Monday, October 31, 2011

Wi-Fi roll out on Amtrak Northeast Regional!

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MBTA to close Red Line north of Harvard!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Night at South Station

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

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


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


Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Boston. Occupying What?

©2011 Boston to a T

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

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

MBTA Advertising Fail!

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


Monday, October 10, 2011

MBTA snapshots!



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

Wraps


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




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


Advertising.

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

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

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

I hope no one is looking for Transit Police assistance!












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


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

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

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



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












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

Thursday, October 6, 2011

South Station is on the fast track to expansion

©2011 Boston to a T
South Station, which is New England's second largest transportation center (right behind Logan Airport), is finally going to be getting some well deserved attention. The station, which opened for operation in 1899, is currently the home to the MBTA's commuter rail service, Red line, and Silver line, Amtrak's Acela Express, Northeast Regional, and Lake Shore Limited, and a full service bus terminal.

Currently the station operates way beyond its capacity. Its 13 tracks are just not enough to fulfill the needs of the passenger rail network that is running into the hub. The station is also expecting about a 50% increase in High-Speed passenger rail travel over the coming years. This is why the T has been looking diligently for money to expand the station.

The searching has paid off though! The T has been awarded a $32.5 Million "planning grant" as the first step towards expanding and revitalizing the historic station. The grant will go towards developing a conceptual design, as well as complete preliminary environmental reviews.

Some of the improvements and expansions that the MBTA hopes to accomplish at the satiation over the coming years include:

Courtesy: MBTA
  • Development of a new layover facility for train storage during off-peak times
  • Improvements to existing tracks, platforms, interlockings, passenger facilities, and other infrastructure
  • Demolition and relocation of an existing, adjacent U.S. Postal Service General Mail Facility to construct new passenger facilities, including tracks, platforms, waiting areas with connections to existing platforms and tracks and the adjacent South Station Bus Terminal
  • Design passenger enhancements through improved streetscape, pedestrian, bicycle, local transit, and vehicular facilities in and around the station, including the re-opening of Dorchester Avenue for public use
  • Develop a cost estimate for the construction phase of the project
  • Consideration of opportunities for joint public/private development over an expanded South Station. Such development agreements exist at New York’s Penn Station and Union Station in Washington, DC.
A completion date has yet to be set for the project but the preliminary stages are set to take a few years.  




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