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Monday
May092016

Bike Challenge Cometh

It's only a few days until Bike Week! It's not too late to sign up for the MassCommute Bicycle Challenge, a friendly competition to encourage people across the area to try bicycling for regular transportation, especially as part of your commute. Try a trip next week (or log the trips you already make) and get in the running to win some prizes. 

If you participated last year, there is no need to register again, just log in! If not, register here. Last year, cyclists across Massachusetts logged nearly 150,000 miles. Can we make 200,000 this year? Maybe, if you sign up and bike a lot!

We'll also have our Bike Breakfasts. Take a moment during your commute to have a coffee, a bite to eat and chat with your fellow bike commuters and TMA staff (one in the same; the TMA has a 67% bike to work mode share). Bike breakfasts will be held at the following times and locations:

 

Monday May 16 7:30-9:30
University Park 
Sidney St. behind Fire Station off of Mass Ave
Sponsored by Forest City

Tuesday May 17 7:30-9:30 
Minuteman Bikeway at Alewife Station
Sponsored by Charles River TMA

Thursday May 19 7:30-9:30
150 Broadway
Broadway inbound between Galileo and Ames
Sponsored by Boston Properties

Not sure if you're ready to bike? Check out our free webinar this Thursday, with tips on bike commuting. 

Finally, make sure you come to the Bike Bash on June 1 from 5:30 to 7:30. We're back at Flat Top Johnny's, so it's super-convenient to Kendall, and we're glad that FTJ's is back open after water damage from a fire last fall. We'll see you there!


Friday
Apr222016

New Commuter Rail Schedules - What's changing out of North Station?

Last week, the MBTA announced the final commuter rail schedules for all lines, which will take effect on May 23, 2016.  For some lines, these are the first wholesale changes in anywhere from 10 to 30 years! Following a first-ever public comment process, the T has issued final versions which incorporate many of the most recommended changes. To learn more about what your fellow riders asked for, see the T's report on the comment process.  And you can get a look at all of the new schedules here.

Today we'll take a look at the North Station ("Northside") lines - Rockport, Newburyport, Haverhill, Lowell and Fitchburg. These lines serve many Cambridge commuters, many of whom use EZRide Shuttle to connect to their workplace. Next week we'll take a look at the changes for the Southside.

These changes are pretty extensive, with most trains operating at different times. The main holdovers are the peak-hour Haverhill schedules (where major changes are awaiting the completion of major track and bridge projects between Andover and Haverhill) and the mid-day off-peak schedules on the Lowell Line, which keeps hourly service.

In general, the new schedules contain fewer "short turn" locals (trains only running to mid-point stations like Beverly, Reading, or Littleton), with the vast majority running through to the outer terminals. This results in some very different train times and frequencies at some stations in zones 1-3.

Note: As we proceed, we'll refer to rush hour trains (morning inbound, evening outbound) as "peak-hour" and all other trains as "off-peak." Peak-hour trains are the ones marked in the yellowed shaded areas on the new schedules.

Here's the major changes for each line. As these are only highlights, we recommend all riders closely look at the new times for their station(s)!

Newburyport/Rockport Lines

  • Both Newburyport and Rockport will see one additional peak-hour, peak-direction train, going from the current four to five trains each.
  • Newburyport will see express trains for the first time - morning inbound trains #152 and #160, and evening outbound train #167 will now skip some inner-zone stops.
  • There will be fewer Beverly local trains, which combined with the new express service to Newburyport, will result in very different train times at inner stations (especially Swampscott, Lynn and Chelsea). Riders at these inner stations should carefully review how the schedules will impact their commutes.
  • Newburyport also gains a new late-evening (12:15 AM) train running through from North Station to Newburyport. All late-evening trains are through to Rockport or Newburyport - no connecting shuttle trains from Salem or Beverly with the new schedule.
  • In general, most all off-peak train times and frequencies have changed.

