Posts Tagged ‘boston’

FRA Releases NEC FUTURE Tier 1 DEIS

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

by Dave Towers, P.E.

HMMH is proud to be a part of the team that prepared the NEC FUTURE Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that was released by the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) earlier this week.  NEC FUTURE is a comprehensive plan for improvements to the Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail line from Washington, D.C. to Boston, Massachusetts and the objective of the Tier 1 EIS is to evaluate the broad environmental impacts of several NEC alternatives. HMMH was responsible for evaluating the potential noise and vibration impacts of these alternatives to residential and other sensitive land uses along the existing NEC and potential new routes.  The noise and vibration analysis was conducted based on the methodology outlined in guidance documents for noise and vibration impact assessment prepared by HMMH for both the FRA and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Estimates of noise and vibration levels accounted for passenger and freight rail operations as well as roadway and aircraft traffic in areas along the routes and the results provided estimates of residential populations and sensitive resources within impact zones for each of the alternatives.  After the Tier 1 process is completed, a Tier 2 EIS will be undertaken to evaluate impacts for a preferred alternative in site-specific detail.

TBT: Boston’s Southwest Corridor

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

By Mary Ellen Eagan

I’m at an FAA training session on FAA Order 1050.1F, Policies and Procedures for Considering Environmental Impacts (currently in draft). In preparation, I did a google-walkabout on the Environmental Policy Act, and eventually found my way to this photo, which was a fixture of my childhood (not the photo, the graffiti):

Roxbury, MA, 1969

Here’s a bit of backstory on the “People Before Highways” movement of the late 1960s, which (according to this History of the Inner Belt and even Wikipedia) added additional public pressure to President Nixon to enact NEPA in 1969.

The Inner Belt was a proposed interstate highway that was an 8-lane expressway that would have begun at Route I-93 in Somerville and circled through Cambridge near Central Square, crossed the Charles River near the BU Bridge, touched a portion of Brookline, crossed the Fenway and passed the Museum of Fine Arts, moved on through the Roxbury section of Boston to connect to the Southeast Expressway at the point where it joins the Central Artery heading toward downtown Boston. The Inner Belt and Central Artery thus would have joined to create a ring road around and through the inner Boston area, with major intersections along it: at a proposed extension of Route 2 from Alewife, at the Turnpike in Allston, at a proposed Southwest Expressway (I-95 South) originating in Dedham, at the Southeast Expressway, at a new tunnel under Boston Harbor (I-95 North).

Opposition to the Southwest Expressway originated with environmentalists in the outer suburbs and neighborhood activists in the inner city. A group of city planners, community activists, universities, and politicians formed a coalition that by 1969 had become a region-wide alliance that included groups and officials from Brookline, Cambridge, Dedham, Lynn, Milton, Needham, Revere, Saugus, Somerville and Boston’s East Boston, South Boston, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, and the South End.

The proposed interchange between I-95 and the planned Inner Belt.  Source: Cambridge Historical Society

The proposed interchange between I-95 and the planned Inner Belt.
Source: Cambridge Historical Society

As a seven-year-old, I remember my mother dragging me to these protests during the summer of 1969.   I’m guessing I was promised a popsicle if I didn’t whine too much – and probably had to wrangle my three younger siblings for full payment. All I really remember is lots of people and hot sidewalks, though I do recall that it was a big deal when Governor Sargent “stopped” the project.

How ironic that 45 years later, most of my career would have been dedicated to implementing the basic tenets set forth in the NEPA preamble:

“To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation; and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality.”

[National Environmental Policy Act, 1969]

I often wonder if the multi-million dollar studies now conducted in “accordance with NEPA” are really what folks like my mother had in mind when they were looking for a little more transparency in the process (though I’ll bet you they didn’t use those words. Just sayin’.)

