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State starts looking into leasing electric locomotives for Providence Line

CommonWealth Magazine reports Massachusetts and Rhode Island are looking to rent some locos from Amtrak as a way of providing faster, cleaner service between Boston and Providence. No timetable or any other specifics released.



Hell yes. Do it. This should have been done years ago.



No other first-world country would run a line this busy with diesels. And the WIRES ARE ALREADY THERE.

Diesels are slow, unreliable, noisy, expensive to operate and maintain, and generally stink up the place. Especially Back Bay Station.


Diesel wins from a cost (no infrastructure needed just one big diesel tank) standpoint. The T is not the only agency on the electrified corridor running Diesel.


Indeed, down in Maryland MARC has even replaced some of their electrics with new diesels, largely due to cost.

The big cost for electrics is the wires. Which already exist.

Running diesels under the wire is like wiring your house for electricity, and then lighting the place with whale oil lanterns.

The big cost for electrics is the wires. Which already exist.

Except where they don't - like on the Attleboro, Providence, TF Green, and Wickford Junction station tracks. Plus the layovers.

Ok. So instead of zero construction cost, there would be minimal cost, compared to the completed project of putting wires on the through tracks.

Or in the interim they could run express through Attleboro, serve the electrified tracks in Providence, and skip TF Green and Wickford since ridership is minimal.

There are wires at the Providence train station by train platforms. I mean, Amtrak stops there.

And remember, the goal is also to make this an express, which means stops like Attleboro (and basically everything else between Ruggles and Providence) wouldn't need wiring at the platforms. I also don't see where Raimondo is thinking service south of Providence, but Amtrak has agreed to TF Green service, so wiring would come with that.

Very very low TF Green MBTA numbers. Even lower than Greenbush. The feds keep handing out pennies for studies until the Amtrak idea dies. The Conservation Law Foundation has done enough damage.

The problem is akin to the problem at hand. The service is not frequent enough that fliers would take the train. Also, the train is coming from Logan territory and doesn't run on the week-end. Stopping the Regionals at TF Green could create a market going down to New London for the stop and service, along with Providence naturally. But that is a completely different story, just like how the CLF has nothing to do with this.

There are wires at the Providence train station by train platforms. I mean, Amtrak stops there.

As I explained in another comment on this same post, Amtrak and the MBTA have separate platforms at Providence. The tracks at the Amtrak platform are wired, the tracks at the T platform are not.

As for "this is an express, it wouldn't stop at Attleboro", I'd only see that being the case if it were an unnecessary super express that ran nonstop between Boston and Providence. Per the Blue Book, Attleboro is the #3 highest ridership station on the Providence line, just barely behind Mansfield, and, of course, Providence.

There is nowhere near enough extra demand at Providence to fill an entire train just from that one stop.

For T trains to use other platforms?

As for Attleboro, perhaps you missed the point of this push- Raimondo wants express service from her state to Boston, not better service In Massachusetts.

Again, as I explained in another comment on this very post, the T could theoretically negotiate with Amtrak to use their platform at Providence, but that's not an insignificant obstacle to overcome.

And while yes, RI wants better service from their state to Boston, as I stated already, there are not enough riders to fill another train in Providence alone. It would be a waste of a train slot to skip all the Mass stations that are almost as busy as Providence. While I don't have numbers on it, I bet there's even a nonzero number of people who commute from Providence to other stations in Mass.

It's incredibly frustrating how frequently people just hand wave away all of the obstacles to things like this. YES, electrifying the Providence line is a good idea that should definitely happen ASAP, but NO, it's not a simple matter of just leasing an electric loco tomorrow and sending it out. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome, both physical and political.

I have noted on other articles on this subject, I agree that the MBTA simply buying electric locomotives does not make the solution easy (the Globe notes other issues), but Raimondo has broken things down to a simpler proposition.

As for ridership, there could be potential if ride time was quicker. That said, I’d hope that the General Court and whatever the equivalent is in Rhode Island asks for hard numbers before spending money on this.

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Diesels are slow, unreliable, noisy, expensive to operate and maintain, and generally stink up the place.

ummmm... No.

