MBTA Postpones Controversial Commuter Rail Schedule Change

Passengers were furious about the new changes, and it appears the MBTA listened.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is postponing changes to the Commuter Rail schedule until the spring after receiving multiple complaints from passengers and lawmakers.

The MBTA announced on Tuesday that the agency is going back to the drawing board with its proposed changes and will present a draft schedule for extensive public scrutiny sometime in December. After the public reviews the proposed changes, the MBTA will make adjustments to the schedule before rolling it out in the spring.

The original changes were scheduled to go in place on December 14. HDR Engineering was hired as an outside consultant for developing the new schedules for the MBTA, with a $330,000 contract.

“The coming changes will be the most substantive made in decades; when the process is complete, we are confident that the new schedules will serve the best interests of our ridership. But the MBTA needs to do more than provide reliable Commuter Rail service to our customers—it needs to listen to those customers and understand their needs and concerns and incorporate them into service planning. We understand that even small challenges in long-standing schedules impact the daily lives of our riders and we need to hear and incorporate their feedback before finalizing schedule changes,” said said MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack in a statement.

The proposed changes unveiled in November have been widely panned for not managing the majority of lines in an efficient manner.

Must-read urbanist blogger Ari Ofsevit broke down the new schedules and found some glaring problems:

The most blatant example of this is the timing of the schedules: there are no trains—on any line—arriving at North Station between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m., and none which depart North Station between 6:30 and 7:25 p.m.

Ofesvit’s review found the new schedule will have a negative effect on the MBTA’s rapid transit lines because it encourages more riders to flood the lines all at once. The existing schedule is quite spread out and creates a more staggered flow of commuters to North and South Stations.

Weekend service under the proposed new schedule is a mess, with lengthy gaps between trains. Ofesvit concludes that hourly train service should be the goal on the weekends on all lines.

Amtrak service on the Downeaster Line, which overlaps with the Lowell and Haverhill Lines, was apparently an afterthought for schedulers:

* MBTA 337 departs North Station 6:00, arrives Anderson 6:25
* Amtrak 687 departs North Station 6:05, arrives Anderson 6:23

Now some of you may look at that and say, “Ooh! ooh! midline overtake!” Nope, there’s an inbound scheduled to leave Anderson at 6:05 and arrive North Station at 6:30. Sorry, guess again.

This is simply a glaring oversight. The T hired a contractor, ran a bunch of simulations, and completely borked Amtrak’s schedule. That’s just sloppy.

On the plus side, the printed copies of the schedule the MBTA handed out at stations earlier this year are now collectors’ items. We’ll see you on Ebay.