Bad US Rail Practices, and What It Means for FRA Regulations

As I alluded to in the last few posts, although the FRA is the primary obstacle to a passenger rail revival, the old railroader traditions it reinforces are still strong in the commuter railroads. At some, for example the MBTA and the New York-area railroads, practices are even worse in terms of cost and performance than required by the FRA.

Witness the following issues, recurring on almost all US commuter lines:

1. Overstaffing, more than required by the FRA. The MBTA currently has one assistant conductor per two cars, and its proposal for an upgrade to newer rolling stock retains one conductor per two cars. The New York- and Chicago-area commuter trains have 3-6 conductors, punching everyone’s tickets. Caltrain maintains assistant conductors even though it does not punch tickets anymore. And New York’s plan with smartcards is not to institute proof-of-payment, as is normal throughout Europe, but rather to have conductors check every ticket using a smartcard reader, only faster: Jay Walder said as much at the MTA Unconference (it starts at 7:50 into the linked video, and goes into the next part).

2. Poor choice of rolling stock. See the same link above for the MBTA’s present acceleration profile, which is similar to that of the other commuter rail operators in the US using diesel locomotives. During acceleration from 0 to 60 mph, a train loses 70 seconds relative to going the same distance at full speed, and even under the DMU plan, it would lose 43. In contrast, a FLIRT loses about 13 seconds accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h. Despite this, there are no plans to electrify or ask for an FRA waiver.

Electrification alone could solve some problems, even without a waiver. The EMUs used by Metro-North lose 13-15 minutes from 12 intermediate stops on the Harlem Line, which after factoring in 30 seconds of dwell time works out to 35-45 seconds per station counting both acceleration and deceleration. Alternatively, if electrification is out, then an FRA waiver would open the doors to fast-accelerating as well as more fuel-efficient DMUs.

3. Poor use of existing infrastructure, especially at terminals. Even with FRA regulations, commuter trains with push-pull or multiple-unit service turn in about 5 minutes at their outer ends. They dwell for much longer at the downtown terminal, creating the illusion of capacity issues. To solve those capacity problems, railroads propose massive concrete, with no attempt to improve electronics or organization: the ARC cavern, the expensive ESA cavern, track expansion at Boston South.

4. A concrete-before-all-else strategy of investment, in direct opposition with organization before electronics before concrete. Amtrak and the commuter railroads that claim to be at capacity never investigated the possibility of better signaling, such as ERTMS. In addition, Amtrak’s Master Plan proposes extra trackage to avoid capacity problems in Massachusetts and Maryland that could be resolved with timed overtakes. Although organization is not sexy, it’s trivial for the various railroads using a station to share ticket vending machines and concourses, instead of separating into agency turfs; in addition, electronics is capital investment, and can get federal investment as well as good headlines about squeezing more capacity out of infrastructure. There’s no excuse for prioritizing concrete.

5. Poor integration with local transit in terms of fares and schedules. Commuter train stations are usually glorified parking lots; for one especially egregious example, compare Westborough’s train station location with its downtown location. Transit-oriented development is minimal. Best industry practice is to do the opposite, and instead integrate commuter rail with connecting buses at the suburban end, to say nothing of urban rail at the city end. Clipper in the Bay Area and the MTA’s proposals in the New York area have a single card that can be used to pay on both commuter rail and urban transit, but people will still have to purchase tickets separately, being punished first by the inherent inconvenience of transferring and then by being made to pay an extra fare.

6. Indifference to off-peak and reverse-peak riders. Peak ridership can fill trains, but is expensive to provide, because providing for more of it requires additional capital spending as well as additional employees working split shifts. Among the older railroads, the LIRR deserves singular scorn for running trains one-way on its two-track Main Line; although peak traffic on the three lines using the two-track segment is 23 tph, within the capabilities of two tracks under present signaling, the LIRR prefers being able to run express trains than any reverse peak trains. Outside the inner ends of a few very busy lines, such as the New Haven Line, off-peak service is at best hourly, and sometimes much worse. And at the peak, the commuter railroads eviscerate local service on their busiest lines in order to provide trains that make a few local stops and then express to the city, ensuring nobody will be able to use them to get to suburban job centers on the way.

