston. There would also be a large 24-hour parking area.

Providence (MBTA Station)
This is one of the MBTA’s busiest stations outside of the Metro Boston area. This station would provide a connection between the “Cape” train and Amtrak’s Northeast Regional and Acela services. This would also provide people that live within the city without a car a way to get to Cape Cod.

Attleboro (MBTA Station)
This station would attract customers from the southern I-495 beltway because it is close to the I-95 and I-495 junction in Mansfield. There is ample parking on the weekends.

Getting There
Just north of the Attleboro Train Station, the “Cape” train would then go on the Middleboro Secondary, making it way through Taunton, Lakeville right into the Middleboro wye making its way to the MBTA Middleboro/Lakeville Station. I’m not sure about the current track conditions of the Middleboro Secondary, the train may need to operate at restricted speeds. It’s been 20 years since passenger trains have been on these tracks. This is the same route the Cape Codder made. After this point I would have the “Cape” train make the same station stops as the CapeFlyer.

Middleboro Secondary Map
Middleboro wyeThe Schedule
The schedule would be very similar to the CapeFlyer, with a Friday night train making a round trip between Wickford Junction and Hyannis. Saturday and Sunday service with a morning train heading Hyannis and PM train returning back to Wickford Junction.
– Below is a photo of the CapeFlyer Crossing the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge

CapeFlyer Crossing the Cape Cod Railroad BridgeSouth Coast Project
If the South Coast Project takes the Middleboro/Lakeville commuter rail line as the connecting line between New Bedford and Fall River, a good amount of the Middleboro Secondary track would be upgraded for this project. Also adding one or two more stops for the “Cape” train.

Equipment
The MBTA states that it has surplus passenger coaches and locomotives. They could take a couple of the best F40PHs and overhaul them like they did with the 1056 and 1062. From what I understand this was cheaper than buying new locomotives.

Conclusion
The idea would use current stations and track that are already there. I would make this a one year trial service like the CapeFlyer, running from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I think this trial run wouldn’t be costly and it would bring activity to these stations on the weekends.

Tracking Amtrak using your Smartphone

I really enjoy photographing trains. One can spend hours waiting for a train to pass. I remember as a child spending hours waiting for Amtrak’s Cape Codder to make its way through Middleboro, MA on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes the Cape Codder was delayed and I had no way of knowing. With a smartphone and the right app/websites, however, they can help us track the trains. I’ve found two amazing tool for tracking Amtrak trains across the country.

Amtrak Tracking Website

Amtrak Location Map
This map will show you trains across the USA. On the map, each train is numbered by its corresponding train schedule number. The numbers on the map are color coded by their on-time status. By clicking on the train number you can see the name of the train, speed, destination and on-time status.
Check out a similar system for MBTA Commuter Rail

Amtrak Train Search APP

Amtrak Mobile App
Using Amtrak’s official mobile app you can search by schedule train numbers or stations and get projected station arrival times. This app is also great for buying tickets and looking at train schedules too.

I tend to use both the website and the app to track trains when I’m out photographing Amtrak trains. I would still recommend have a scanner in hand, that is also a huge asset when tracking trains as well.

CapeFlyer – Three Years Later

CapeFlyer 2016
In May of 2013, the Capeflyer service was launched by the MBTA to bring passenger rail service back to Cape Cod. This was something they would try for a year to see how it would go. After being quite successful, this service became permanent, and runs every weekend during the summer between Memorial Day and Labor day.
Over the past three years, the CapeFlyer has made many improvements. CapeFlyer trains make limited stops on the Middleboro/Lakeville Line, which include: Braintree, Brockton, and Middleboro. Not having to make every stop on this commuter rail line has shortened the trip from Boston to Hyannis. Along with those changes, a downtown Wareham stop was added. Improvements to railroad crossings and upgrades for some of the railroad tracks south of Middleboro/Lakeville station were made. The cafe car has concessions provided by Blonde on the Run Catering.

CapeFlyer 2016
CapeFlyer 2016

CapeFlyer 2016
On Friday, July 15, 2016, I thought I would take another ride on the CapeFlyer three years after the test run. I haven’t been on the train since the test run on that sunny spring Saturday, May 18, 2013. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Railfans, politicians, and MBTA top officials were onboard for the CapeFlyer’s maiden voyage. Although I hadn’t been on the CapeFlyer since, I’ve been reading about the service over the years. I’ve made multiple trips to the Cape to photograph the train. Like many railfans, I enjoy photographing the train as it makes it way over the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge in Buzzards Bay, MA. One of my photographs even made it into the Mystic Valley Railway Society’s 2015 Calendar.

