BandA wrote:What's it take to delete the electric requirement, do double tracking, and terminate in Taunton until demand is proven. This should go to the back of the line behind improvements to existing lines and extension of Middleborough to Buzzards Bay.
Deleting the electric requirement and single-tracking constriction requires challenging the Army Corps' environmental impact findings that mandate running through the swamp on a hugely expensive single-track only concrete trestle with special drainage channeling instead of using the pre-existing DT embankment. The trestle is a wholly arbitrary mandate cherry-picked by the Corps. It's a massive cost blowout item that changes the train meets enough that even if all other mainline track north and south of the swamp were double-iron (which it pretty much is) the schedule couldn't be managed because the location of the forced-single upends all the meets. Thus, you have the crippled rush-hour schedules in the FEIR where one branch has to skip the whole of Taunton and the other branch has to skip the whole of Stoughton-Canton...but travel time ends up equal to the all-stops off-peaks because of the extended pauses at station stops for managing train meets around the single track. The electrification requirement was thus--equally arbitrarily--baked in to recoup a measly 2-5 minutes end-to-end because that was the literal only thing that made the rush meets work. The electrification requirement is a band-aid for the DT being broken by the restricted-width trestle on pegs breaking the schedule meets. A billion-dollar band-aid to a billion-dollar band-aid...which in the real world won't work because the margins for these kludged meets are still too small to prevent frequent cascading delays. This will be the system's worst week-in/week-out OTP performer by a wide margin, but unlike current gimps like Worcester artificially hobbled by poor SGR there won't be any further investments that can fix the problem here.
There is no precedent for requiring a mile-long squat concrete bridge. The de-landbanked portion of the Greenbush Line between Cohasset and Greenbush was approved under the same EPA regs as the South Coast FEIR to re-use its old DT embankment with no special accommodations other than upgrading the pre-1960 culverts to modern standards. That ROW passes through several stretches of much more environmentally sensitive tidal estuaries feeding the Scituate Bay drainage network than the Stoughton Line does in the closed drainage network of the swamp. The swamp is also far more severely constrained by the gigantic east-west I-495 embankment bottling up its water flow than any of the north-south corridors like the Stoughton ROW, MA 24, and MA 138 that run parallel to the small streams and only need to do basic minimization of their pollutant runoff to stay non-impactful (MassDOT doing a pretty nonexistent job at that with 24, FWIW). By the Corps' logic, Greenbush
should've been the one mandated to have miles and miles of concrete trestles in the Scituate Bay estuaries...not Stoughton. So their conclusion...and the billion-dollar electrificaition band-aids that give the utterly broken schedule the thinnest possible veneer of truthiness...are based on a mountain of BS. The hundreds of pages of FEIR doesn't even try to explain why these are precedent-setters; it skips right to "because we said so".
The Army Corps is a political fiefdom seeking to justify its own power base, just like any other large government bureaucracy. So they play favorites on projects based on where the Congressional pork is most likely to flow, and will coach their recs accordingly based on political winds. Plenty of good projects have been turfed by them with arbitrary hurdles because they weren't feelin' it, and plenty of projects have had thorny issues glossed over when the trough is full of pork and there's political capital in jockeying for position. That's just how gov't goes. South Coast Rail has never in its history had all that strong hook for Fed funding because it's so intrastate in nature, and the local pitch for better Boston commutes translates very weakly to a Federal pitch that this has "intercity" coattails. As you'd expect for the objectively 'tweener distances involved and the more speculative economic locus on presently weak-ish satellite cities vs. Boston's voraciously growing CBD (which, by contrast, Fed funding for GLX et al. more immediately feeds). The Corps does what a political fiefdom does: follow the money. And the Federal money ain't shining on this 'tweener of a project. Since there are many, many others in this region with more lucrative Fed coattails to chase...they turfed it.
The core problem isn't the Army Corps turfing it, because they do that as political animals are wont to do. It's the lack of a challenge from the state. The justifications for the billion-dollar trestle with its billion-dollar band-aids are nonexistent in the FEIR. They're easily defeatable by precedent. The state can throw binders full of Greenbush construction permits not 12 years old at them and say "Justify this
" and the Corps would have no answers. Throw dozens of other projects that got rubber-stamped for further counterpoints. Dissect the utterly broken schedule and highlight how little that does to take traffic off far worse swamp polluters 24 & 495. All because the Corps never attempted to justify it in the first place. We're not talking meeting some sort of tightly-argued legal precedent that can hold up in court. Simply mounting a challenge that asks for answers required in a supposedly "Final" Environmental Impact Statement is enough to get that FEIR reopened, because the Corps administratively didn't show the math it was supposed to show. And as political animals are wont to do, the Corps will bend to political pressure. They'll reopen the FEIR to new interpretation rather than double-down in stubbornness. The project is never going to qualify for 50% or greater Fed funding; that chance passed years ago, if it ever existed in the first place. So they have more to lose by raising a stink in petty hostility over something a Corps regime 2 Administrations removed decided than they do by quietly reopening the case. They already know the real answers since all the billion-dollar band-aids are predicated on precise knowledge of what they broke by precluding the DT embankment. The rest is simply how hard the state is willing to push for an accurate
real-world assessment of the environmental impact. If they push hard enough for a real up/down assessment, chances are they'll get it winnowed down to their preferred DT embankment and $1.5B in instant savings from the band-aids upon band-aids being deleted. Simply because the mountain of BS the single-track concrete trestle + train meet kludges rest upon don't stand up to sustained scrutiny, and today's Army Corps administration has bigger fish to fry than sending its ego to die on this hill.
The elephant in the room is that the state won't challenge it. Hasn't challenged it. Has never challenged it. Any of it. The grift is still too lucrative among state and local pols to keep pushing the fiction of the 'bigness' of South Coast Rail for the people lining their own pockets over this sham advocacy to see any political capital in any passing attempt to dial back the FEIR. Too many swing voters and media outlets can still be bowled over by promises that they don't have to focus on getting anything done. The game is still sustaining itself on enough of its own hot air that they're now seeing more political capital in milking absurdities like the M'boro Alternative. And nobody perpetuating the fiction will still be in power when the jig is up and reality can no longer be deferred: that there can be no practical Middleboro Alternative, that there can be no build--period--within two orders of magnitude of this price quote, that officials willingly and knowingly passed up a full decade of opportunity to challenge the FEIR for a buildable Stoughton Alternative until the window of opportunity closed, and that the perpetuators of this scam got rich off the backs of their constituents wasting hundreds of millions in paper and hype fully knowing that the cities would get zilch in the end.
Doesn't have to be this way. There is today--and always was--a path for building SCR at a full and functional diesel schedule through double-tracked Stoughton at a "tolerably slovenly" $1.5B, if they want to press for it. But they're not pressing for anything real to get built because hype is simply too good for business for some classes of political parasites. The endgame isn't giving the public a choice...or a benefit. But it is absolutely, positively by-choice that the politics have worked out this way.