Monday, February 27, 2012

Lowell Trolley Network On Fast Track To Expansion!

©2012 Boston to a T
Although it has been talked about for years, the concept of expanding the Lowell National Historical Park's (LNHP)  downtown historic trolley system into a true public transit network has never fully gotten off the ground.

The current trolley network, which was opened by the National Park Service in 1984, is only operational from March till November. The system uses existing freight tracks, which are used under contract from PanAm Railways, that were electrified with trolley wire. They use four streetcars; three replicas from Gomaco, which were the first true trolley replicas produced in the United States, and one restored antique from the Seashore Trolley MuseumThe turn-of-the-century design of the trolley cars preserve the look and feel of historic Lowell. The current system is primarily used for LNHP rangers on interpretive tours so it is not a major means of transportation for area residents or workers, and does not directly serve area businesses or attractions other than the LNHP.

Current system map
The proposed enlargement of the system would expand it from its current size of 1.2 miles to a whopping 6.9 miles. The new routes would include 20 new stops all around the city. Trolleys would run every 10 minuets Monday through Thursday 6am-10pm; Friday and Saturday from 6am till Midnight and Sundays from 10am-8pm.  The proposed fare for the system would be $1 for a one-way ride and would increase to $1.50 in the fifth year of operation. The system would see an estimated 800,000 people per year. 

According to a 2011 feasibility study on the project, the full cost of construction would be an estimated $66 million and it will take six years from design to implementation.

Once completed, you will be able to board a trolley at the Gallagher Terminal, where it would connect with MBTA commuter rail and Lowell Regional Transit Authority busses, ride it through the South Commons through the the revitalized Hamilton Canal District. Then you would pass down Dutton St. past Lowell High School turning onto Father Morissette Boulevard to UMass Lowell's East Campus then down Broadway to their South Campus. The whole ride would take less than thirty five minuets. 

According to Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch UMass Lowell's expansion into the downtown area has truly put the trolley expansion project on the fast track. "The Students are building in ridership thats what brings this system closer to something that makes sense" he said. 

Map of proposed extension
For about six years, a large sum of federal money has been available to fund the construction of the extension. The big issues with the project though, is how to pay for the annual operating costs. After the system is built its annual operating and maintenance costs would total around $3.3 Million. The feasibility study suggests that the costs be paid for by $307,826 in fares; $105,000 in sponsorships of trolleys or stations, $50,000 in advertising, $1.3 million in funds that were once used on UML and LRTA transportation services that would be made obsolete by the trolley; $1 million in government transportation programs, and $576,489 in assessments.

Similar trolley networks are already in operation around the country in cities like Little Rock, Arkansas and Tampa Florida. Unlike the other systems around the country the Lowell network would be built to be more than an amusement, it would be a full functioning transit system!
The study currently suggests that over a ten year period the existence of the trolley network will increase the values of existing residential, office, retail, hotel, and medical properties in the area by around 5%. An example of this is in Little Rock where there service, which is much smaller than what Lowell has planned, has generated around $260 Million in economic development since 2009!

The next step for the network is for it to be considered by a subcommittee of the Lowell city council.  It will then move to public meetings, which are scheduled for this summer.

Check out more photos of the Lowell trolley system and the Seashore Trolley Museum's
Lowell location on our Facebook Page!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hubway is BACK and ready to exceed expectations!

Since late November of last year, Hubway, Boston's bike sharing program has been closed and stored in a warehouse awaiting the spring.

Since its official launch last July, Hubway has been met with a large amount of praise and enthusiasm. Right away the system took off and has now grown to have over 600 bikes available at 60 stations across the city! The system allows riders to rent bikes for varying amounts of time on a sliding price scale: $5 for 24 hours, $12 for three days, or $85 for a full membership. 

Spring has sprung and Hubway is finally gracing the city of Boston with it presence once again! In anticipation for their official March re-launch Hubway has already started to install some of their stations around the city. According to Hubway, five stations were installed yesterday and their goal is to have another six or so out by the end of today. The launch has been getting people excited all over the city, especially on Twitter! Hubway (@Hubway) launched the hashtag #HubwayHunt as a challenge for people to try and find the stations launched in the past few days. The first one spotted was on Harvard University's Solider Field Campus.

