MBTA getting ready to replace 120-year-old train bridge in Roslindale Square

Robert Street train bridge

The MBTA plans to begin replacing the bridge that carries the Needham Line over Robert Street at the Roslindale Village train station early next year.

The T says weekday train service will continue to run during the 12 to 13 months of construction - but that buses might have to replace trains on a couple of Saturdays to allow for particular work.

The bridge, originally constructed in 1898 - just 12 years after the infamous Bussey Street train disaster just a little bit up the line towards Forest HIlls - was rebuilt in 1985.

State officials will show preliminary plans for the new bridge and take questions at a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. on April 29 at the Roslindale Community Center on Cummins Highway at Washington Street.

Underside of Robert Street bridge



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Good point. What is the

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Good point. What is the reason for this project? Is the bridge no longer safe?


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FYI Adam, meeting notice here.

The bridge is one of two bridges on the Needham Line with a single track, the other at LaGrange. The line was originally double-tracked as part of the Dedham Loop, where trains would run through West Roxbury and down to Dedham before looping back to Readville or the other way around. (There were three such loops formed by the railroads south and west of the city: Forest Hills-Dedham-Readville-FH, Back Bay-FH-Needham-Newton Highlands-Back Bay and BBY-NH-Riverside-BBY; at varying points they all operated as loops. Today the Dedham service is abandoned, and the Needham Line, Riverside Line and Worcester Line occupy most of the rest.) In the case of what is now the Needham Line, the cutoff from Westie to Needham Junction was only built in 1906, decades after the rest of the line.

In any case, this is an opportunity to rebuild the bridge with two tracks. Why is this important? Because while the Needham Line can hobble through service today with one track, it's often overcrowded and very infrequent. Building a second trackbed gives us options, even if it doesn't have a track in it on day one. One option would be to double-track the line, at least as far as West Roxbury (the cutoff to Needham is only single-track across Cutler Park, so would be costly to double), which would allow more service to be run. A more ambitious idea would be to convert the West Roxbury portion of the line to rapid transit service, and run the Orange Line to West Roxbury. There's no capacity for that now, but with the new cars and signals the T promises, we could eliminate the transfers many people have to make at Forest Hills.

There are a lot of dominos which would fall if the West Roxbury portion of the Needham Line were converted to the Orange Line. First is that a lot of the buses which provide service to Forest Hills could be cut back further west to drop passengers at the Orange Line for connections, and that service could be reallocated to provide more frequent service elsewhere (since many passengers would be a short walk from an Orange Line station). The second is that a terminal station built at or near VFW Parkway would be a reasonable walk from the VA there, making it an easier commute for employees, patients and visitors (especially if the terminal was built as a spur off the right-of-way even closer). And, no, this won't cost $500 million per mile as GoBoston2030 says, probably quoting the T which doesn't want to do anything (that's more, per mile, than GLX, which is a much more complex project; especially since the Orange Line tracks terminate right adjacent to the Needham Line south of Forest Hills, not in a rail yard across McGrath a mile away). The main cost would be upgraded stations, which could use an upgrade anyway. You know, so people with strollers and wheelchairs can use the train.

What would happen to Needham? A Green Line branch could be built west from Newton Highlands along the abandoned right-of-way to Needham Junction to serve the commuters there (who might have a slightly longer ride, but would have much more frequent service). If necessary, at peak hours, to keep the central subway from becoming too congested, some trains could terminate and loop at Kenmore, especially since much of the demand from Newton and Needham is to get to the LMA anyway (through passengers could transfer to any other car going further downtown). This would also allay the Newton NIMBY fears that development there would cause more traffic, since a viable transit option would be in place. (Between Westie and Needham Junction? That could be a single-track shuttle, or a walking path, or maybe both.)

But won't this cost a lot? Well, sure. But the cost of doing nothing is not zero, and sometimes you have to spend money to make money. The state wants to spend billions on South Station Expansion. This is being sold as a supply issue: the station supposedly doesn't have enough supply of tracks to handle the number of trains which need to bring people in to Boston. (Of course, the North South Rail Link would obviate the need for this entirely.) But it can also be framed as a demand issue: if there were fewer trains, maybe you wouldn't need to build a bigger South Station. And if the Needham Line were converted to the Orange Line, there would be 10-15% fewer trains going in to South Station at rush hour, saving the need to spend the money on South Station Expansion. In a similar manner, the Needham Line takes up slots on the Northeast Corridor, the most congested portion of which is the three-track segment between Forest Hills and Back Bay. Moving the Needham Line demand to the Orange Line would reduce this demand as well.