Diesels have certain advantages.

Electrics have certain advantages.

Ok, what advantages do diesels have, besides not having to put up wires?

Cost to run is a win for Diesel, not as susceptible to Mother Nature, similar emissions if you consider more than the source as the power has to come from somewhere for electrics. Anyone who thinks the entirety of the system is getting electrified soon (or ever) is delusional. I can remember more than a few times when Amtrak was shit down on the corridor after a storm and the T was up and running with Diesels.

After those storms, how were the Green and Blue Lines doing? Would you advocate converting them to diesel?

- service startup logistics/costs
--- you don't have to install electric to start or restore a service
--- you're slightly less likely to need to modify around right of way for vertical clearance for a diesel than an electric
- you can electrify your rail system in affordable increments because your diesels will run just as well on non-electric portions of your system as they will on electricfied sections
- you've got units that are self-contained for power & mobility - crucial if something knocks out all or part of your catenary or third rail

Let’s hope they don’t start out with Lionel Trains.


Imagine the cost of laying that third, center rail all the way from here to Providence.


Raimondo made this train pitch to Baker weeks ago. Baker gave the same empty response and thought it was dead. Now with the T consultancy news, its brought back to the surface because Baker needs some cover. Meanwhile. If Metzger can reach Pollack, why not ask her about the RMV submissions. You know, something real


It was genius of Baker to get the National Governor’s Association meeting scheduled just when the Globe and NPR picked you up on a story the Herald reported on a month ago. Surprised that he got Raimondo and Larry Hogan from Maryland (along with the other 47 governors) on board for all of this, but Baker is tricky like that.

Two of the most corrupt incompetent agencies on the planet ganging up on us.

You're referring the governments of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, right?

We shall see, didn’t MARC switch back to diesel from electric a few years back due to reliability issues?
If the T could get some upgraded coaches that are not maxed at 79MPH then the Diesel’s could haul them a fair bit faster (all of the T’s locomotives including the GP40’s are capable of higher than 79MPH).

Some. They retired their AEM-7 electrics and replaced them with new SC-44 diesels, but they did end up refurbishing their HHP-8 electrics.

All of the HHP8 units were finally retired a decent year or more ago. They were seen as junk across the systems that used them.

Once again, you're not as "In The Know" as you think. While Amtrak retired all of theirs, MARC actually began refurbishing their HHP-8s in 2017-2018, and intends to keep using them.

This seems like one of those vague promises that will go nowhere even through everyone who knows transit thinks it's a great idea. It's like the DMU proposal, conductors with CharlieCard readers, train service to the Seaport, etc.


... for the third harbor tunnel? Call me “ye of little faith” if you would like, but I’m not holding my breath.

Everyone who actually knows transit realized the DMU proposals were a joke.

The joke is that Mass doesn't have a D-MU line yet.

DMUs themselves have a place, sure. But they're not some mystical panacea for all of the T's problems, and they're not a good fit for everywhere.

Most of the proposals to use them here have ranged from misguided to downright idiotic.

As for your examples, no railroad in NY runs DMUs. SMART and eBART in CA both use DMUs, but SMART is a fairly light-ridership system that operates a small fleet of nothing but DMUs (not at all comparable to the T), and eBART was a ridiculously short-sighted decision that makes very little sense. Austin is an interesting case because Capital MetroRail is really more of a light rail line than commuter rail (e.g. it includes street-running), akin to NJT's RiverLine (which is also diesel), and as with SMART is a small, light-ridership operation that uses only DMUs. Toronto's UPX uses DMUs of a similar design to SMART, but they're essentially EMUs with a diesel generator added, as Metrolinx has plans to electrify in the near-future and is only running diesel as a stopgap measure.

All of these examples are small-scale, low ridership startup services. None of the big commuter rail operators in North America are using DMUs. Going down the list by highest ridership, the biggest agency that uses DMUs is Tri-Rail in Florida (#17), which bought a handful that were absolute junk and I'm pretty sure are now stored inoperable. Then Austin comes in at #26, and Portland's WES at #30.

