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State vows more reliable service on Framingham-Worcester commuter rail line after finishing deal to buy tracks

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  August 7, 2013 11:48 AM

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State officials are promising commuter rail service on the Framingham-Worcester line will be more reliable following the completion of a deal this week to give the state “absolute” control over the line’s tracks.

Priority will be given to commuter rail trains over freight trains, when necessary, officials said.

Dispatchers and train crews will have a more direct line of communication, making it easier to have a train making local stops to run express, or vice versa.

Commuter rail operators can now dispatch extra trains or engines without going through a cumbersome, time-consuming paperwork process first, officials said. The commuter rail lines will see significantly fewer heat-related speed restrictions.

And, officials said that crews will have greater speed and flexibility to respond to situations such as medical emergencies or downed trees, as well as to do maintenance.

“Controlling operations and maintenance along the line is a critically important part of our concerted effort to not only improve reliability, but also increase service between the state’s two largest cities,” Boston and Worcester, said a statement from MBTA general manager Beverly Scott.

The state in 2009 entered an agreement to buy the tracks from transportation company CSX Corp. for $50 million. Execution of the deal began about a year ago when the state took ownership of the railroad right-of-way.

But other elements of the deal had to be completed before the state gained full control. On Tuesday, the final steps of the deal were completed, including taking over dispatching operations.

“By taking over the dispatching duties this week, the state can now give absolute priority to passenger service along the line,” said a statement from Richard A. Davey, Secretary and CEO of the state’s transportation department.

Commuter rail dispatchers can now communicate directly with train crews instead of the often-delayed method of having to relay questions and directions through CSX dispatchers in Selkirk, N.Y.

Heat-related speed restrictions became a common and frustrating occurrence for riders this summer.

But state officials said those restrictions should be less frequent in the future.

“The CSX Corporation imposed speed restrictions on all of its railroads if temperatures exceeded 90 degrees anywhere on the East Coast. This corporate rule, which sometimes resulted in unnecessary delays along the Worcester/Framingham Line, no longer applies,” officials said.

The state plans to more carefully monitor actual, local temperatures and will decide to impose heat restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Heat causes steel to swell, which can cause a railroad track to kink or bend, posing a derailment danger.

The state also plans to increase maintenance work to improve track conditions and to make rails less susceptible to “heat kinks.”

The MBTA also plans to follow-through this year on its previously-announced plan to increase the number of roundtrips between Worcester and Boston to 20 this year.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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