Sunday, May 28, 2017

RIPTA: 204 (Westerly Flex)

After seeing the insane Fridays-only 301, it's time to take a look at Westerly's "primary" bus "route"...although it's still incredibly barebones. The 204 is a flex service, which is why "route" is in quotation marks: you can call in to request the route to take you anywhere within the "Flex Zone," which covers most of urbanized Westerly. Three times a day, however, the route breaks free of its zone and runs out to Narragansett to serve Salt Pond Plaza and connect with other RIPTA routes. This should be an interesting review...

The bus at Westerly Station.
Confusingly enough, there are certain times of the day you can get on the Westerly Flex without having to call in - certain "Flex stops" at certain times of the day allow you to just get on and go wherever you want. Nathan and I got on at Westerly Station for the 2:00 PM "trip," which operates almost as a fixed-route to Narragansett.

The inside of the bus.
After some passengers boarded, we left the Westerly Station drop-off area and headed down Railroad Ave. As the name suggests, we were paralleling the Northeast Corridor on one side, while on the other side there were businesses and the "Westerly Armory," which looked awesome! The road became Oak Street, and it was industrial for a few blocks before becoming residential.

I'm not sure what this is a lot for, but that boat is intriguing.
It got industrial again after a bit, but then we unexpectedly entered...a highway interchange? Yes, I guess we were going onto an express section! We ran down Route 78, which is a short circumferential expressway around Westerly, but an expressway regardless. The driver pumped on the gas as we proceeded through the woods before the highway ended at an intersection with Route 1.

Well, this was unexpected!
We turned onto Route 1, otherwise known as Post Road, and after some suburban businesses with big parking lots, it got more residential. We passed Westerly State Airport and a few random inns interspersed between the houses, then it became businesses once again. At this point, we deviated to serve Walmart, the next "Flex stop" on the route.

Howdy, Walmart.
We continued down Post Road from there, and it was mostly woods, but there were a few random houses mixed in at various points. As we entered Charlestown, there was a section where the houses got slightly denser, and there were even a few businesses mixed in...including a minigolf course! We passed a surprisingly large amount of motels, as well.

Nice view!
There was a long section of woods that lasted until we got to the more developed part of Charlestown. However, we didn't serve any of it, barrelling through on Route 1 - some businesses were visible from the road, though. As we entered South Kingstown, it became Commodore Perry Highway...and the scenery got a lot more boring.

*yawn*
For what seemed like hours, the bus was just running through endless forest, with only a few random buildings breaking it up on occasion. While there certainly is charm in woods and farms, the speed and warmth of the bus led Nathan to fall asleep and rendered me barely awake...I just robotically took pictures whenever it seemed fit. Thank goodness it eventually got interesting again.

Here we go!
Route 1 went up onto a bridge and crossed over Silver Spring Cove, offering a view of the boats parked at the marina of the same name. The gigantic South County Hospital was visible to the north, then a lot of development surrounded the road but trees mostly blocked the view. We headed up the highway for a while before deviating to serve the Stedman Center, some sort of government office.

This place gets a Flex stop?
For the record, I asked the driver if this place ever gets any people, and he said no...so yeah, how about not serving it? That would be efficient! We returned down the highway for a bit, but this time we got off at Old Tower Hill Road. This took us past the Wakefield Mall (although the Flex doesn't stop there) and a bunch of other suburban businesses with parking lots.

The Wakefield Mall.
Okay, this next bit was kinda weird. We turned onto Cherry Lane, a residential street behind a shopping plaza, and waited outside of a house for a while. "Someone always gets on here," the driver said, "let's try calling him." Okay...I was under the impression, based on the schedule, that this area was out of the "Flex Zone," so I'm not sure how someone could have flexed here once, let alone "always." I guess it was nice that the driver tried to call, but there was no answer, so we continued along our merry way.

A residential street.
The road became Robinson Street and curved westward, crossing over a bike path that eventually leads to Kingston Station. Next, we turned onto Woodruff Ave, which was entirely lined with houses. It stayed residential until a small office park, then we crossed over Route 1. Right after that, we turned into Salt Pond Plaza, where Nathan and I got off to catch another bus back to Providence...and civilization.