7. Poor timetable adherence. Metro-North and Metra do somewhat better than the rest, but Amtrak only achieves 80% on-time performance even when it owns the tracks, and that’s after counting Northeast Corridor trains that are 20 minutes late as being on time. In contrast, SBB achieves 92% on-time performance by a 3-minute standard.

The importance of all this is that reform has to come from above, directed from Congress or the White House, or else from below by reform-minded railroads asking for many waivers and creating a template for smaller railroads to follow. Bruce McFarling has written various comments saying the FRA’s problem is one of regulatory capture by the freight railroads, and therefore the solution is to spend money on inferior passenger rail until there’s enough of a lobby for passenger rail-friendlier rules. This is unlikely; passenger rail advocates rarely care, with some positive but small exceptions such as NJ-ARP, and the passenger rail operators depicted in this post are wedded to the old way of doing things.

FRA reform by itself could help some of this, by creating a template for modern operations, consisting of a clockface schedules, short turnaround times, modern rolling stock, and regionally integrated fares and schedules. However, absent it, some forward-thinking railroad has to be the first to propose modernization. The MTA is ideally suited for it because of its high commuter rail ridership, but has no interest. As a result, good transit advocated need to keep harping on commuter operators as well as Amtrak to improve and reform, or propose reforms themselves. Hoping the status quo reforms itself will not cut it.


  1. EngineerScotty

    Under current FRA regs, the only way to come close to being cost-effective is either via electrification, or with a loco-hauled train and sufficient coaches to make it cost effective. DMUs aren’t cost-effective, making smaller capacity routes (such as our good friend WES out in the Portland area) difficult to implement efficiently. And WES avoids many of the sins noted above; it has a crew complement of 2 (the regulatory minimum), none of its stations have large parking lots, it runs equivalent service in both directions, it uses existing tracks (with some additional capacity and upgrades where needed, and a short spur to Beaverton TC) and minimal station facilities, and it integrates well with the local transit agencies it interfaces with–TriMet and SMART.

    Indeed, an argument can be made that WES is underpriced and that it integrates TOO well with TriMet (after all, it’s a TriMet-badged service, even though the trains are operated by employees of the local shortline whose tracks it is). An all-zone TriMet ticket or pass ($2.35) is a valid fare on WES (and vice versa), and the local SMART routes in Wilsonville are free services. The equivalent bus ride from Beaverton to Wilsonville is actually more expensive–the TriMet 76 from Beaverton to Tualatin ($2.05), and the SMART 2X from Tualatin to Wilsonville ($1.25), each of which requires a separate fare.

        • Alon Levy

          Alright, thanks for the link. Anyway, looking briefly at WES, it doesn’t look very modern to me. It has no off-peak or weekend service; it doesn’t serve downtown Portland, but instead connects to MAX; its average speed, 53 km/h, is low relative to the stop spacing; its turnaround times are long, and if the trip were just 2-3 minutes faster, it would be possible to provide half-hourly clockface service with just two trains. It’s nice that it has a clockface schedule, but for some reason the a.m. and p.m. schedules don’t align.

          The fare on WES is low by American commuter standards, but that’s because American commuter rail fares are really high. The Berlin S-Bahn costs 2 Euros from the outer end to the center of the city, if you get a multi-ride ticket. An annual pass there is 848 Euros, vs. $968 on WES. The S-Bahn is a little more expensive, but not by a lot, and it also provides higher-quality service.

      • EngineerScotty

        Part of the reason WES has no off-peak or weekend service is that it is ungodly expensive to operate. The other part of it is that the shortline whose tracks it is is hesitant to permit additional runs due to interference with their freight operations. The real shame with WES is that it’s a square peg pounded into a round hole–this is a corridor which needs rapid transit service, not commuter rail; but somebody in Washington County government got the bright idea that by putting a commuter line on an existing freight alignment, they could have quality rapid transit on the cheap, and stiff-armed TriMet into going along. (Washington County provides much of the industrial base in the Portland metro area and therefore much of TriMet’s payroll tax revenues). The result has not been good.

