• Needham Line Questions

  • Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.
Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.

Moderators: CRail, sery2831

  by F-line to Dudley via Park
There are no plans to continue it from where it currently dead-ends at the Charles River Bridge and dumps onto the small riverfront dirt/gravel path. Charles bridge isn't in suitable shape for continuing a poke over to Fremont St. and is blocked off by fencing. Obviously MassHighway deleted the Route 128 overpass from the add-a-lane project after abandonment to save cash, but they explicitly left the new retaining walls compatible with coming back and surgically re-adding rail bridge + side/center median abutments if ever needed. City of Needham has no plans whatsoever to do a trail on the TV Place side, because end of active tail track (slack tail storage for work equipment) is the Webster St. grade crossing and a path just pinging 1500 ft. from single-family residential Webster to the commercial strip on Gould is useless.

The more consequential path leg for Newton & NEBC redev is the one that's going to be built next on the 1.4 mi. former freight spur that forks off behind the radio tower on Tower Rd. (halfway between the proposed Needham St. and Upper Falls stops). That one crosses Needham St., crosses the Charles on its own bridge, then winds through the middle of the whole Highland-Kendrick block of NEBC parallel to 2nd/4th Ave.'s. That's the one that serves the bulk of NEBC access and gets the most utilization from all that office space, as well as serving as interconnection to both riverbanks' dirt paths and connecting to start of vast Cutler Park Reservation when it reaches the Kendrick end.

So the only path encroachment that Newton needs is the 1500 ft. between the Eliot trail head to start of the Tower spur. Official City statement is that: 1) Green Line trumps trail if they can't have both, because they'll still have the whole of the Tower spur trail; 2) 1500+ ft. of rail-with-trail between Eliot-Tower is much-preferred (see renders from presentation) if they can swing it; 3) retaining the secondary Upper Falls trail head on rail-with-trail is much-preferred if they can swing it, but surplus-to-requirement if they can't because the spur path is the one that counts.

For the encroachers...the substation building blocking the junction is an MBTA 600V DC feeder that's hooked directly up to the NStar sub next door. The lumber yard behind the junction that was formerly the last freight customer parks all over what used to be their siding (a.k.a. main track), and the building next door put a row of parking spaces there. All that's revokable. Rest to the Charles is accounted for path surveying, and from behind Upper Falls depot to Tower spur originally fanned out into 3+ tracks because of the thicket of siding switches at the Tower spur and the 2 separate sidings that went to the former mill on Oak St. (very last BCLR customer in 2001). Cruddy little buildings on Fremont St. abutting 128 are earmarked for future razing when NEBC redev fills out back there (see presentation). On the TV Place side, looks like the Wingate planted a few shrubs in its back garden over the property line...but other than that the complete 85 ft. ROW property width on Google is completely unencroached from Webster end-of-active track to 128. Gould-Webster block is completely built-up with fenced-in single-family residences, so there's no mechanism for any additional encroachment.
  by NeedhamLine
Just speculation, but I could see the Green Line extension occurring prior to any conversion of the commuter rail line to an Orange Line extension to West Roxbury. Green line stations require a much smaller footprint, and building that extension would involve relatively minimal disruption to the existing D Branch and Needham Line operations (vs. a couple years of busing to convert the Needham Line to rapid transit).

One potential challenge would be finding space for a storage yard or even just tail tracks, especially if the extension runs all the way to Needham Heights (which would provide optimal connectivity). Perhaps only a small tail track would be needed, and the cars using the extension could be kept at the new GLX maintenance facility?

If the Needham Line ever is converted to an OL extension as far as West Roxbury, I would hope that the Green Line extension would be pushed out to Hersey (and perhaps West Roxbury in the future). Even though that would create a route that turns back on itself somewhat, it would maximize riders (Hersey has two large parking lots, always filled) and result in a significant portion of Needhamites living within walking distance of the Green Line. Needham's downtown is walkable and has an increasing variety of restaurants; having direct, frequent transit from Medford, Somerville, Boston, Brookline and Newton would really maximize the town's potential. But I suspect that is in the much more distant future than a simple extension to Heights.
  by BandA
I would assume any storage would involve deadheading to Riverside. I don't know how tail tracks would interact with platform access & cross-platform transfers unless the passengers cross the tracks or expensive bridges & elevators. So more storage pressure at Riverside, and if you added BOS-Riverside "Indigo" service ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
Depends how far you're going. If NEBC is a Phase I poke you probably bring the mainline tracks 300 ft. further past the platforms resting up against the retaining wall of 128 to use as tail tracks, throw in crossovers, and make do the best you can trying to cram 2-4 sets behind the platforms. Pair it with Reservoir deadheads for shift changes. That should be adequate enough to make a go of it for the frequencies needed on the half-built branch's ridership.