The bus at the mall.
RIPTA Route: 204 (Westerly Flex)

Ridership: It's hard to judge the ridership of the 204, since the RIPTA doesn't have any public information on it, so I'll have to base it off of our trip. Overall, there were five other passengers in total - they all got on at Westerly Station, a scheduled Flex stop, and got off either at Walmart or Salt Pond Plaza (both scheduled Flex stops). Sensing a pattern? Yeah, something tells me people prefer getting a scheduled route without any hassle instead of having to call RIPTA at least a day in advance...

Pros: I believe that Westerly is a substantial enough town that it needs public transportation, and as limited as the Flex is, at least it's something. So yes, that's my pro: it's a bus route in Westerly.

Cons: The thing is, it doesn't seem like too many people use the Flex for its, you know, flexing. Everyone got on or off at the scheduled stops, which I think shows that Westerly needs a fixed-route service instead of this barebones Flex route. You could run it with this same minibus, since I'm sure ridership would be only slightly higher, but a fixed-route is so much easier for passengers than the annoying "call on the day before" mentality that "flexing" the Flex requires.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I've said it before, I'll say it again: Westerly is a great town. The central area is thriving and really interesting, with a bunch of diverse businesses. Amtrak is definitely the fastest way of getting here from Massachusetts, but the town could still use a bus route within itself...

Final Verdict: 3/10
It's good that Westerly at least has one (weekdays-only) bus route, but from what I've gathered, people really only use this during the rare times that it actually has scheduled stops...and those times are indeed rare. It boards at Westerly Station and Walmart four times per day, and travels out to Salt Pond Plaza three times per day. Why not serve it all at consistent intervals by making this a fixed-route? Like this:





Yes, it's every 2 hours...but unlike the current Flex route, this one has a consistent schedule, so it will allow people to actually rely on the bus coming. I have it serve Charlestown as well, since the route currently just blazes by there, and I got rid of Stedman Center service since it seems that not many people use it. Plus, the fact that the route is still using just one minibus means that it costs about the same amount of money to run as the current service. Yay!!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Friday, May 26, 2017

10 "Boston Landing" Comments

So...my Boston Landing review kinda blew up. Thanks to posts on Universal Hub and Reddit, the post has gotten almost 3500 views in a few days! First of all, I want to thank everyone for reading, and welcome those who might be new - I hope you stick around. The exposure has also resulted in a bunch of feedback, and I found some pretty interesting comments. Let's take a look at 10 of my favorites, eh?

1. I thought this was an interesting discussion about the station's location. The fact that it transcends two neighborhoods, brought up by John Pelletier, is neat. I suppose to be exact, I should've just called it "the Allston-Brighton area"...

2. On the topic of Allston, I got a good amount of comments regarding my description of the neighborhood Josh and I walked through. Hey, I've got nothing against Allston itself...but that neighborhood just to the east of Boston Landing is disgusting. I stand by that!

3. Alright, yeah, it was a pretty minor digression in the post when I said I was digressing, I'll give you that one...

4. As it turns out, I really like my exclamation points. What can I say? They're fun to use and add spunk to an otherwise boring sentence! That one in my reply is semi-ironic...

5. I have no idea who you are, Doctor of Taste, but your comment is amazing.

6. This thread led me to think about my writing style, and to be honest...I will continue writing "like a high school kid." Because you know what, I'm talking about things that most people find boring. If I don't make the posts conversational and enthusiastic, who would care outside of the hardcore transit fans? I'm not trying to write a professional blog or anything - my goal is to entertain you all while writing about what I love!

7. A whiny twit, eh? Well, it's better than a "f***ing dweebus," as one fellow who later deleted his comment called me. I also have to admire kittyscherbatsky for digging deep into the archives to find the super old posts where I talked about riding buses with my dad. Now there are some poorly-written reviews...

8. Um...no, I gave the station a 7/10. I don't believe that constitutes as "sucks so bad", last time I checked.

9. I can see the argument against putting a crosswalk on the bridge for safety reasons, but I have nothing against the width of the stairs...it's the way the staircase juts to the side at the entrance and leads to the sign being obscured. And if "decrepit" is an SAT word now, then American education has truly fallen apart...

10. And finally, the true standout of these negative comments: someone took the "Cons" section completely out of context and wrote snarky parenthetical remarks to each sentence. Ahem...