        Of course, were our regulatory regime to permit tram-train style services, and for TriMet to run light rail trains on the freight line in Washington county (assuming electrification) and then on the existing Blue Line alignment into downtown, we’d have a winner. But obviously that isn’t happening.

        More gripes from me on WES, and discussion of the corridor and possible solutions going forward, can be found here.

        • Alon Levy

          Ouch. $1.9 billion for 24 kilometers?

          Anyway, most of this is clearly a problem with the regulatory regime, but the political turf battles (maximum lines on a map per dollar rather than maximum ridership) and the little mismanaged bits (if you can’t run off-peak service, don’t run at all) don’t help.

          One final question: shortlines are routinely subsidized. Why doesn’t Oregon try to force the Portland and Western to be more accommodating in exchange for bailout money?

      • David Alexander

        The S-Bahn is a little more expensive, but not by a lot, and it also provides higher-quality service.

        Wouldn’t a somewhat fairer comparison also include the various RB/RE type services which end up functioning as better run versions of the longer-distance exurban commuter rail services?

      • EngineerScotty

        Ouch. $1.9 billion for 24 kilometers?

        Exactly. There are two other corridors (Portland-Sherwood, and Powell Boulevard) “in the pipe” ahead of Beaverton-Wilsonville for rapid transit upgrades (not counting the Milwaukie MAX extension which breaks ground next week), so no significant upgrades are coming in this corridor for a while. Frequent bus service would be a start–the 76/78 multiplex provide 15-minute service between Beaverton and Tigard, but south of there, nada.

        Anyway, most of this is clearly a problem with the regulatory regime, but the political turf battles (maximum lines on a map per dollar rather than maximum ridership) and the little mismanaged bits (if you can’t run off-peak service, don’t run at all) don’t help.

        Agreed. There actually could be a good market for commuter rail in Oregon (the tracks WES runs on extend all the way to Salem and are lightly used, albeit the ROW would need significant maintenance work to support commuter rail), but nobody seems interested in doing it. TriMet doesn’t want to get into the business any more than it is already; and nobody else has it as a priority. Even HSR in the state is dithering comparing to our neighbors to the north–although Portland-Eugene isn’t anywhere near as important as Portland-Seattle.

        One final question: shortlines are routinely subsidized. Why doesn’t Oregon try to force the Portland and Western to be more accommodating in exchange for bailout money?

        Which brings up another Bad US Rail Practice which you omitted from your list: Federal oversight of the railroads, coupled with the preemption doctrine, essentially gives local governments little leverage in dealing with recalcitrant railroads–a problem in Portland given that we’re in UPRR territory. Railroads are exempt from local application of eminent domain, regardless of whether they are Class I shippers or local shortlines. Thus there’s very little that the state or the county can forceP&W to do (and P&W is, to be fair, far more cooperative than many other railroads I can think of). Certainly it would be unwise to permit rent-seeking local governments to interfere with national commerce by condemning short sections of mainline track and holding it for ransom, but the present situation is problematic as well. There are plenty of lightly-used freight lines throughout the region which would be great for tram-train service, and back in the streetcar area Portland had plenty of electric interurbans that essentially ran as tram-trains, but such is unthinkable today.

  2. Steve

    The most modern line, operations-wise, in the Philadelphia area is NJ Transit’s River Line “light” rail (anywhere else the Stadlers it uses would just be normal trains). It uses a proof-of-payment scheme with extremely quick turnaround times (IIRC only about three or four minutes), has stations that are actually in the middle of town and not a park-and-ride a mile from anywhere–I’m looking at you Atco, Warminster–and, to be fair, does, in all likelihood, not operate frequently enough at its southern end. It needed a bunch of FRA waivers and didn’t get a single dollar of Federal funding to get built, being somebody’s pet project, and its ridership is double expectations. If the fare were not ludicrously underpriced–a necessity to compete with cars, with their slew of hidden subsidies–the line, a true interurban, would most likely break even.