Of the top 30 busiest commuter rail systems in the US, only 3 use DMUs. The T is in good company not having them.

The LIRR runs DMUs. They're not well known nor well documented. But they're everywhere along the lines. Your long comment embodies a much larger danger in the age of instant info - thinking a Google Search is "Research". Most of what you posted is bad wikipedia/op-ed, info that as gone viral online.

What an arrogant comment.

I like to think I keep fairly well-informed about things like this, but I'm happy to admit I don't know everything, and some things may have slipped past me. I would be very surprised to find out that the LIRR began using DMUs without any information about them turning up anywhere online though. No press releases, no railfan discussion threads, nothing.

I know the LIRR had previously looked into procuring some DMUs for east end service, but seems to have given up on the idea a few years ago. Are you mistakenly thinking of the new M9 EMUs the LIRR recently bought?

I genuinely would appreciate you providing some sort of source for this claim.

Which, if they confused them with DMUs, makes them look like an idiot.

When the Patrick administration showed DMU service on nearly every CR line, it imploded any chance of pinpointing DMU needs along the Fairmount and Inner Rock/Newburyport lines.

Baker and Pollack give two craps about Boston's poorest communities. Instead they give them scraps like the commuter rail station at Blue Hill that nobody uses. Everyone fears if they use the station, it gives Baker and Pollack leverage to remove the Mattapan Line. Tryin times across Boston.


With the MBTA’s track record of competency and timeliness, we can expect this around the advent of the thing that replaces the thing that replaces electric trains. And that doesn’t even take the government aspect into account.


It’ll be a decade, minimum, before this project’s kickback beneficiaries are even born.

This is the kind of thing the T should be doing constantly -- trying stuff at relatively small cost but large potential upside

If this works out -- the T will get some experience with running electric on a line that is already electric thanks to Amtrak

The advantages:

  1. Initially just cleaner air for the corridor including the core area from Forrest Hills to South Station where there are tunnels
  2. Later -- the all-electric line can introduce some self-propelled units EMU [Electrical Multiple Units] which being quiet and clean should be "better neighbors"
  3. Eventually with many EMU the line can offer much more frequent service
  4. possibly short turn service SS to Rt-128 Station every 15 minutes?

  5. The next line to be electrified should be Worcester
    1. that would get rid of nearly all the nasty diesel smoke inside Boston tunnels and closed-in stations such as Back Bay
    2. and potentially allow high frequency service to Framingham [a soon to be rapidly expanding core within Greater Boston]

The next line to be electrified should be Worcester

How much of that right-of-way does the T actually own?

Worcester Line with some of the Northside lines (Haverhill I believe) have significant freight involvement with the freight carriers basically able to tell the T yes or no on projects. I don’t think they want a wire above limiting the type of freight that can be hauled.

The T owns all of it, but CSX retains trackage rights for freight service, which the T can't infringe on. Thus all plans for high platforms or electrification must be compatible with freight clearances.

Likely will be Sprinters like the ones Amtrak uses. The FCBM has been in talks about this for some time with Siemens but there were road blocks put up by Amtrak since they control the corridor for dispatch and ownership and maintenance of the catenary service (overhead wire system).


One thing that I have yet to see answered, and is the reason I think ideas like this always fizzle out, is that while the whole line to Providence is electrified, not all tracks along it are.

The station tracks at Attleboro are not electrified - only the two center tracks that Amtrak uses are.

Just north of Providence station, MBTA trains switch from the NEC tracks Amtrak uses onto the freight track used by P&W. The two platform tracks that the T presently uses at Providence are not electrified. They could theoretically negotiate with Amtrak to use their platform, but it is a not-insignificant hurdle to overcome.

South of Providence, T trains continue to run on the non-electrified freight track as far as Warwick, including through TF Green station, which only has a side platform on the freight track. Wickford Junction is on a non-electrified spur track.

You can't just string up wires over the freight track, as the whole reason it was built was to maintain access for freight that doesn't fit under the wires.

So realistically tomorrow you could run electrics to Providence, provided that they skip Attleboro, run no farther than Providence, and you negotiate with Amtrak to use its platform at Providence.