Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Silver Hill

This is one of the least-served stations on the entire Commuter Rail! With only two trips in the morning and three trips in the afternoon, clearly Silver Hill is a station for commuters only. But what it lacks in service, it makes up for with lots of charm!

The road leading to the station.
As you walk toward Silver Hill (which my friend Nathan and I were doing), the area has a certain...feel to it. You know...all the houses around are huge, and there are long-ish sections of woods between each one. This is Weston, after all - one of the wealthiest towns in Massachusetts.

Wow...such glorious amenities!
So...the parking here is a bit dubious. The MBTA website says it has none, but that patch of gravel next to the station is most definitely used by cars. Of course, there's no rhyme or reason to it - some people park forwards, some park backwards, and some just use it as a pick-up area. The station also has a bike rack, which is locked to the fence (arguably not a necessary precaution in Weston, but I digress).

How charming!
Yes, the platform is unpaved. Yes, you have to cross the outbound track to get to the inbound side with no crossing whatsoever. But...it sure is a lovely place, isn't it? The wooden road bridge over the station adds lots of character, while the shelter is awesome. It feels so rustic inside, and it may only have a single bench, but it gets the job done really well! There's a great sign on the shelter too, saying that the station has had continuous service since 1844. Wow!

A train blazing through!
Station: Silver Hill

Ridership: Oh boy, get ready for this: a whole 15 people per day! Don't get me wrong, it makes perfect sense since it gets so few trips. On another note, Nathan and I got an outbound train from here and went one stop to Lincoln - quite possibly the first time such a trip was ever made in history! The conductor gave us a strange look...

Pros: Ahh, it's just so charming. It really feels like you're in the middle of nowhere when you wait here, right down to the wooden bridge, stairs, and shelter. Also, the parking here is free, and I'm sure that lot will never get full!

Cons: This place is still in really bad shape. The platform isn't paved at all aside from the shelter, and even the tracks are in subpar condition here. Having to walk across them to the inbound side is annoying without pavement, as well. Yes, we're talking about 15 people per day here, but it doesn't change the fact that this is below the minimum one would expect for a Commuter Rail station.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Do you like big houses? Great! That's basically all you'll see out here!

Final Verdict: 3/10 (sorry!)
Look, I'm gonna admit that I fell in love with Silver Hill's immense charm while I was here. It really is an awesome place to hang out. But...you guys understand why I gave it a 3, right? It's just so basic and it gets so few trains that it's just...a 3. However, I will say that the limited service it gets makes the station a true hidden gem, and it's most definitely worth checking out.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sam's Operational Oculi: Running Time, Layover, and Cycle Time

In this Operational Oculi, I decided that I’d take a quick break from garage walkthroughs and begin to tackle the subject of how a public transportation schedule is made. Some terms that I am going to try to define today are “running time”, “layover”, and “cycle". I am hoping that this post (along with my others coming up later) will give you an appreciation for why your bus arrives at a certain time (and how in most cases it’s not random).


Almost every route in the area has an “inbound” and an “outbound” direction. Even routes like the MBTA 201 and 202, which for the most part are loops, run “outbound” and “inbound” (and change directions at a given point in the route). At most times of the day, especially during rush hour, most people want to travel only one of those two directions. This can prove to be challenging, since there is a bigger demand for service in one direction than the other. Transit agencies strive to keep their buses comfortably full at all times. Since buses can’t just magically spawn at the places that they are needed, equal service is usually given to both directions of the route. This isn’t always the case, and we’ll go over those special cases some other time.


For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume that every route has its own buses that run back and forth on it. In another post, I’ll try to explain what “interlining” means and how most buses will run several routes in a given day. However, there are plenty of routes on the MBTA and elsewhere that follow this model of having their own buses that run back and forth and don’t run on any other routes (such as the 111 and 352). In order to build a schedule, you need to determine: a) how often the bus should come (the headway), and b) how long it will take from Point A to Point B (running time). The running time heavily influences the headway; it can affect how quickly a bus can do a round trip and therefore how frequently the bus can come. On routes that aren’t interlined, the running time is probably one of the biggest factors of what can determine a headway to ensure that service runs on time and also frequently, efficiently utilizing all of the buses that could be given to run that particular service.