  • Yes, I have been to Ruggles, as another commenter pointed out.
  • My complaints about the schedule regard consistency. Why provide all-day weekend service while leaving a huge hole in midday weekday service? The "Dictate!" bit is interesting, too...of course I don't have the power to change the schedule, but I can at least show enthusiasm for the idea.
  • "The cons mostly come in the forms of specific annoyances (like your review?)." Well played, well played.
  • Just because many Commuter Rail staircases are falling apart doesn't make it okay that a specific staircase is falling apart. That's just common sense. This applies to the speaker comment, as well.
  • This part about never being in a prison cell...I mean, did you read the post? How about going back and seeing what I actually mean when I refer to "prison cells"?
  • "Josh needs to get a life." Neither do you, buddy!
This post was a departure from normal content, but I wanted to show some of these comments because I found them pretty funny. There's nothing wrong with criticism if you have logic or reasoning to back it up (thanks to all the folks who pointed out the code regarding the prison cells - I updated the original post). Even though not all the comments were agreeable, it was fun to get all this feedback, and I really enjoyed reading all the comments, even the ridiculously negative ones. Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Boston Landing

There isn't much that's more exciting than a new Commuter Rail station! Well...maybe a certain Green Line Extension would be nice (COUGH), but that's not the topic of today's post! No, today we'll be looking at the Worcester Line's newest infill station, located in Allston and funded by New Balance (which feels weird to say): Boston Landing! For the record, I did visit this station on the first day of service, but I wasn't able to write the review yesterday because of an event at my school...sorry!

The station's surroundings...from above.
Yeah, I figured I'd mention that this station's surroundings are...weird. I mean, Josh and I came in from the 66 to the east, and walking down Braintree Street, it was just an industrial dump. Then, all of a sudden, the buildings immediately get newer and a little less sketchy...and there was Boston Landing, right on the tracks parallelling the street!

Eww...
Unfortunately, you can't get to the station quite yet. No, you have to traverse a really awful, old, decrepit stone staircase to get up to Everett Street. I know this isn't part of the "station", but from what I saw, a good amount of the riders came this way, so a ramp would be much appreciated...or at least an updated staircase!

Land ho!
And now we finally get to the station itself. Along Everett Street, there's an interesting setup where the elevator is on one side (with a nice T symbol!) and the staircase is on the other. The problem is that there's no crosswalk between the two, so if a disabled person wants to cross the street to get to the elevator, they're basically out of luck...and Everett Street can be busy!

The staircase entrance.
Look, this staircase is fine. It's all sheltered, and even though the roof is kinda bland, and even though the bars on the side will probably get rusty soon, it's a fine staircase...but come on, what's with this entrance? Why does it shift over when you get to the top? The sign is obscured by the fence when you look at it straight on! I'm sorry, but this just looks ridiculous!

Yeah, see what I mean? Look across the street!
Luckily, the elevator is great, at least for now. It has a lovely new smell, and the glass walls allow for a view on all sides. I do think it's rather interesting to be in this modern glass elevator with a disgusting old factory right across the street, though!

The Everett Street end of the platform.
It's kind of odd that the stairs lead to a pretty desolate part of the platform, but I guess that means better accessibility for people using the elevator...even though more overall riders will want to use the stairs, but I digress. This end of the platform doesn't have much, but it does feature a fire extinguisher, a blue EMERGENCY pole, and fire alarms. The blue poles and fire alarms are prevalent throughout the whole station, so clearly there was a big focus on safety.

Big focus on...safety?
Okay, this is weird. Both sides of the station have "emergency exits" that feature big ramps leading to what I can only describe as "prison cells." I mean, they're just chain link fences with an emergency call button within, and no way to leave! The better "emergency exit" would just be to jump off the platform! At least then you could actually, you know, ESCAPE an emergency situation. I'm sorry, but I cannot see the point in these prison cells that offer barely any protection from the disasters that would necessitate their usage.
UPDATE (5/24): The "jail cells", otherwise known as "areas of refuge," are apparently required by code, due to the fact that Boston Landing lacks a sprinkler system. They still seem pretty useless, but thanks to Dave's blog for the information!