Haverhill Line

 

  • As noted, the peak-hour schedules don't see many changes on the Haverhill Line. According to the T, they are waiting for the completion of the various capacity improvements* (double-tracking, rail replacement, and the rehab of the Merrimack River Bridge in Haverhill) before making substantial peak-hour changes. The line from Andover to Haverhill carries MBTA commuter trains, Amtrak Downeaster trains, and also Pan Am Railways freights, making it possibly the busiest single-track railroad in New England right now.
  • The majority of changes to peak-hour trains involve only adjustments of 5-15 minutes. Key changes include morning inbound #208 (7:35 AM from Haverhill) now running express from Ballardvale, while afternoon outbound train #213 (4:30 PM from North Station) becomes a full local (adding stops at Wyoming and Greenwood).
  • Most importantly, some additions were made in response to customer feedback. Train #221 (the 6:55 PM outbound via the Lowell Line) has been retained, as well as the 7:20 PM Reading local. There's also a new 7:40 PM outbound Haverhill train, which helps reduce the old gap in service for Merrimack Valley riders after rush hour. (Well, there's still a gap - it's just pushed back to 7:40-9:20 PM!)
  • Off-peak, note that there are no more Reading locals mid-days or evenings - all trains go through to Haverhill. This will mean there are fewer total trains to Reading/Wakefield/Melrose, though in most cases they are more evenly spaced. Most (if not all) off-peak train times have changed.

*While we don't have anything in writing, the T has stated that there will be substantial efforts made to advance these projects during the 2016 construction season.

 

Lowell Line

  • As with other lines, most of the "short-turn" trains are now off the schedule - only one Anderson/Woburn local remains in morning and evening. In their place, there will be more trains running all the way to Lowell (two more in the morning, one more at night).
  • New train #325 will fill the one-hour gap for early afternoon commuters, leaving North Station at 3:40 PM.  Riders departing just after 4:00 PM should also watch for the new train #327, which will run express to Lowell at 4:10 PM. Riders for West Medford, Wedgemere and Winchester will need to use train #393, departing North Station at 4:20 PM.
  • Except for train #221 (leaving North Station at 6:55 PM for Haverhill via Anderson/Woburn) no Haverhill Line trains will make stops on the Lowell Line.
  • Off-peak, service remains  very good, with hourly service mid-days in both directions. After the evening rush hour, service runs about every 70 minutes through the evening.

Fitchburg Line

 

  • The Fitchburg Line, which is benefitting from a major overhaul and higher running speeds, sees substantial changes. Most trains show faster running times, with the "super express" (trains #404 and #417) shedding about 9-10 minutes off their current schedules.
  • As with other lines, there will be only one Littleton/495 local during each rush hour. In its place, one additional peak-hour train will run to/from Fitchburg.
  • Morning inbound departures from Fitchburg will now run earlier (train #400 arrives North Station at 6:27 AM) and later (train #410 now leaves Fitchburg at 8:08 AM for later commuters).
  • In the evening, the current uneven departure times are addressed with all-stops Fitchburg locals leaving North Station at 5:55, 6:25 and 7:15 PM. There's still a gap from 7:15 to 8:45 PM, but the new train #427 at 7:15 should help commuters who work later into the evening.
  • Off-peak, the long afternoon gap without Fitchburg goes away with more frequent options serving all stations.
  • The catch? Concord, Lincoln and Weston stops will see fewer peak-hour trains under this schedule. They will lose one morning inbound, but retain roughly similar levels in the afternoon (though some of these run very early or late in the afternoon rush hour).

Impact on EZRide Shuttle

Overall, these new schedules should offer most commuters some improvement over their current service. While a few stations do lose some peak-hour service, many of the most uneven patterns from the old schedules are reduced or eliminated.

At CRTMA, we're eager to see if the new schedules help to spread commuters out more, now that there are more options on most lines. Unlike a train's coaches, it's hard for us to "add another bus" to a busy trip - we're currently operating as many buses as we have funding to run. We will examine earlier afternoon service to meet the new 3:40 PM Lowell and 3:37 PM Rockport trains, although this will not be possible right away for May 23rd.

As these schedules are the result of a first-ever public feedback process, we're interested to hear what commuters think of them. Drop us a line at info@charlesrivertma.org or tweet us (@charlesrivertma) to let us know how they'll impact your commute.

Next week we'll take a look at the Southside lines.

(Posted 4/22/2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newburyport also gains a new late-evening (12:15 AM) train running through from North Station to Newburyport. All late-evening trains are through to Rockport or Newburyport - no connecting shuttle trains from Salem or Beverly with the new schedule.