Running time is calculated by taking archived, real-time data from buses, discarding outlier sets of data (that one day two weeks ago when traffic was gridlocked shouldn’t be built into the schedule), and finding the median amount of time from there. It is a very delicate science to assign running time: too little running time and the bus runs late, too much running time and the driver will drive slower than is necessary to avoid running early. This is where layover time can come in handy. Layover time is the time between when the bus arrives at its destination until the time it has to leave on its next trip. Layover time is crucial to keeping buses on schedule. The MBTA requires a minimum of 20% layover time after every trip (so, for a 25 minute one-way trip, 5 minutes must be designated as layover time. This means that during the 25 minute trip, the bus can be delayed up to 5 minutes and still be able to leave in time for its next trip. The scheduled running time for a round trip plus layover on each end is called the cycle time.

So let’s try to apply all of this into an example route. Let’s say that there’s a route 63, running from Alewife Station in Cambridge, to Central Square, Waltham, running via Waverley Square in Belmont. Running time data suggests that the trip takes 25 minutes on Saturdays. Service every 30 minutes has been deemed optimal. We can determine the minimum layover time by taking 20% of the 25 minute running time, which is five minutes. Adding up the running time in both directions, plus two six minute layovers on each end, means that we have a 60 minute minimum cycle time on this route. This works out perfectly, since 60 is divisible by the 30 minute headway that we were striving for. The cycle time divided by the headway equals the number of buses required to run the service. Since 60/30 = 2, two are required to run the service. Most of the time however, the optimal headway is not evenly divisible by the cycle time. In these cases, three things could happen: the layover time could increase, the headway could change, or the route could interline with another route. The last scenario mentioned has become increasingly common, and I hope to get the interlining post that I mentioned earlier up in the near future.

That’s it for this post. Please be sure to stay tuned for more posts from Miles and some more stuff by me in the future!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Kendal Green

Kendal Green, Kendal Green, Kendal Green...yup, this is a station, all right. I think I've exceeded the number of interesting words I can possibly say in this intro...

Looking down the platform. By the way, that speck is an unfortunate presence on my camera lens...I really need to get that fixed.
Okay, the first thing to note about Kendal Green is that it's a pretty small station. In fact, when my friend Nathan and I got out here, we were let off in the middle of the grade crossing! Another thing to note about this place is the fact that in order to board inbound trains, you have to cross the outbound track. They have pavement on the tracks to make it easier, but it's certainly not an optimal setup.

Underneath the shelter.
This station has a rather charming building that provides a bit of shelter. Underneath it is a bench, a wastebasket, a bike rack (very convenient), a schedule, and...polls? Yes, for some reason there were election polls hung up on the wall. Is this really a place where people come to vote?

Looking the other way down the platform.
The rest of the tiny platform isn't particularly noteworthy, and thus we move on to parking. Now, I actually didn't know this place had a lot when I was here, so I'm basically relying on Google Street View and the MBTA website for my information. But yes, Kendal Green has a small lot with 57 spaces. It seems like it gets pretty full on weekdays, which could be bad if people can't get in, but at least the parking's free!

A train heading into Boston.
Station: Kendal Green

Ridership: Oh dear, not much at all...Kendal Green only gets 162 inbound riders per weekday. It's the fourth least-used station on the Fitchburg Line.

Pros: This station definitely has charm to it, especially with that building. Its amenities are fine considering its ridership, and the free parking is nice, as well as the bike rack. Finally, I like the way this station is scheduled - outside of the peak, it's always a flag stop. This is a good way of letting people get on if they're there, but not having to hinder other passengers on the train if the platform is empty.

Cons: It's just a very basic station. The platform is tiny, and there isn't even one on the inbound side! That being said, I guess it does match the ridership.

Nearby and Noteworthy: No, the surrounding area is basically all houses. It's only a mile to the closest 70 stop, though!

Final Verdict: 5/10
I dunno, it's just...Kendal Green. I certainly see its charm, and it has a good amount of it, but the lack of an outbound platform is really bad. Even then, giving this a 6 would mean it's better than Concord, which it most certainly isn't. Kendal Green does its job fine, but it definitely has its fare share of problems.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Saturday, September 24, 2016

MBTA Bus Roadeo!