When going to Needham Junction you have luxurious space for a full yard and a full turning loop by building around the wye and displacing Hartney Greymont Co. (tree-cutting company) whose construction yard occupies the middle of the triangle. There's over 200,000 sq. ft. of land inside the wye. That's twice as big as the layover yard portion of Riverside in front of the shop buildings.
  by Arborwayfan
How much of the current Needham Line is on one side of the ROW (as opposed to in the middle? I think the Roslindale bridge over Robert St. is same place it was when there were two tracks, just with the side of the bridge away from W. Rox. removed. (The steel girders were there into the 80s. On the other hand, I think the track might be more in the middle from the switch alongside the Arboretum to Roslindale station. The whole stretch was dug up and regraded pretty seriously when the rebuilt the line in the 80s, and the track sits on a single-track width roadbed between ditches; I think I remember that before that there was a wide grade with track on one side and a roadish space on the other, but I'm not sure (I used to walk through there while the line was shut down, to Dunkin Donuts and Ashmont Discount). I don't know about anything else. Is the W. Rox. tunnel wide enough for two tracks? Which stations are in the logical place for a second track (like the Roslidale plarform, which exactly lines up with the former second bridge span)? Etc.

Can OL and CR trains use same platforms (height and distance from center of track? Can OL and CR trains use the same track (shape of the railhead, superelevation; I know the gauge is the same)?

What I am wondering is whether the line could be double-tracked without major disruption, by laying the second track next to the existing one. Lay the cable for third rail at the same time. Build the new platforms on that side first. Then run the commuter trains on the new track and deal with the other side. Then do whatever shutdown needed to install the third rails, and have the whole line converted without too much trouble.

Of course, go for very basic stations. They need high platforms and faregates and no one walking across the tracks, but other than that all they really need is some kind of waiting structure no fancier than the current CR roofs or the sheds at Coolidge Corner. Roslindale has its underpass and bridge. Highland has a bridge at either end. Bellvue has an underpass. Even if some things needed to be altered or replaced the basic shape of the ground is right for rapid transit stations at all those places. .
  by NeedhamLine
As far as I can see from the train, the Needham line varies between being on the former EB and WB alignment. The line, at least in Needham, has been single-tracked for a very long time (I believe about a century). Many of the stations are built either on relatively narrow embankments or cuts, and are very close to the dense neighborhoods that surround the line - which could increase the cost (and neighborhood opposition) to an Orange Line conversion. It wouldn't be impossible, and the stop spacing and density of the line would make sure for an OL extension, but the cost could be enormous.

In terms of doing an incremental upgrade, I believe that rail profiles are different between commuter rail and heavy rail transit, and the platform heights and setback are definitely different - so a rebuild of the Needham Line would require a complete shutdown for the duration of construction (much like the line was shutdown during most of the 80s while it, and the SW Corridor, was rebuilt).

Fun trivia - according to the caption in this picture, taken near where the Hersey stop is located now, the Needham line may have been the last place DL109s were in revenue service anywhere: http://www.railpictures.net/photo/646236/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
Forest Hills-West Roxbury was historically all-double because of the branch that forked at W. Rox to Dedham Ctr. & Islington. NYNH&H used to run "Dedham circuit" commuter service that ran to W. Rox, over this cutoff, then banging west back to Readville and the NEC via the Dedham Branch. Between that, West Medway, and the B&A "Needham circuit" service that pinged W.Rox-Needham Jct.-Newton Highlands and back inbound on the pre- D Line Highland Branch there was a lot of commuter traffic through the outer neighborhoods. Estimating from Historic Aerials topos, looks like the second iron was lifted sometime soon post-'50...which was about the same time the cutoff to Dedham got taken out of service. Everything...including the tightest squeezes in the cut around Highland, was indeed full DT. Nothing dimensionally should pose a problem for Orange conversion despite the superficially tight looks.

