Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The MBTA Capital Investment Program FY15-19

MassDOT put out its capital investment plan (CIP) and the weMove Massachusetts plan recently, and the board voted on it a couple weeks ago. Actually, they voted on it at the board meeting on February 12th, while the comment deadline was February 14th, which makes it seem like they don't even maintain the pretense of listening to public comment. They did add some MBTA bus replacement funding based on the oral testimony from the public meetings, however.

The MBTA has a separate CIP with a comment deadline of February 28th though, and you can still comment by sending an email to cipinfo@mbta.com.

I recommend checking out the CIP FY15-19 document itself if you are interested in details about the system investment. There's some intriguing suggestions, such as the implementation of CharlieCard on Commuter Rail, or "identifying technology for proof-of-payment on the Green Line." I'm not entirely sure that this is new text, or if it's just leftover copy/paste from an old plan. But there's $16 million allocated to it in upcoming fiscal years.

On the other hand, there's also $308 million allocated to the disastrous South Coast Rail project, and $120 million for parking garages in Quincy, Beverly and Salem -- a highway benefit that directly hurts the MBTA's ability to attract real investment and ridership at its expensive stations.

South Coast Rail is especially pernicious because the final tally will be over $1.5 billion and it is only expected to accommodate about 5,000 riders. Those are optimistic estimates; some have ranged up to $2.1 billion and merely 3,000 riders. At a cost of over $300,000 per person, it is a boondoggle that absolutely dwarfs the Big Dig (~$100,000 per vehicle).

A recent blog post about the ridiculously high costs of American transit caught my eye with this paragraph:
Again, think of the consultant’s motivation. If they design everything to standard and it costs extra money, it’s not their money that gets spent. If they design something that doesn't meet standards, they potentially expose themselves to significant liability. What would you do? There’s a reason some consultants think the best project is the project that never gets built.
It occurs to me that this is the story of South Coast Rail: a consultant hand-out that won't ever get built. Think about this:

  • The $308 million is just for preliminary engineering and very minor track work (for freight).
  • The selected alternative requires electrification of the route, with commuter trains powered by overhead catenary. The MBTA does not operate such trains, has no facilities to maintain them, and has no plans to do so in the foreseeable future.
  • The South Coast Rail project has been a nebulous political football for decades, pumped by consultants all along.

So, there's a ton of money that gets spent on consulting work with very little construction to go with it; a service plan which is unimplementable; and a history of exploitation. To my eyes, this screams fraud.

Anyway, there's lots of stuff in it, so I recommend checking out the CIP and writing a comment by Friday.


  1. One interesting thing that I noticed is the procurement of 220 new Green Line cars (though sometime around 2020, after the end of this plan), which sounds like a total fleet replacement including the Type 8s, which leaves the latter with a pretty short service life. Also interesting is the project for replacing all the trolleybus wires. I wonder if they'll upgrade to modern, higher-speed special work.

    1. Yes, after the GLX order comes in, I think they will likely base a large order on the same design, if there are no problems.

      The type 8s are not likely to be overhauled and will be ditched in favor of the new cars when they reach that point.


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