Looking down the platform.
Okay, luckily the platform itself is great! Sure, it's not the most exciting station in the world, but it's nice and modern with a fully high-level platform. There are shelters that run for a bit next to each entrance, and they have benches and wastebaskets underneath. More benches sit out in the open area too, but they're probably less likely to be used. Also, there's a speaker system that reads out what the electronic signs say, but the audio quality is terrible!

Sweeeeeet!
Other amenities on the platform include updated maps with the new station included, as well as some really neat historical photographs. It's always sad to see how beautiful this corridor was before I-90 came barreling through (the highway makes for a noisy presence at Boston Landing), while there are also some amazing old streetcar shots! Additionally, I only found one grammatical error in the text, so...yay?

The station's footbridge.
The other side of the station offers a second entrance, leading to the its main attractions: the New Balance building and the Warrior Ice Arena. This entrance consists of a footbridge over the inbound track, with stairs and elevators leading up to both sides. I can tell you that the elevators were both clean and modern, while the stairs were...well, perfectly fine stairs.

The second entrance.
This entrance plays host to an emergency light, a wastebasket, and a rather nice sheltered bike rack with a bunch of spaces! Surprisingly, someone actually had a bike in there on the first day. A concrete path leads to another Boston Landing sign, complete with a...really squashed schedule. I mean, it looks awful, and they only squashed it to be able to fit in a "See something? Say something!" sign...

The huge New Balance building.
This station is, of course, primarily meant to serve some vast new developments that have been built in the area...after all, New Balance was the company that funded it! Their building is beautiful, and it already seems to be a pretty big hub of activity (aside from the incredibly overstaffed New Balance store inside, but...oh well). Hopefully as the development grows, so will station ridership and train frequency!

The platform...from above!
An outbound train leaving.
Station: Boston Landing

Ridership: Okay, considering that this was the first day of service for an infill Commuter Rail station that didn't get too much pomp and circumstance...ridership was surprisingly good! There were about 15-20 people for each train we saw, and they were going both outbound and into the city! Sure, it was rush hour, but it's definitely a good sign to see such good ridership on opening day. They weren't even people checking out the station, either, just regular commuters - it felt like the place had been open for years!

Pros: The platform is where this station shines, I think. There's a good amount of shelter near each entrance, lots of blue emergency lights everywhere, and some fantastic historical information on the station signs. Of course, the accessibility of Boston Landing is great, too - the elevators are all clean and modern, at least for now. Although no vehicle parking is provided, it isn't at all necessary, given the urban nature of the station. Instead, a good amount of bike parking is given! This is how Commuter Rail stations should be designed, rather than the barren wastelands of Old Colony stations...

Cons: My main problem with Boston Landing is its schedule: namely, trains only stop here during peak periods on weekdays...but then they come all day on weekends. If all-day weekend service is considered a necessity, then let's get some weekday midday service here, pronto! Other than that, the cons mostly come in the forms of specific annoyances: the staircase from Everett Street is falling apart, the speaker system here sucks, and those "prison cells" are just...weird. Also, Josh, who has a passion for exit signs, would like to add that "the station uses a type of glow-in-the-dark exit signs that will not work if in direct sunlight, which is a possible safety issue." So yeah...that's a big problem too!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Aside from the eponymous Boston Landing development (i.e. New Balance and the Warrior Ice Arena), this station is really close to Union Square, Allston. Indeed, taking the train from Boston Landing can cut the commute time to Boston by around 15 minutes! There are also many dense neighborhoods within walking distance, so if you happen to be heading to Allston, the Worcester Line could be a quick alternative to the 57 or 66.

Final Verdict: 7/10
Overall, Boston Landing is a great addition to the Commuter Rail system. It's great to see the T (well, New Balance) investing in urban rail stations instead of horrible parking lot wastelands like they usually do. I would consider raising the score here to an 8 if the T improves the weekday schedule, since I think that's a pretty big detraction from this place being successful. It's an urban station, so ridership should be expected at all parts of the day, not just rush hour! Still, though, aside from a few other random quirks, Boston Landing is pretty good. Now...when are we getting that Green Line Extension?

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, May 21, 2017

RIPTA: 301 (Westerly/Hope Valley Rural Ride)

Sorry for the lack of posts, everyone! AP tests and SAT tests fell in the same week, so that was a big drain on my time...but now everything's done and I can work on the blog again! Finally, it's time to look at the RIPTA 301 - possibly the strangest public transit route in my jurisdiction. There's a lot to talk about here...