W. Rox-Needham Jct. consistently shows as single-track w/passers on topos dating back way before the Depression. I know there was a freight siding thicket around VFW Pkwy. that explains why that overpass is double-berthed, but I don't know why the ROW through the swamp has DT grading and double-wide bridge abutments if there's no evidence (not even on the '38 aerial) they were ever actual doubles. Maybe they were just built that way to double-up later??? It's hard to tell because most of them out in Cutler were completely re-decked before the line reopened in '87 and have little to no vintage construction. The current 128 single-track overpass was built in '55 (Greendale Ave. was the old 2-lane 128 parkway alignment from '36-55).

Needham Jct.-Needham Heights is confirmed historically to be mostly single. Google's property lines reflect this: about 55 ft. width until the start of the layover yard. But keep in mind that the D on the shores of Crystal Lake pinches to the same width, so it's no constraint for light rail. You'll get some NIMBY kvetching from Maple & Garden St. residents, but zero property taking is required. Beyond Heights the ROW did indeed double fully out for a couple thick clusters of sidings by TV Place's previous incarnation and then again at Upper Falls by the mills. The second (now removed) 128 overpass was also '55 construction from the all-new alignment that replaced the parkway on present-day Greendale. Google's property lines show the DT fan-out happening by the mid-block between Hunnewell St. overpass and Webster St. grade crossing, when it balloons from 55 ft. to 85 ft. width. See also: Upper Falls Depot, 1990's-something (note the big trees sprouting right through the second iron):
  by Arborwayfan

It makes sense that the line beyond W. Rox. is different, because it was built later. The original line was FH to Dedham. The connection to Needham was built in 1906 as a new route to Boston for NY&NE trains; hey probably did provision those bridges for future growth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Needham_L ... ham_Cutoff" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;.
  by andrewjw
F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:OL & GL meeting at Junction has never been a studied proposal at all. For one, because the alignments studied from 1945 to the 1970's had Orange diverting at W. Rox down the old branch to Dedham Mall/Dedham Ctr. instead of continuing onward towards Needham. It was only after Dedham emphatically rejected the last of that talk that it started appearing on long-term transpo plan reports affixed to 128, and even then it was a pick 'em of Needham-via-W. Rox vs. Westwood-via-Readville options (the latter now moot because NEC track berths 3 & 4 are officially spoken for in Amtrak plans). With the fallout from the I-95/SW Expressway cancellation and forced re-design of the SW Corridor then significantly muddying up the picture on whither past-Forest Hills. The Needham option picked Greendale Ave. instead of Hersey for the station because of more acreage for a terminal un-constrained by the golf course, easier highway access from multiple exits (135, Great Plain, and now Kendrick) on Greendale, and still nearly as good walkup access from the same residential neighborhood around Hersey.
NEC berths are spoken for in what interval? Westwood to Readville, or Readville to FH? Orange splitting to a W Rox branch and a Readville branch could potentially make sense.
  by MBTA3247
Westwood all the way to Forest Hills.
  by andrewjw
MBTA3247 wrote:Westwood all the way to Forest Hills.
What's the plan for Hyde Park station?
  by charlesriverbranch
If the problem is NEC congestion affecting Needham Line service, wouldn't it make more sense to ping-pong back and forth between Needham Heights and Forest Hills, passengers transferring to/from the Orange Line, rather than spending the money to convert the branch to rapid transit?
  by Backshophoss
It would be better to get USPS out of South Station and get the "expansion" done
Be a lot cheaper $$$$$ wise than any conversion of the branch to light rail/subway route.
  by MBTA3247
It's not the congestion at South Station that will ultimately drive conversion of the Needham Line to rapid transit, it's the congestion between there and Forest Hills. Trying to add a 4th track to that stretch of the NEC will make converting the Needham Line look cheap.

The expansion of South Station will have to be done regardless to allow increased frequencies on all the southside commuter lines + Amtrak.
  by Arborwayfan
Yeah, I wonder if they ever thought of building the corridor for 4 tracks and just leaving one empty space until they needed a fourth track. With the whole place torn up it would not have cost all that much, I imagine: another 15 feet worth of each bridge and tunnel roof, basically, right? And a bit less space for busway and parking at FH.

Transfer to OL at FH would be a pretty serious downgrade in service -- much slower. For that matter, conversion to OL would make an given trip a lot longer, but the greater frequency would partly compensate.