    Too bad non-wonks have managed to close their eyes and put horse blinders on. Can you imagine if every NJ Transit line were run like the River Line? Can you imagine if the River Line’s operational schema were extended to include every suburb in South Jersey and down the Shore? The opportunity’s there–too bad our railroads have suffered under perhaps the worst management anywhere in the developed world for well-nigh a century now.

    • David Alexander

      Too bad non-wonks have managed to close their eyes and put horse blinders on.

      As you noted, it was built with state dollars, and thus, I suspect that nobody is willing to rock to boat in order to continue to get FTA. The other problem is that the farebox recovery is supposedly dismal, so everybody either says it’s proof that POP doesn’t work, and that traditional fare collection is “superior”. it’s funny to meet railfans who say “nobody paid the fare” on their trip, and that the line would have worked out better with (and with “lower capital costs supposedly) the use of traditional loco-hauled equipment with three goons at high wages.

      Can you imagine if every NJ Transit line were run like the River Line?

      That’s admittedly the problem. Some would argue that high frequencies, especially off-peak are overkill, and from what I’ve seen from one transit manager, going to “real” rapid transit for that type of operating scenario seems to be solution to those issues. The entire concept of taking rapid transit or even European techniques and applying them to mainline railways seems to be foreign at best and dismissed as stupid and expensive at worst.

  3. David Alexander

    Overstaffing, more than required by the FRA.

    It’s arguably a legacy of work rules that have been inherited from their previous privately run services. These agencies could always change them, but politicians are somewhat leery of dealing with these employees, and management was some degree of labour peace. I suspect the fears of having a SEPTA strike that destroys ridership lingers heavily in the minds of management. And of course, there’s always the fear that somebody may get away without paying.

    Fun Question: Is RER OPTO?

    Poor use of existing infrastructure, especially at terminals.

    That’s what bugs me about ARC. It never made sense to insist on massive caves underground, but that would require bothering the FRA and changing work rules, something tha agencies are loathe to do.

    Commuter train stations are usually glorified parking lots

    It’s partially because of zoning that prevents the development of apartments and condos, partially out fear that “bad people” will move in, and partially out of a provincial mindset to preserve suburban character. Plus, agencies also wish to cater to those who don’t live near the station, so from the agency’s perspective, why build two stations or one downtown when the projected ridership is relatively low and only works with large P&Rs.

    connecting buses at the suburban end

    Admittedly, you get into the messy game of “who runs or pays for these buses and how often do they run”, but you’ve pointed out that shouldn’t be an excuse anymore. It’s interesting to note in my case, I’m near a Zone 7 LIRR station with a very large parking lot and a one bus per hour LI Bus route that’s useless, so I usually end up going to Mineola and paying for parking. I’d admittedly wondering if the bus headways were improved, would people ride the bus, or would they simply prefer to drive regardless.

    the LIRR prefers being able to run express trains than any reverse peak trains

    You should have seen the scorn that some railfans had when somebody proposed that the LIRR shift it’s operating practices for that reason, and I’d imagine that the riders would be upset. The real problem is that there isn’t much near the stations, and that the LIRR’s tariff structure makes it prohibitive for what constitutes the average off-peak rider. Mind you, it makes sense to use the LIRR to get to a point where one can take a bus the rest of the way.

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t know for sure, but I believe the RER has a conductor per train and so do the TER services. France is not a country known for its labor efficiency (though Paris still achieves somewhat lower operating costs than New York).

      It’s ironic that you mention NIMBYism, because both Greenwich and Stamford have train stations located not in parking lots, and have a fair amount of reverse-peak ridership. The people reverse commuting on Metro-North are rich – richer than people who drive to work in those towns. I’m pretty sure Great Neck and Mineola could be the same, with better service and some attempt at locating offices near the station. (Stamford has 4,000 people getting off at the a.m. peak, Mineola 1,000, and Great Neck 800.)