The City of Boston is truly becoming a very bike friendly city! Just last year the city created a new bike lane on Mass. Ave. and plans are in the works to do the same thing to the Longfellow Bridge. Hubway is defiantly going to aid the city in their effort to become a bike friendly city, with its plans to extend the system into Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville.

If you are a regular Hubway user check out this awesome map by @Bostonography. The map shows you how to route the perfect trip on a Hubway bike. As long as you follow the routes, which are outlined in BLACK, you will always ride past a Hubway station.

Overall, Hubway is clearly making a name for themselves here in the city and I am excited to see what direction they are going to head in next.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Red Line weekend work ends March 10th

It has been almost four months in the making, but the Red Line work north of Harvard is almost complete. This is a bit of good news for Red Line commuters who have had to deal with shuttle buses between Alewife and Harvard stations on weekends. 

The MBTA announced today that work is set to end in four weeks and trains will start running again on Saturday March 10th. The work is also set to end within the project's budget, according to interim MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis. Both this project and the Science Park Elevator project are some of the only MBTA projects, in recent years, that have finished on time and within their budget.

The Red Line extension to Alewife opened in 1985 and has recently fallen into despair. This is why the T announced last November that they would be addressing $80 million worth of backlogged maintenance on weekends between November and March. The project allowed MBTA crews to plug cracks in the tunnels, seal water leaks, replace corroding concrete bases and electrical wiring. They also replaced numerous damaged sections of track and third rail.

The Red Line trackage between Harvard and Alewife was in such a state of despair that it came under review in 2009. The safety study showed that if maintenance was deferred any longer on this particular section of trackage the threat of train derailment would become even more significant and eventually make it unsafe to travel between Harvard and Alewife.

The MBTA has been very transparent throughout the construction process. They have been regularly posting photos of the construction on their Flickr photo stream and have been keeping passengers informed through their Twitter account.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Guest Post: How the MBTA service cuts will affect the city of Medford.

Here is our first guest post! The article below is written by Heidi Walsh and focuses on the MBTA's fare increase and service cut proposals and their effect on the city of Medford. You can read more of Heidi's work at the Suffolk Voice 

Concerned Medford bus passengers lined up at the podium during the MBTA public hearing at Medford City Hall Chambers hoping to get a word in to save their possibly eliminated bus route. 
The local meeting held on Wednesday, February 8th was hosted by four local legislators who listened to the complaints and concerns of many Medford residents who are connected to Boston through MBTA bus route services. 
Two proposed ideas have been offered by the MBTA: one would only eliminated the service of express bus 325 whose route runs from Haymarket Station to Salem Street in Medford. The second plan cuts both the 325 and 326 bus routes from Haymarket and the 100 Fellsway bus route to Wellington Station. 
These proposals are a result of the fast approaching $161 million deficit that the MBTA will deal with if Massachusetts legislators do not find a way to find additional revenue. Already a proposed toll on I-95 outside the New Hampshire border has been discussed to create funds, but monthly link and express passes will face a dramatic 25-32% increase in fare. 
MBTA users in the chambers argued that because fare services are going up that does not mean that service should decrease as a result. 
“I come to Boston using the T to pump back into the economy and put shoes on people’s feet,” said Michael Lamburg. “Are we supposed to take our cars all the way to the already filled Wellington and Alewife stations?”
Medford’s Wellington Station may also be facing a proposed increase. Like many of the MBTA’s stations Wellington has a Parking Structure. In conjunction with the proposed fare increases the MBTA is also looking to raise parking rates at all of their garages. To park at Wellingtons garage is will cost you $5.50 a day but with the increase it could cost you as much as $7.00 a day. Most people in attendance at the meeting stressed their disinterest in driveing to Boston or the already filled Wellington parking area and made note that local bus service is their only way to get to work. 
According to Medford City Councilor Michael Marks, Medford ranks sixth out of 175 cites who use MBTA services. It could mean an “economic calamity” as one councilor pointed out if these services are cut because one of the biggest draws for citizens to move to Medford is its easy access to Boston. 
State Representatives Paul Donato, Carl Sciortino, Sean Garballey, and Pat Jehlen listened to the input of riders and confirmed that while they do not currently have a proposed solution they’re determined to work with the MBTA for a resolution. 
“We’re looking at any solution possible; everything is on the table,” Garballey said. “It has to be.”
Jonathan Davis,General Manager to the MBTA, is also a Medford resident and was in  attendance at the meeting. Sitting in the back of the chambers silent, he took notes on some comments made at the podium. 
“I just don’t understand the trouble we’re having with these funds,” said Medford resident Dr. William Wood. “Whatever happened to the rainy day fund people?”
One woman agreed in the crowd and said, “It’s pouring.” 