Of course, this would require long-term planning and vision from Beacon Hill, which is not something they're known for. But at least this meeting would be an opportunity to show up and ask that, whenever they are doing this sort of project, they at least think a few months down the road.


well I’ll be....

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I was going to post something oblvious here about it looking fine even though it’s so old leave it, and wasn’t it always built better back then with extra steel, and omg think of the traffic.

But, then I see a freakin fascinating discourse on the whole history of the trains in Boston! This is why I love uhub! Thanks Adam and Ari !!!


100+ likes for incorrect fantasy. Reality is tougher to plan for

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One item getting more attention at the T is a single line. THE STATE DOES NOT HAVE THE MONEY TO OPERATE THE EXISTING SYSTEM. Even if you added a generous gas tax increase, sales tax increase, and toll increase, the state STILL doesn't have enough for the existing system. The T is also adding an additional $23 million yearly subsidy to run the GLX. The red ink is RISING. A more realistic problem these advocates should tackle - where to CUT SERVICE. How do you cut CR stations with low ridership. When does the state scrap the Chelsea Silver Line fiasco and start running better buses over the Tobin? Can the Needham Line be replaced with a mix of BRT routes that feed into the Orange and Green and provide direct service between the VA WRox and Orange. Let reality come into play

Reality vs fantasy indeed

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The only fantasy involved here is the idea that Americans are interested in riding buses, or that they are in any way preferable to rail service. The operation of transportation systems, ALL transportation systems, lies with the state. It's been that way since Rome, which used taxation to pay for them, like most future governments. The problem across the nation is, in part, ill-informed politicians who pander to even more misinformed anti-rail malcontents. One way to make sure a rail line doesn't get enough ridership is to run an insufficient number of trains, as Amtrak has been proving for decades, thanks to criminal negligence by Congress, which has been responsible providing for long distance rail service in this country since 1971. Nobody likes taxes, but they have to be paid if you want a modern civilization and the infrastructure that goes with it. Taxes in this country are low compared with most livable countries, but nowhere do people whine about it more. And everytime politicians say they are going to cut taxes, they merely shift the burden further onto the the backs of average Americans. Taxes have been going down for billionaires for 50 YEARS; Have your taxes gone down? It's not that America is spending too much, it's that we don't require the people who have most of the money to pay anywhere near their fair share. Stop thinking about ways to reduce needed services and start thinking about new approaches to government financing. It takes about two minutes of looking at a graph of worker income and Wall Street profits over the past 50 years to exactly where the problem lies, and it isn't with too much rail service.

Great idea... but....

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A great suggestion. However, money to repair and fix is not the same money that expands.

I'll be highly impressed if the replacement bridge is for 2-tracks. I do not plan to hold my breath however.

This bridge used to be 3

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This bridge used to be 3 tracks. Note the abutments are 3x the size of the remaining deck. The other 2 decks were ripped out to save on maintenance.

The new deck is likely to be prefab and lifted complete into place on the remediated abutments much like the Fairmount-Franklin connector bridge was a couple years ago (likewise a single-track deck on tri-track abutments where the other decks perished decades prior). They would not necessarily need to prep a second deck for future considerations so long as the abutments are prepped to be ready to plop another track span as needed. Whenever the time comes they just prefab another deck and lift it into place next to the first...at-will.

It's basically modular construction so long as the complete stone abutments are repaired, so doesn't need to be thought of as one chance only to do a set number of track berths in one monolithic construction project.

They are expanding it

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I live further down the Needham line by Highland and they have been clearing more trees along the tracks here during the last two weeks. We asked why they were doing it again after having been here so recently and the workers said they were clearing it for a second track.

I know this is a response to a several day old comment but thought it was pretty pertinent.

Not quite

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The MBTA is the only railroad using Amtrak's ACSES system for PTC, which relies on wayside equipment being physically present. All the other railroads in the country are using GPS. The wayside equipment includes fiber optic comm lines which are being strung along the right-of-ways. To prevent damage to the lines in storms, they're cutting back the trees.

This would improve the MBTA

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This would improve the MBTA much more than the expansion to Fall River/New Bedford, and probably take more cars off the road, definitely improve the commute of more people. But Baker only cares about southcoast b/c of its political impact of 'his' people, so we will get another underused commuter rail line like Greenbush instead of meaningful improvements like extending the orange line or connecting the red and blue lines.

