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MBTA Director of Development - Fairmount Line Status Report 9/12/12

Congratulations are in Order

Fairmount Line MapJoe Cosgrove, Director of Development for the MBTA attended the Sep 12, 2012 Fairmount Corridor Wide Advisory Group (CAG) meeting and gave an update on all facets of the MBTA's involvement with the Fairmount Line. 
  • Gave a report on construction work done on the Fairmount Line for the last ten years
  • Talked about ongoing work (phase II)
  • Provided insight into additional work needed to make the Fairmount Line a success (South Station expansion)
  • Talked about his work with the  Fairmount CDC Collaborative
  • Answered questions raised by members of the Advisory Group (CAG)
He opened his presentation by congratulating the BRA for making an effort to link the two types of planning that rarely get an opportunity to be on the same table at the same time: transportation planning (MBTA) and master planning (City of Boston).

“They occur in parallel universes,” he said, “and never the twain shall meet.” With the BRA initiative, the MBTA sees this “as an effort to link those two… an opportunity to make a connection between transportation service planning and land-use planning. It is hard to do in practice, because you don't have the resources at the table.”

"The MBTA," he explained “has the imperatives of the functioning of our daily processes - operating the trains and dealing with our budget crises. So it's really good to take part in efforts like this, planning that benefits all of the neighborhoods.”

In addition to working with the BRA’s Fairmount initiative, the MBTA is working closely with the Fairmount CDC collaborative under a discretionary $350,000 grant issued by the Highway Administration to focus on business development in the context of transportation planning.

Infrastructure Improvements - Phase I - Fairmount Corridor Improvements Program

The 2002 feasibility study led to a $200 million, five-year program to improve the Fairmount Line infrastructure with bridge reconstruction beginning in 2005 - Phase I of the Fairmount Corridor Improvements Program.  That program is now coming to an end.

Since the start of infrastructure improvements and the construction of new stations, the Fairmount line has been down to a single track operation which necessitated cutting back service to a single track operation. As the construction activity wanes, those constraints will potentially open up returning to the original service levels prior to the start of construction. 

“The only thing hampering service is the operating budget constraints of the T. We are looking for a fix for the state legislature and hopefully there will be action on that in the coming year.”

New Fairmount Line Stations - Phase II - Fairmount Corridor Improvements Program

He then talked briefly about the Fairmount Corridor Improvements Program – Phase II which remains an exciting development because it will have such a marked impact on the four neighborhoods where the new stations are being built. 
  1. Talbot Ave station construction will be complete at the end of October with ribbon cutting late October or early November.
  2. Four corners Geneva construction will be complete April 2013
  3. New Market construction will be complete June 2013
  4. Blue Hill Avenue (still in the design phase)
Mr. Cosgrove committed to bringing issues raised as part of the BRA initiative about the Fairmount Line to the (MBTA) table.  He invited anyone to contact him at jcosgrove@mbta.com  617.222. 4400. He has worked for the MBTA for 13 years.

Questions from CAG Members

Q:  How important is the South Station expansion to the success of the Fairmount Line? A:  The MBTA has received a $10.5 million matching grant from the Commonwealth to increase its ready up capacity of South Station.  Expanding the capacity of South Station during peak periods is key to making the Fairmont Corridor train line work on time and to supporting the transportation needs of the corridor.

Mr. Cosgrove indicated that South Station is operating at its capacity during peak periods.  “The federal grant was stimulus money to start the engineering for South Station expansion. There are a lot of issues associated with expansion, for example, the post office and layover space. The team of engineers and planners are already in place and it is expected to be an 18 month process with the final project close to $200 million.
Q: Is it possible to increase the service on the Fairmont line without that expansion? A:  To expand on the Fairmont line, we would have to take away service from some of the other lines. You can add service in the non-peak periods with not during peak service times.

The design phase will be complete within two years.  What results is likely to be a $200 million, decade long, high priority project, and we don't know yet how it's going to be funded. Will there be private developer participation?
Q:  How necessary was the bridge replacement / repair work? A:  There are 42 bridges on the Fairmont line and a lot of money was put into redoing the bridges.  Many of them were ready to fall apart.  That was one of the critical factors that we have been addressing the last decade.
Q:  Please describe what the MBTA is doing in the area of business development A:  The MBTA is working with the Fairmount CDC Collaborative to define the scope of work. We want to look carefully into how we tie the service planning connection to the to the land-use planning. To this point, the infrastructure and the new stations have been the emphasis because the new stations give us access to some of the densest neighborhoods in Boston.
Q:  How will you address the “perception” of the Fairmount Line? A:  Providing access to the Fairmont Corridor does not change the perception that the Fairmount Line is commuter rail. Right now, we have excess capacity with only 25% of the seats filled. There's a big internal discussion on how we build ridership. While we are asked questions about increasing the service offered on the Fairmount Line, it's tough to talk about adding service when the discussion on the entire transportation system is how we consolidate. The objective when we started this project was to add weekend service.  Today in the current environment, that is a nonstarter. Overriding all of the local considerations and decisions is the structural deficit of the T. Until that is resolved, everything else suffers.
Question: It is a known fact that the Fairmont line, before the construction began, had a greater level of service - more trips.  Now people are complaining that trains don't show up and the trips are being canceled.
A:  During the construction, we have been operating with a single track.  Prior to 2009, we offered 22 trips daily but now we are down to 16 trips. So the expectation is that we will be able to build back up to what we had before.
Q: Are there sufficient operating funds budgeted building handle the new stations? A: We have a structural deficit at the T.  We're hoping there will be a global fix provided by the legislature. Conversation will be happening over the next year.
Q:  I asked a gentleman in the Kroc Café (he works there) about the Uphams Corner Fairmount Station.  Does he use it?  His answer was: "No, it is a commuter rail stop.” How do we change that perception? A:  Yes, the Fairmount line has a branding issue. There is a perception based on the term “commuter rail.” Generally, that term denotes a train that runs from the suburbs, bringing a massive number of people downtown, with limited station stops along the way. 

The Fairmont works a little differently than the rest of the system. It has different peak travel characteristics.  How can the MBTA and the Fairmount Initiative shift the paradigm effectively so that we don't have to keep having the same conversation? This conversation has been going on a long time.
Q:  How can the CAG and the Fairmount Initiative influence the MBTA board  and general managers? A:  The MBTA general managers and the board of the MBTA are dealing with global issues of transportation and finance.  You have to keep in mind that the Fairmount Line is one little corner of the bigger picture. I think it definitely helps to make the case for what you believe is right for the Fairmount Line, but the decision will be made within a global context. So, gather and present more data.  Strongly state the moral vision . The T has made a major investment in the Fairmont Line.  The question for them is this:  How can the MBTA maximize the results?

Posted: September 26, 2012     Nancy J Conrad

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