      By the way, in response to your other comment, the reason I brought up the S-Bahn and not Regionalbahn is that the length of the WES is comparable to that of the longer Berlin S-Bahn lines, e.g. the northern ends of the S1 and S2.

      • EngineerScotty

        Of course, for WES to act like an S-Bahn, Portland would need grade-separated rapid transit in the core for it to utillize. MAX (in)famously runs on a rather slow surface alignment downtown; which is why I compared it to a tram-train instead.

      • David Alexander

        I actually work part-time for a medium sized firm that’s within walking distance of the Mineola station. I don’t know exactly where the village line lies, but you’d still have to deal with zoning boards of the towns of Hempstead and North Hempstead, and potentially the villages of Garden City and Mineola and ultimately, Nassau County which controls a sizable bit of land near the station in the form of the County Executive office. Admittedly, one is left wondering if there’s much a market for county workers to ride mass transit to a LIRR station and then walk or ride a shuttle bus to their office. Arguably, the same thing could be said for anybody else that works in the corridor even if we ramped up the service levels and cut operating costs. The ideal market would be reverse commuters, but the reverse commuters tend to have wages that make commuting on the LIRR somewhat cost-prohibitive, especially if going by the habits of my co-workers.

        Regardless, from a planning standpoint, it would be nice we did try and plant higher density offices and residences around our LIRR stations, but the “voters” won’t stand for it.

      • David Alexander

        MAX (in)famously runs on a rather slow surface alignment downtown

        Isn’t that true of nearly every American light rail system? If we could get somewhat lower construction costs and a little bit more in terms of funding, and maybe we might actually get the tunnels we deserve like the Stadtbahns in Germany…

        • Alon Levy

          It’s perfectly normal for light rail to run in a transit mall. Calgary (transit mode share: 15.6%) cites its choice of a transit mall over an elevated or tunneled alignment as a major cost saver, and let’s not forget Karlsruhe’s mode share. Grade separation in this case is only really necessary when you need more capacity than light rail can provide, or when it’s desirable to have a driverless system. In Germany, the main impetus for tunnels after WW2 was not capacity but clearing more road space for cars, in similar vein to Rob Ford’s preference of subways to surface rail.

          Comment update: you know this more than me, but why would Mineola have this sort of NIMBYism? Edge city offices can have high property values, providing more property tax revenues; in both New England and Long Island, property taxes are the source of local revenue, so Mineola has the same incentive structure as Stamford and Greenwich to become a true edge city (unlike in California, where due to Prop 13 the incentives for edge cities are much stronger). Hicksville put a large mall within walking distance of the station – it’s just not walkable – so clearly it’s politically possible at least in principle.

          Or is it just that Long Islanders really want their peak express trains more than anything?

      • David Alexander

        Or is it just that Long Islanders really want their peak express trains more than anything?

        It’s a mix of issues. Of course, the exurban riders of the LIRR will demand their whatever minutes of savings based on their longer commuters, and thus feel entitled to it since they were there first, hence the clamour for the third track. In turn, even if the increased development brings in more tax dollars, the population seems leery of any increase in density due to fears of turning into “Queens” (or in Suffolk’s case Nassau). The residents seem to like the idea of their towns staying as they are, and they’re either willing to accept the higher taxes to pay for it, or they’re simply unaware of the problems that this causes, or they want limited supply to protect their home’s value*. The other fear that I’ve heard is that the infrastructure is already at maximum capacity, that apartment dwellers don’t pay property taxes, so they’re “leeches”, various fears of poorer and minority residents moving in ruining school districts and communities, and that traffic will increase since nobody rides transit except the poor and disabled.
        FWIW, it seems that the only developments that are acceptable are 55+ communities.