There you are

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Other than Greenbush, all the examples you show have been shown to be successes.

T subways are better than T

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T subways are better than T commuter rail, since the latter is infrequent, expensive, and unreliable.

But commuter rail doesn't have to be like this. So improvement doesn't have to take the form of a subway extension, which would in fact be very expensive to build.

Instead, buymodern railroad trains, and run them frequently. If a commuter rail train has an engineer and 3 conductors, you could run service 4 times as often with single-employee trains, with the same labor cost, and no construction cost.

I don't buy the South Station capacity issue. Just look at the number of tracks, and the number of trains per hour at peak. They could run a lot more, and in other cities and countries they do.

Not just south station though

Its the tracks leading into south station. There are only so many slots to put trains through. Could they run more than currently? Sure, but having one branch on a separate right-of-way means more space for more frequency on the remaining branches

You're missing a key constraint

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The Needham Line is single track south of Roslindale Square save a passing track by Home Depot. That limits the number of trainsets on the line, regardless of what type of trains they are.

Ok. But they could certainly

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Ok. But they could certainly run more trains than they do now, especially off-peak.

And some strategic construction of double-track in one or two more spots, and goid schedule planning, could allow even more service.

For example at how much service the LIRR provides over the single track from Great Neck to Port Washington.

Let’s do the math

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You can have one train between Home Depot and Needham Heights at one time, with a train in the double tracked section waiting for that one to come out. When that train comes in, it would be free. Meanwhile, a third train would have to stop at the Arboretum to wait for the Home Depot- Roslindale Square section to become clear. That’s your frequency.

Putting more trains on off peak would be impressive, but it’s still a max of three trains on the line. Since the demand isn’t there off peak (the BLS train notwithstanding), it would not be cost effective, especially considering all stops save Hershey have bus service.

There are two more double

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There are two more double-track sections: east of Needham Junction, and south of Needham Heights.

Even if there's no capacity for additional peak trains (which I don't think is the case), they could boost off-peak service to peak levels. If there's currently enough demand to justify a 5-car train every 1 to 2 hours off-peak, then there's also enough demand for a single-car train every 12 to 24 minutes. There would be no additional costs to running this type of frequent service, once we buy single-car single-employee trains.

And then the better schedule would result in *more* demand. That could justify further service increases. It would be the opposite of the service cut death spiral that is so common in this country.

Well I'll be a monkey's uncle

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I wouldn't count the tracks by Needham Heights, but the Needham Junction tracks are still there. That still only allows for 4 trains on the line.

As for your numbers, you do know that the 4 mid-day inbound trains have a combined ridership of 373 passengers, while the combined totals for the 1150, 152, and 300 outbound is 269 passengers, 129 of those boarding the 300 departure at Ruggles, aka the Latin train. In short, save the Latin train, there is barely the demand for a single car on those trains. The numbers are here.

Well, whatever justification

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Well, whatever justification there is for the current service would equally apply to frequent service with single-car single-employee trains, since the operating costs would be the *same*.

One-way running time from Forest Hills to the end of the line is 25 to 30 minutes. Figure 15 minutes to change ends plus recovery, and round trip time is 75 minutes. 4 trains would provide 20-minute service.

But modern trains would accelerate and load/unload faster, on top of all their other benefits.

And once ridership began to climb, it would justify some more passing tracks to support greater frequency. These sidings could be shorter than the existing ones, since they would only need to fit a one-car train.

There's NO reason except laziness to keep running the inefficient, expensive service we have today. It's not about saving capital money -- the T spends plenty on new locos and coaches in the exact same form factor as what they had before.

If tiny mountain villages in Switzerland can support frequent train service all day, there's no reason why West Roxbury and Needham Center can't.

There’s no reason?

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Aside from ridership levels not justifying the service levels you propose, you are proposing that the T buy a whole new style of trains. That’s 2 reasons.

Of course, this would require

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Of course, this would require long-term planning and vision from Beacon Hill, which is not something they're known for. But at least this meeting would be an opportunity to show up and ask that, whenever they are doing this sort of project, they at least think a few months down the road.

Even if you think your speaking into the ether, this is really important. Otherwise the only folks getting a say are well connected developers with deep pockets.

Two Line?

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Hmmm? I think the farthest a double line could be built on the Needham Line leaving Boston would be to Highland Station. After highland the width gets significantly narrower and the cost to file imminent domain and buy properties along Centre St by Bellevue St as well as the physical work involved would be astronomical.