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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Subway Blues

Amtrak, the only prevailing ‘high-speed’ railway system in the country, is anything but high-speed. Compared to the CRH Intercity Rail train in China, which can cover the 75-mile distance from Beijing to Tianjin in 30 minutes, and averages 217 mph on longer trips, Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service covers the 81-mile distance from New York City to Philadelphia in 1 hour and 25 minutes: top speed 55 mph.

The US has a herculean task ahead of it in terms of revamping its entire railway system, and one portion of this task-pie belongs to the Massachusetts State Government. According to the state’s Executive Office of Transportation website, it has been apportioned around $320 million for upgrading its transit system.

Of this, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Association (MBTA) has programmed around $158.7 million to be used for various expansion projects. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick passed the Massachusetts Transportation Reform Act (TRA) to maximize the efficiency of the state’s transportation agencies. Followed by that was the landmark move towards creation of a new streamlined organization, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), which will be responsible for maintaining and improving the state’s system of roads, bridges, tunnels, transit systems, and private-use airports.

Since the creation of MassDOT, various projects related to the development of the state’s railway network have moved into planning and review modes, particularly the MBTA’s plans to introduce more rail routes within Boston as well to expand its existing commuter rail lines into other parts of the state.

The successful completion of these projects will open up a number of opportunities for the residents of Massachusetts. More people will be able to commute around the Boston region for its educational, commercial, and medical facilities, and tourism in the region could be redefined as well. In addition, the MBTA also hopes that it will relieve a lot of passenger traffic in the downtown transit stations of Boston because the existing transit lines require passengers to change lines at connector stations downtown.

As far as the development of these projects is concerned, Lydia Rivera, an official at the MBTA’s Public Affairs department, mentioned that the projects are yet in the planning stage and would not begin for a while.

Although constructing new railway lines is an important step, maintaining the existing infrastructure is equally essential, especially if the new lines are to be extensions of the existing ones. In a recent independent review of the MBTA’s condition by David D’Alessandro, it was determined that the portion of the Red Line tracks from Harvard Square station to Alewife station is problematic.

Water leaks in through the tunnels connecting these stations, and the railway tracks on this portion of the line rest of floating concrete slabs. These floating slabs rest on top of a series of rubber disks that are the best method to help mitigate noise, according to Red Line Chief, John Hynes. The tunnel leaks are causing severe problems within the tunnels and to the tracks – if exacerbated, they could lead to a derailment.

“The MBTA is currently in the process of hiring an outside consultant firm to review the problems that were identified in Mr. D’Alessandro’s report and to identify the areas that need immediate attention and to come up with solutions to repairs these areas. The MBTA has already applied to get money from the ARRA fund to help pay for this project. The MBTA inspects all of its tracks on a regular basis, and will make the necessary repairs to ensure that it is safe for customers and trains to travel over this track. The MBTA is constantly repairing these leaks as well so the system does not get any worse. The MBTA Track Department and its Engineer have determined this area is safe but will require repairs in the future” said Mr. Hynes.

In addition to these problems on the Red Line, the MBTA’s other problem seems to be its decrepit fleet of trolley and train cars. According to Mr. D’Alessandro’s review report, most of the cars in the fleet have either passed or are approaching their useful life. The use of such cars could result in various safety hazards as well as service delays, many instances of which have occurred already.

However, the MBTA still faces a large structural deficit according to Mr. D’Alessandro’s report, so what remains to be seen is whether the organization’s aspirations to thread the holes in the state’s transportation fabric will be realized, and how soon. With the allotment of funds from the ARRA to the state of Massachusetts, the funding of various projects has now become a real possibility, however its debt has not yet been allayed. The challenge the MBTA faces in this situation is how it should use its funds, and it needs to determine how to eliminate safety hazards from its transit lines.