That's right - the Rural Ride isn't even dignified with a proper bus! It just gets a "RIde" paratransit vehicle...
How do I explain something as weird as the Rural Ride? Well, the route only runs on Fridays, and it only has one round trip and some change: an outbound from Westerly, an inbound back, and an outbound that traverses most of the route but not all of it. This truly is a "rural ride," running through some very middle-of-nowhere parts of southwestern Rhode Island. Who could possibly use such a thing? Well...

The inside of the bus.
The trip started with a bang as the bus pulled into the Stop & Shop parking lot in Richmond. (How did we get there? Find out!) "You two are men," the driver shouted to Nathan and I from the bus. "Help the ladies with their bags!" We helped the four old ladies waiting there put groceries into carts for the bus, then they each used the wheelchair lift one by one to rise into the vehicle. Once everyone was on board, the driver brought around a paper bag and we all put our money in. This was just the strangest start to any bus ride I've ever taken...

The beautiful Stop & Shop parking lot.
We left the Stop & Shop once all the ladies were settled in and the carts were in place, and we headed down the wide Kingstown Road. After going by a little park-and-ride for the 95X to Providence (it wouldn't be our first encounter with that route), we went under I-95 and the street became Main Street. Still lots of suburban businesses with huge parking lots everywhere, though...

It gets more scenic later on, I promise!
We merged with Nooseneck Hill Road (very interesting name) and passed some baseball fields as the other side of the road was lined with houses. There were also a few businesses mixed in there, like "Ma and Pa's Country Store," as well as a post office. This was technically a "downtown," you see - Hope Valley.

A street in Hope Valley.
There were a few more businesses and a fire station before we left Hope Valley and the surroundings became mostly woods with spread-out houses. It was starting to get truly rural, as the route name suggests, although there were still little bursts of civilization. For example, there was an auto shop, a housing development, and a golf course all in quick succession...but they were followed by a huge field and some woods, so I guess it evens out.

Rollin' through the forest...
All of a sudden, we made a turn into a deviation, serving a clinic called Wood River Health. Next, we pulled into the Canonchet Cliffs housing development, and this is where we dropped off two of the ladies on board. They used the wheelchair lift to get off the bus, taking their carts with them, and then we arrived at an intersection within the development and waited.

That's a sharp turn!!
"She said she was coming," the driver said. "We'll wait here a few more minutes." All of a sudden, another old lady came speed-walking from her apartment to the bus. "I forgot my keys!" she said, "I had to run back and get them!" With a new passenger on board, we continued the deviation, dropping off the remaining passengers at Canonchet Cliffs II and picking up another old lady, then we returned to Nooseneck Hill Road.

Coming back to the main road.
For a while, it really was just unspoiled woods, broken only by the occasional house or farm. Eventually, a single business - the Hopkinton General Store - and a weird sideways traffic light announced our arrival into "downtown" Hopkinton. It barely felt like a downtown, though - there were no other businesses, and the only other points of interest were a post office and the "town clerk."

A rearview shot of the empty road!
Here in Hopkinton, we merged onto the very narrow and very badly-paved Townhouse Road, taking us to Saugatucket Springs, an apartment building. We looped around the entrance to the building but didn't pick anyone up, so we returned up the narrow street and made a sharp turn to get back to Nooseneck Hill Road. After a few industrial buildings, we went by another park-and-ride for the 95X and crossed over I-95.

This is about the extent of downtown Hopkinton...
There were more woods on the other side of I-95 that continued for a while until we entered another village of Hopkinton: Ashaway. Suburban houses lined the street for a bit, then there were a few lame businesses with parking lots out front. Next, we turned onto Ashaway Road, which featured - surprise! - more woods.

A curvy intersection.
After going under some telephone wires, we curved eastward, where we got to see some houses. There was a little grocery store and a gas station near the next intersection, at which we turned onto Main Street. We entered Westerly here, which is apparently a GIGANTIC town because we were NOWHERE NEAR the end of the route!