This year, I got the chance to attend the 40th Annual MBTA Bus Roadeo, and it was an absolute blast! My friends Jordan, Nathan, Nick, Sam, and I met up at Sullivan at around 6:30, and then we walked over to Charlestown Garage where the Roadeo was taking place. When we got there, breakfast sandwiches and coffee were available, and people could go inside buses 1459 (an Xcelsior that's barely been in service), 291 (an RTS converted to a work bus with trolley wires), and 2600 (an ancient GMC from 1957!).

The view of all three buses from across the yard.
A shot of 291 after it had been moved.
The inside! Slightly different from a regular RTS, eh?
A better view of 2600.
The inside! Those seats were comfy.
A look at the driving area.
Oh yes, they also had this tiny train-bus thing on display!
Ah, the MBTA's failed Nova Bus prototype...
At around 7:30, the main event began. The Roadeo is a competition between the best drivers on the MBTA - there are a bunch of requirements just to be eligible to enter. It involves a course through Charlestown Yard, where drivers are tested on a variety of different criteria. Additionally, they are tested on uniform and posture, as well as being able to find defects on a bus.

Operator 68014 at the start of the course.
Also, I ended up volunteering as a "runner". This meant that as the buses went around the course, I would go to each judging station and collect the scoresheets to bring back to the scorers. It was a really fun job, and I'm really glad I was able to help out!

Getting the handoff from judge Lorraine Landsburg! Photo credit to Sam.
But you guys want to hear about the course itself, don't you? With humorous and energetic commentary blasting over the speakers, buses had to traverse 11 challenges in the course (there were also three more that I'll discuss at the end). The first vehicle challenge was getting the bus's wheels through tennis balls without knocking them over. They got closer as it went along, and they were already tight to begin with!

Operator 71340 about to head through the tennis balls, with judge Jay Orlando looking on.
After that, buses had to take a left-hand turn. This one was incredibly difficult, since the cones on either side were so tight! Each challenge was graded on a scale of 50 points, and with this one, 25 were lost from hitting one of the entrance cones leading into the turn. Buses also lost points for shifting into reverse.

72113 making the turn.
The next challenge was also a tough one, where buses had to reverse leftward into a narrow alley of cones, then come out again. It was hard to get through without hitting at least one! After that, buses would do the same thing but on the right, and then make a right-hand turn with more narrow cones.

69646 backing up.
Buses had to make a "stop" after that, judged by how far they were from the curb and whether they made ADA announcements or not. From there, the next challenge was a slalom, where vehicles had to navigate their way around a set of cones. They had to face the "Offset Street" challenge next, which involved running through a straight set of cones, then doing an s-curve to another set of cones.

A bus (not sure about the operator number) making a stop.
Buses had to make a second stop after the Offset Street, and then we got to the most exciting part of the course: the "Diminishing Clearance" challenge. Here, buses had to go at least 20 MPH while not hitting any barrels - then they had to stop as quickly as possible to avoid hitting one final cone. It was exhilarating seeing buses speed through, and cheers from the crowd and commentator would erupt every time a barrel was sent flying.

72019 about to barrel through the barrels! That's a pun or something.
Another aspect of the Roadeo that was just as important as the course was finding bus defects. These were more behind-the-scenes, taking place at the garage, and involved drivers having to find eight defects on a vehicle. There was even a "bomb" on board! Drivers were also scored on their uniform -every aspect had to be absolutely perfect.

The Maintenance Roadeo.
Also happening in the garage was the Maintenance Roadeo. This was where members of maintenance teams would have to perform challenges on various bus parts, such as starting up an engine. Unfortunately I wasn't able to spend a lot of time back there due to my "running" duties, but it seemed pretty cool!

Inside the big dining tent.
Once the events were over, it was time to eat! There was some absolutely fantastic barbeque at the Roadeo, and more than enough for everyone to dig in. They also had popcorn and cotton candy, a DJ, and a bounce house for the kids. Finally, the results were announced: in 1st Place was Reynaldo Beato right from Charlestown Garage!