        Hicksville put a large mall

        It’s walkable, but it feels like an annoying walk. An immigrant probably wouldn’t mind, but I’d imagine a native born American would complain. Mind you, the presumption is that nobody would ever walk that distance as that’s what cars are for.

        *Long Islanders complain that their kids are moving away to the South. Mind you, it’s easier for the working class to find homes, and even the college educated prefer the larger, cheaper homes that one can get down South for nearly half of the average home price here. Of course, nobody wants to allow for condos or apartments as a stepping stone, so we end up with illegal apartments in basements, garages, and second floors…

      • David Alexander

        Quick Point: The village of Westbury actually built a large apartment building next to their station. The village itself has a few apartments within its boundaries. Mind you, the village has a sizable non-white population that may not have the same concerns about density that other areas may have, and the village may have control over zoning within it’s jurisdiction.

        BTW, there are some small office buildings near Mineola and a large hospital. It’s better than say Hicksville, but it’s abysmal compared to White Plains or Stamford. Fix the LIRR tarriffs, have more express trains in both directions stop there, upzone the area to attract corporate HQs, and maybe you’ll see more ridership from Queens and Suffolk County.

        • Alon Levy

          The reason I keep bringing up commercial upzoning is that it’s acceptable to equally xenophobic suburbs in Connecticut (consider Norwalk’s choice of who to prosecute for larceny), so it may well work in Mineola without arousing the usual NIMBYism about poor people moving in.

          What you propose is sound, but it’s nightmarishly difficult to have express trains without running trains one-way. The Chuo Line has 23 tph just before the peak hour and a mix of express and local trains with four-track passing segments at the express stations, but it has a lower top speed (95 km/h vs. 80 mph), higher-acceleration trains, astounding schedule discipline, and an uneven mix with a large majority of trains running local. The LIRR could in the future procure faster-accelerating trains and better signaling and have more standing space and less seating space, but it’s politically difficult. For now, it’s really either express service or two-way service but not both.

      • David Alexander

        The LIRR could in the future procure faster-accelerating trains

        Unproven railfan rumour for years has been that the Metropolitan stock has been overtaxing the LIRR’s substations, hence why the fleet has such awful acceleration rates. Although, the next capital plan has hinted at upgrades to the electrical substations on the Main Line, and from what a fellow railfan learned at a MNRR open house, the substations on the Upper Harlem only allow for 6 to 8 car sets, so we’re slowly learning about the limits of third rail electrification. As far as I’m concerned, any new electrifications should be done with catenary and not third rail.

        astounding schedule discipline

        It’s funny that you say that given that it’s routine to see trains leave the terminal late, let magically appear on time. 🙂

        There’s decent length siding that was built in conjunction with the Herricks Rd overpass roughly a decade and half ago, and if the LIRR wasn’t bored, they theoretically could have a decent third track to play with around Mineola since provisions were left in new overpasses. While it may not magically solve the problem, it can certainly help in providing a “dump” for trains going against the flow. Mind you, that would require actually operating on time, something that the crews and management seem to be incapable of doing.

        • Alon Levy

          Upper Harlem is not a terribly important line. The Harlem Line’s ridership drops like a rock north of North White Plains, and is practically zero north of Southeast (cf. the Hudson Line, where there’s sizable ridership north of Croton-Harmon) – that’s why my regional rail map doesn’t even bother to extend electrification there.

          The problems on the LIRR are a bigger issue; the issue sounds like one of low power, rather than mode of delivery. Ideally, the entire region would be electrified at 25 kV (I don’t know if there’s enough clearance in the tunnels to Grand Central and Atlantic, but there’s clearly enough through Penn Station because the voltage there is 11-12 kV); the issue with third rail is that it limits voltage to about 750 V, but low-voltage catenary exists and is common on catenary-powered rapid transit systems, e.g. Shanghai and Tokyo.