Well, isn't this nice!
After crossing the Pawcatuck River, we ran alongside it for a bit with a huge factory on the other side. We were also in another village: Bradford, to be exact. It wasn't much of a village, though - there was only a pizza place and a post office, and that's about it. We crossed over the Amtrak tracks on Bradford Road, and there were a few auto shops and a school on the other side.

In the middle of a complicated intersection.
We continued down Bradford Road, where for possibly the first time on the entire route, the houses were actually consistent. Aside from a big field, the houses were evenly spaced for the most part. We passed through a complicated intersection with Westerly-Bradford Road, which leads directly to downtown Westerly, but we had a while to go on our route before we could get there...

Down on the farm!
Our street, meanwhile, became Dunns Corner Road, and it was lined with all manner of houses, parks, and farmland. There was even a road leading to what appears to be a gigantic trailer park complex. After all that, though, the ruralness of the Rural Ride ended IMMEDIATELY when America's favorite big box store came out of nowhere - hi, Walmart!

Hooray...
We entered the parking lot, and this was where the two old ladies still on the bus finally got off. Now it was just me and Nathan, and it would stay like that for the rest of the trip to Westerly. Leaving the parking lot, we made our way onto Route 1 (Post Road), which was lined with a bunch of suburban businesses with parking lots until it got more residential.

An airport!
Aside from the houses, we also went by some sketchy motels, a middle school, and Westerly State Airport, which actually does have a scheduled flight - New England Airlines to Block Island! Right after the airport, there were businesses with parking lots all over again, including some malls. We directly served one of them, Franklin Plaza, although the timepoint on the route calls it "Aldi's Grocery."

I miss the farmland...
The street was called Franklin Street now, but we weren't on it for too much longer, turning onto the narrower, residential Wells Street. We came up along the huge Westerly Hospital, then turned onto the even more local Westminster Street. This took us to the Westerly Senior Center, where we made a little loop on this strange elevated driveway in front of the building.

A local side street.
After that deviation, we headed down State Street, then turned onto Beach Street outside of a shopping plaza. The road was mostly residential, but there was a factory outside of which Beach Street curved northwest. We then turned onto Main Street, which paralleled the Pawcatuck River (but we couldn't see it) and was pretty darn industrial.

There's kind of a view down there...?
Due to one-ways, we eventually curved onto Union Street, then High Street, taking us through downtown Westerly. There were businesses on all sides of many different shapes and sizes, and they continued as we turned onto Canal Street. This took us up to the Amtrak station, where we made our way into the busway, ending this very long route.

I love the sad "301" in the window...
RIPTA Route: 301 (Westerly/Hope Valley Rural Ride)

Ridership: In total? Six old ladies. And it's the same six old ladies every week! The driver said it can go up to as much as 16 in the warmer months, but the point stands that ridership is low...and consists entirely of old ladies wanting to get out of the house. All of the ridership went from the Canonchet Cliffs complex to either the Stop & Shop in Richmond or the Walmart in Westerly.

Pros: This is the only way for these senior citizens to be able to get out of the house. Every week, Fridays only, the little 301 comes to give them a chance to escape the dreary lifestyle of a housing development in the middle of nowhere and go shopping. It's truly a bus route like one I've never seen before...

Cons: The problem is that it works horribly as a bus route! The one-way trip is almost an hour and a half long! The ridership is incredibly low! The schedule is extremely limited! I mean, for all intents and purposes, as a route, RIPTA should have eliminated this thing long ago!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Yeah, well...the Rural Ride definitely lives up to its name. There aren't any places on the route really worth visiting, but the ride itself is very pleasant! You really do go through the middle of nowhere, and the ladies that ride the route are very nice.

Final Verdict: 3/10 for the route, 8/10 for the concept
This isn't just a bus route - this is a lifeline. For the people living in Canonchet Cliffs, the 301 is the only way to get out and see the world. But the problem is that...well, it's also a bus route. And it's a really bad bus route with low ridership, low frequency, and low efficiency. Here's the thing: the 301 should not be RIPTA's problem. This should just be a shuttle from Canonchet Cliffs that runs to Stop & Shop and Walmart. Maybe they could run it to each location on different days to give people more days to go out! Please, Canonchet: take this away from RIPTA, because if they eliminate the route, it will have a tremendous, negative impact on these people's lives...and they have every reason to eliminate it from an operational perspective. It's a lifeline...it's a really important lifeline.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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