Announcing the results.
Overall, the Roadeo was super fun! It was great to see the buses navigate around the course, and meeting a bunch of instructors while collecting sheets was a blast. Finally, I want to give a huge thanks to Justin Grizy and Lorraine Landsburg for inviting us in the first place and making this all possible. Hope to come back again next year!

Some buses lined up.
And with the Roadeo over, the Charlestown buses came back to pull out!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

GUEST POST: Service Change: Transit in Madrid

Here is Part 2 of Gabe W's international transit journey. Great job as usual, Gabe!

Gabe here again! When I was last with you guys I was leaving Israel. Now, for the second part of the journey, we stayed in Madrid for five days! So, of course, our plane landed at Madrid-Barajas Airport, which is the main international airport serving Madrid (which is the capital of Spain). Now, all of the international departures and arrivals went through the HUGE Terminal 4 (there are other terminals). The reason the terminal is so big is because it is actually two terminals (T4 and T4S), which are connected by a two and a half kilometer long underground driverless people mover, aptly called the Airport People Mover. The system was built a lot like a subway shuttle line, so I counted it as a public transport system and took some pictures.


A map of the shuttle system. Terminal 4S contained “terminals” M, R, S, and U, while T4 contained H, J, and K.
This is what the front of each shuttle car looked like. It looks pretty similar to the Madrid Metro cars we’ll see in a little bit.
The interior of the car in front of us, packed with people. Also, if you look to the top of the picture, you can see a reflection of the car we were in. Of course, after we left the main terminal we just called a taxi to get to the new apartment.
The Madrid Metro is complicated. Not as much as NYC, but it still has 16 lines. Before we left Boston, dad printed out a map of the metro, and I spent about an hour pouring over it, trying to figure out how to get to the center of town. The good news is that the station closest to us (about half a mile away) was a transfer station, between a circular route that ran around the city surrounding the downtown area and one of the routes that cut right through the center. The Station’s name was Legazpi, and it was about 2 miles from the downtown area.
Now, Legazpi was a pretty innovative station. It was built around a rotary (which are really common in Madrid) and had three headhouses. The outer lane of the rotary was actually a busway, and it went right by the main headhouse. The main headhouse was a small, glass rectangular building with an entrance for the escalators in the front and elevators in the back.
The main entrance to Legazpi, with the escalator entrance showing.
The station as a whole was really clean and modern. After going through the spacious mezzanine (which had plenty of ticket machines), the fare control area was directly linked to the outbound platform of Line 3. Next to the ramp to the platform was an escalator down to the exchange level, where three other escalator pairs (both up and down) linked to the inbound platform and the other end of the outbound platform (there was a pair of elevators there too). There were also escalators down to the Line 6 platforms, but I never got to check them out, or ride the Line 6 at all.
The platforms themselves were quite clean, and had ample seating. A couple of scattered countdown clocks told us both the time, the ETA of the next train, and some other useful system information (delays on Line 2, shuttle service on line 5).
One of the ticket machines within the mezzanine. It looked quite similar to the ones in Boston.
A picture of some of the Metro tickets, taken the following day. The tickets cost more the further you go, so you have to enter your destination. You could go further than what the tickets “allow” you too, but we didn’t risk it.
Some information on the namesake of the station probably meant for visitors to Madrid and tourists. Too bad it was in Spanish…
A map of Line 3, with one side showing the station name and the other showing the connections.
The platforms for Line 3.
A Line 3 train on the outbound side. In the picture, you can see the ramp leading up to fare control and one of the escalators down to the exchange level. This type of train was used on both of the lines I rode upon, so I can assume it's standard with the Metro system (not the light rail trains, of course).
The inside of the train that we rode inbound. Like the London subsurface trains, it was a continuous car, with 5 pivot points (so it was the length of a six car train).
The station that we got off at was the huge Sol station, a transfer between the 1, 2, and 3 lines. Like Legazpi, Sol was clean and modern, with a large main room that has passageways leading off from it. This room was a quick escalator ride from fare control and the mezzanine, and the main room was on level with Line 2.
One of the main hallways located within Sol. As you can see, there’s a busker within it, and the hallway leads to the escalators to the main room.