Friday, February 10, 2012

What happens after the T closes?

Many people have wondered the same question. What actually happens after the MBTA closes down at 1:00am every morning? In a new documentary, produced by the MBTA and MassDOT, a camera crew follows around MBTA workers as they work to make sure you have a safe ride to work in the morning.

 During the 45 min. film we are shown the steps that are taken to ensure America's oldest subway stays in tip-top shape. If the question "Why isn't the MBTA a 24 hour subway?" has ever crossed your mind, this film will tell you exactly why it just isn't possible.

Courtesy: MBTA

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Operation Lifesaver: Stop, Listen, Live

Photo: David S.Hutchinson

For about 40 years Operation Lifesaver has been spreading the word about railroad safety to the people of the United States. Incorporated as a one time state awareness campaign in 1972 for the state of Idaho.  As a result of the Operation Lifesaver campaign, grade crossing-related fatalities dropped by forty-three percent and the campaign spread all over the country reaching all fifty state and creating a national office.

The non-profit organization is set on offering free classes and presentations that will help educate the public on how to prevent collisions, deaths, and injuries on and around railroad tracks. According to their website, Operations Lifesaver  says that a person or vehicle is struck by a train about every three hours.  

Photo: Bernard Cole II
Operation Lifesavers Maine office has created an interactive caboose to help promote rail safety in their state. The photo to the left shows the caboose at the Pan Am Railways maintenance yard in Waterville, Me. Rail service is on the rise in Maine and with that more serious injuries and deaths have occurred due to people being unaware a train was coming.

A good example of this took place a few years ago. A man was fishing in Belgrade on a small railroad bridge which was considered a local fishing "hot spot". This man had fished there for many years knowing that this was an active railroad and that he was trespassing and risking his life, along with those of the other people he brought there. One day when a local frieght train went by, the draft from the train pulled him in from the edge of the bridge and sucked him in between two boxcars. Despite quick medical attention he later passed away. People take for granted that if you can't hear a train or see one that there is still danger.

Here in Massachusetts there are approximately 1,100 route miles of active track with 1,192 public crossings and 538 private crossings. Like the rest of the United States rail travel is on the rise here in the Commonwealth. While there are more trains traveling around the state, fatalities associated with track trespassing and crashes at grade crossing have remained low. Operation Lifesaver's Massachusetts office is set on keeping that figure low. The Commonwealth's office keeps a close relationship with all of the companies operating rail in the state. Most notably PanAm Railways, CSX Transportation, and of course the MBTA and MBCR. They are also affiliated with the Massachusetts trucking industry. 
Photo: Kevin Burkholder 

The MBTA and MBCR have both had long standing relationships with Operation Lifesaver to better help them promote safe and reliable service on the rails. Members of the MBTA Transit Police, MBCR conductors, engineers, and other employees are all certified O.L. presenters and regularly hold public information secessions. Most notably, the MBCR's Safety Department sends out railroad safety tips and presentation invitations to area schools that the commuter rail serves. 

This past September two MBCR employees paid a visit to a group of daycare children who regularly visit the local commuter rail station to wave at passing trains! Stephen Quinn who is Operation Lifesaver certified along with Fitchburg Line conductor Cory Moniz taught the children that being safe around railroad tracks is no joke. Although there has never been any incidences with the group of children at the station the employees felt that it was great for the children to learn the safety skills early on.

Numerous accidents have occurred throughout New England since July, 
truly demonstrating the need to get railroad safety information out to the general public. Most notably the Amtrak Downeaster grade crossing collision and several fatalities on the MBTA Commuter Rail lines. Most recently, last night a man was struck and killed by an Amtrak Northeast Regional train near Ruggles station on the Northeast Corridor. 

Operation Lifesaver is truly an organization that cares about the people of this country. As long as there are trains running through this country there will unfortunately be fatalities, but as long as O.L. is around we will hopefully be able to keep the number of them very low.

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