          There’s plenty of space for four-tracking certain stations on the Main Line. The problem is that when you run 20+ tph, even if the express stations are four-tracked and a few local stations are three-tracked it’s difficult to run a mixture of local and express trains. JR East does it with 23 tph on the Chuo Rapid Line (by the way, it’s very easy to check this: Hyperdia has all the schedules, and Google Earth has very high-resolution images until just east of Tachikawa), but only 6 of those are express.

    • Nathanael

      If I remember correctly, the LIRR unions were proud of being the only railroad in the country to still have totally obsolete steam-era work rules on the books. Did they ever get rid of firemen?

      …yuck. The LIRR has some serious cultural problems.

  4. David Alexander

    As somebody that rode three Stadtbahn networks, I’d argue that yes it does have the benefit of leaving road-space alone, but also delivers highly reliable service in the core. Given the choice between a surface alignment with a stop every other block and slow at grade movements, or a tunnel with proper station spacing, higher maximum speeds, and no need to freak out about pedestrian incidents, I’d take the tunnel. Given the choice between light rail without a tunnel and no light rail, I’d obviously take the light rail. I’d still argue that we should ask for more funding so we can get the higher quality service needed though that the tunnel can provide.

  5. Charlie

    Comment update: you know this more than me, but why would Mineola have this sort of NIMBYism? Edge city offices can have high property values, providing more property tax revenues; in both New England and Long Island, property taxes are the source of local revenue, so Mineola has the same incentive structure as Stamford and Greenwich to become a true edge city (unlike in California, where due to Prop 13 the incentives for edge cities are much stronger). Hicksville put a large mall within walking distance of the station – it’s just not walkable – so clearly it’s politically possible at least in principle.

    Alon — just my two cents on this general issue having grown up in SW Connecticut. The vast majority of the office space near the Greenwich train station was built during the 1970s, shortly after urban renewal had gotten underway in Stamford. There was a large public backlash against this development that was due, I’d argue, not so much to the type of development but to its form — bland Modernist corporate boxes over parking garages, surrounded by grassy buffers. Cries went up about the “Stamfordization” of Greenwich (to be clear, not an anti-urban or anti-density position, but an anti-Modernist planning one, even if it was not articulated as such). To some extent there were also concerns about the amount of new car traffic these buildings would attract, it being assumed that most people would drive, rather than riding Metro North. If the town government made a tax revenue argument it was ineffective. As a result there has been virtually no new office development near the station since the 1980s. In retrospect it was remarkable that any had been built at all. In that sense I’m not sure that Greenwich’s story is all that different from those of other suburban rail stops in CT and Long Island.

    Currently, the land just north of the station (across the street) is occupied in part by two luxury car dealerships. A gas station sits to the west, a trucking company to the east, and a parking garage (topped by office buildings) and large surface parking lots are to the south. It is better than some other nearby stops only by comparison.

  6. Joseph E

    Re: Max in Portland,

    It would be nice to have a subway (the streets are too narrow for a fast elevated alignment) thru downtown Portland, because the Metro area is a little too big for the current average speeds. The street-running segment has very closely spaced stations and a low max speed, as well as a few tight turns and a speed-limited bridge, which means the Blue/Red line Max trains takes 24 minute to go the 4.7 km (2.9 miles) and 13 stations from Goose Hollow to east Lloyd Center. In comparison, the 6 bus takes 17 minutes for almost the same trip (its a local, all stops bus, nothing fancy), and bicycling takes 21 minutes (per Google; usually accurate).

    For someone like my wife, who may need to work at several different community colleges and universities spread around the metro area, that 7 mph average speed section really hurts the effectiveness of transit for trips from one side of the city to the other. It’s fine if you want to get downtown, but if you want to go THRU downtown, you lose 15 minutes every time, compared to a subway.

    Considering that Los Angeles is building a 2 mile long downtown light rail subway, with 3 and 1/2 new subway stations for 1.5 billion, and Portland is spending 1.5 billion for the Max extension to the south, I have to wonder if building a downtown subway connection might be a higher priority for TriMet than it currently is. It would also make it possible to use 4 car light rail trains; currently the short block length in downtown limits trains to 2 cars.

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