CapeFlyer: 3 Years Later
After work my dad and I made our way into Boston to retake the trip we did 3 years ago. We got a quick bite at South Station and made our way to track 11 where you board the CapeFlyer. There was a large group of people waiting to board the train. Once the boarding call was made, we made our way to the six coach train set with one locomotive on each end. The train set includes a cafe car, bike rack car, and four passenger coaches. No double deckers coaches were in the set. We departed South Station right at 5:50PM, and made our way south to Cape Cod. It wasn’t your typical commuter rail passenger with business casual outfits; the passengers were dressed for a weekend getaway. Most people had carried on a bag for a weekend stay. It wasn’t your typical commuter rail passenger crowd.

CapeFlyer 2016
It was a quick ride on the Middleboro/Lakeville position of the line, only making station stops at Braintree, Brockton and Middleboro/Lakeville, with average speeds of 70 mph. Once we made our way south of Middleboro/Lakeville station, the track was upgraded and top speeds were 50 mph. We made station stops at the new Wareham Station and Buzzards Bay. Once we cross the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge it was a non-stop trip to Hyannis. Once we cross the bridge on the Cape side, speeds averaged 30 mph. At this point the sun was setting and the view of the many marshes and cranberry bogs was amazing. We had a few speed restrictions, but we were only six minutes late pulling to Hyannis.

CapeFlyer 2016

CapeFlyer 2016

We had about a 40 minute layover at Hyannis before making our return trip back. We left right at 9PM. Only the cafe car and one passenger coach were open. Before we crossed the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge, the conductors turn off some of the lights so we could view the Cape Cod Canal as we passed over it. Traveling round trip on the CapeFlyer cost about $40 per person from Boston to Hyannis. I would say it was money well spent compared to spending hours in traffic. Leave the driving to someone else.

CapeFlyer 2016

Overall Thoughts
What started out to be a year-long experiment became a huge hit. The CapeFlyer had a total of 334 passengers heading southbound that evening. The CapeFlyer is a complete success. Everyone seem to be happy, from the passengers to the train crew!

Railfanning the CapeFlyer
About a year or so I drafted up a railfan points of interest sheet for the CapeFlyer. During this trip I made some edits and thought I would share it with other railfans. The original sheet was made up for my good friend and fellow Train Aficionado blog contributor Jonah Soolman. – Click here to download.

Friday night was the most ideal night for me to make a quick round trip on the CapeFlyer. The Friday night train departs South Station at 5:50PM and makes it way south to Hyannis in a 2 hour and 20 minute trip. Once the train arrives in Hyannis at 8:15 there is a short layover of 45 minutes before it departs Hyannis at 9PM to head back into Boston. Saturday and Sunday service trains depart Boston early in the morning and return back in the early evening. This makes for an all day layover in Hyannis.

For this railfanning trip, I would recommend bringing a camera and scanner. There are a few scanner frequency changes along the route. I brought my BC125AT and my Nikon D5200 with me.

Scanner frequencies
Approaching and leaving South Station
– Amtrak Road Channel 160.9200MHz CSQ
Quincy to Middleboro/Lakeville
– Middleboro/Lakeville Line 160.7250MHz CSQ
South of Middleboro/Lakeville Station to Hyannis
– Mass Coastal Railroad Road (Dispatch) 160.4250MHz CSQ [Repeater]
– Cape Cod Canal Control 163.4125
CapeFlyer 2016

Opening Weekend at Seashore Trolley Museum

Seashore Trolley Music May 2016

Early this May, I was able to head out the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine. I wasn’t able to make the trip up to Maine last year, so I made a point to go up on opening weekend. While there I got my yearly family membership so I plan on going a few more times this year. My dad and I spent a few hours at the Museum and discovered a trolley inside the middle bay of the Highwood Car barn that we had never rode. The Cleveland Railway #1227 a yellow center entrance trolley retired from service in 1959. The Seashore Trolley Museum acquired the trolley back in 1984 and it took them 25 years to restore this trolley built in 1914.

Seashore Trolley Museum May 2016

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Seashore Trolley Music May 2016

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Podcast | New Era of Railfans

New England Central Railroads #437
We take a look at how railfanning has evolved in the 21st century.

Season 1 | Episode 1 
New Era of RailFans

Coming soon Train Aficionado Podcast

We are into our fourth year of blogging at TrainAficionado.com and we are pleased to announce that we are launching our very first audio podcast in the spring of 2016.JonathanHiggins

What is the Train Aficionado Podcast
The Train Aficionado audio podcast will be where we talk about everything that rides on rails from trains and trolleys to transit. Host and railroad enthusiast Jonathan Higgins will bring his blog to life with in depth interviews and discussions with railfans, model railroaders, transportation experts, and museum/excursion directors. If you love trains and railroading this is the podcast for you.  Podcast will be posted right here so stay tuned!

We are looking for you!
Looking to promote your scenic railroad excursion, railroad club, or railroad museum? We would love to talk about your railfan destination or group. Our readers are always looking for new places to go and see. –  Contact Us

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