A view of fare control and the mezzanine from down the hall. Behind us is the exit to the Line 3 stairs, and way behind us is the Line 1 entrance seen in the previous image.
A picture of one of the entrances to Sol, in the NYC style. The banner states that the elevators are being fixed, and that there is no accessible service at the moment.
Here’s the main mezzanine, taken from within fare control. The mezzanine is clean, modern, and efficient, with ample fare gates and ticket machines. We exited both through this area and came through it later in the day, as we headed home.
Here’s a view of fare control past the main mezzanine. The escalators lead down to the bottom floor of the main room. You can see some of the ads within the station from here, as well as a sign directing the foot traffic.
A view of the main room, from atop the second floor (I took it from the area seen in the last picture). If you go to the right, you end up in the Line 3 hallway. If you go to the left, you head to Line 2. The entrance to line 1 is also to the right, but it comes up immediately after turning. The large black object hanging from the roof is actually a sculpture.
The next station we got to visit was Callao (pronounced Cay-yow), a transfer station between Line 3 and Line 5 (it also got commuter rail service, but we didn’t take it). Like the other stations, it was simple, modern, and efficient, though it had some nice decorations.
One of the entrances to Callao. This one was built like the standard NYC subway entrance, so the elevators were elsewhere in the square.
A picture of Callao’s main mezzanine, showing the escalator from the more modern entrance (it had the elevator) and the fare gates. Unlike the other stations I visited, the pillars here were metal and reflective, and not just painted white.
A close-up on one of the fare gates (standard throughout the system). The slit at the front is for the tickets, and the green circle at the top is where you place the smart cards for the system (think CharlieCard).
The Line 3 platform at Callao, looking quite similar to every single platform on Line 3 I had already seen.
One of the countdown clocks located at Callao. It was working perfectly, though my (phone) camera caught it at a weird moment. As you can see, it tells you the destination of the next train, the time till the next train, and some other fast-moving information.
The final station that I visited was Retiro, which I convinced my parents to go to after walking through the Royal Gardens (the other option was to go to Sol, which I had already been to). Retiro was on the Line 2, but was not a transfer station, and was two stops away from Sol. It seemed that the Madrid Metro had only modernized the transfer stations, as Retiro was old and not in good shape . The platforms were decaying, and there were stains on the walls. At least the technology (fare gates, ticket machines, countdown clocks, etc) was in top condition.
Retiro’s small mezzanine and fare control area. The ticket machines were located behind my current position to the right. I quite like how they put a countdown clock right at the entrance, so you would know if you had to run for the train.
Retiro’s platforms, not in the top condition. The concrete was faded and the walls were stained. At least there was no water dripping on the floor (I’m looking at you, Haymarket).
Both Line 2 and Line 3 (and probably the rest of the lines, due to a standard trainset) ran on overhead lines, which weren’t even wires! They were a third rail suspended above the train.
Finally, on the second to last day, I walked down to one of the main roads and took a couple pictures of the buses going by. According to Madrid’s website, the bus colors have meaning. The blue buses only operate routes within the city, while the green ones go out into the suburbs (there are also the express yellow buses, which go to nearby cities, and red buses have the same job as blue ones). At one point I had more pictures, but they were deleted by my sister (still don’t know how she did that).
A route 135 approaching from the distance.
A route 86, heading to “Vill. Alto”, which is the terminus for Line 3.
And so, after three weeks on an international adventure, I returned home to Logan Airport. However, my family and I were faced with a problem. My grandmother, who left us halfway through the trip, had driven us to the airport, so we had no way to get home. Luckily, the previous night, I had thought of a solution. We ended up taking the Silver Line SL1 to South Station, then taking the Providence/Stoughton Line to Sharon (review coming soon), and finally calling a cab to get home.
Did you know that the SL1 had countdown clocks at the airport? Well now you do, and they’re pretty accurate! The bus ended up coming two minutes late, but that’s pretty minimal.
I couldn’t get a picture of the front of the bus, so here’s the side.

And that’s it! Between buses and trains in Israel and the metro in Madrid, I think my trip was pretty transit filled!
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