The happy ending (in case you were unaware): I-95 was stopped (though there’s still a ramp to nowhere in Somerville), the MBTA’s Orange Line has brought incredible development to an otherwise neglected part of the city – including a lovely linear Southwest Corridor Park and expansion of Northeastern University. And eventually the Big Dig addressed some of the traffic problems. But that’s a story for another day.

The “Ramp to Nowhere” off I-93 in Somerville

The “Ramp to Nowhere” off I-93 in Somerville

National Train Day

Monday, May 16th, 2011

by Dave Towers

There are a number of holidays that occur in early May including May Day, a traditional spring festival celebrated on May 1, and Cinco de Mayo, celebrating Mexican heritage and pride on May 5.  In addition, a colleague recently informed me that the day prior to Cinco de Mayo is celebrated as National Star Wars Day:  May the 4th be with you!  However, for railfans and those who work on projects in the rail industry, the most notable holiday during this period is National Train Day.

National Train Day is a holiday started by Amtrak in 2008 as a means to spread information to the general public about the advantages of rail travel and the history of trains in the United States.  Since then, it has been held each year on the Saturday closest to May 10th, the anniversary of the pounding of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in Utah (not Promontory Point as often misstated) which marked the completion of what is generally considered the first transcontinental railroad.

Although the joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads was a grand achievement, the claim of being “first” needs to be qualified, as one could not yet ride rails without interruption between the Atlantic and Pacific on May 10, 1869.  There was a 1,500-foot gap across the Missouri River between Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and another gap between Sacramento and Oakland, California.  While the California gap on the Central Pacific was closed a few months later, the Union Pacific did not complete its permanent bridge across the Missouri River at Omaha until March 22, 1872.  In the meantime, transcontinental rail service on the Kansas Pacific Railway via its bridge at Kansas City was achieved when the final spike was driven at Comanche Crossing, Colorado on August 15, 1870, marking the completion of the first uninterrupted transcontinental railroad between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

First Transcontinental Railroad

In any case, National Train Day was celebrated this year (in conjunction with Amtrak’s 40th Anniversary) on Saturday May 7, with train equipment displays and events at several of the major stations across the Amtrak system.  As a representative of the Rail Group at HMMH, I decided to attend the local festivities at South Station in Boston.  The attractions included a jazz trio concert, a display of an Amtrak Acela train, tours of South Station and various informational tables with souvenir items.

South Station, Boston

The Acela is the first and only “high-speed” train in the U.S. and has been operating on the Northeast Corridor between Boston, MA and Washington, DC since December of 2000.  The train travels at speeds of up to 150 mph (240 km/h) for brief intervals, but its average speed is much less due to the many curves in the track; not exactly high speed by European and Asian standards.  One popular feature of the Acela introduced by Amtrak is the “Quiet Car” which provides a quiet refuge for train travelers that is especially appreciated by those of us in the noise control field.  This concept has spread to several U.S. commuter rail systems, including those in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Boston, where it has been very well received.

Acela Train

 

Acela's Quiet Car

I capped off my visit with a guided tour of Boston South Station.  Although the tour was limited to public station areas (not a behind-the scenes tour), the guide did provide some interesting information.  The station was constructed in 1897 as a “union station,” consolidating several existing railroad lines, and became the busiest station in the country by 1910.  As this area of Boston was originally under water, the station is supported by 36,000 piles, one of which is exposed and visible in the passageway between the railroad terminal and the MBTA Red Line subway.  By the 1970s the condition of the station had deteriorated significantly, but the station was modernized and restored to its former grandeur in the 1980s as part of the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project.  Although the original mechanical train board (sold on Ebay) has been replaced by an electronic one, the clacking sound that occurred during train information updates has been retained.

Boston's South Station

 

This Building Erected by The Boston Terminal Company

Exposed Piles in Passageway

All in all, participation in National Train Day was a meaningful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  Unfortunately, given the current economic and political conditions, the future of high-speed and other forms of rail transit is somewhat clouded.  However, considering the many benefits of passenger rail transportation to the public and to our environment, it can only be hoped that these types of events will help to keep the dream alive.