April 4, 2008

Suburban New York vs Boston Rail Service: Ours is worse in every way

My parents live 3 miles farther away from Manhattan's Penn Station than I do from Boston's South Station, so comparing commuter rail service from each home is a reasonable endeavor. Of course, New York is a much larger city, so suburbs there are more densely populated 20 miles out than they are here. So, I expect that trains run more frequently on Long Island, especially off peak  (33% more into the city between 9 am and 5 pm). And, that stations are more convenient to more people on Long Island than they are here (by the time I drive the 6 miles south to get to the Framingham commuter rail station, I could be close to one-third of the way into Boston if I headed east instead.)

However, I do expect it to take a shorter amount of time to get from Framingham to Boston by rail than it would to travel the longer distance between my parents' home and New York City, especially since they need more stations to serve a more densely populated area. Yet it's just a 40-minute trip on Long Island, while most trains on the Framingham line are slated at just under an hour (56 minutes).

In other words: It usually takes about 50% longer to travel a shorter distance by commuter rail in Boston's western suburbs than on Long Island.



  1. 6 weeks ago - give or take - i took my first ride on the NY commuter rail to Grand Central. it made it that much harder to go back to the MBTA/MBCR. The trains were so nice, there was lots of parking at the station I parked at and, granted it was a long ride (76 min to the city) it was blessfully smooth. it made me understand why people live in the burbs and work in the city - at least in NYC, I understand it.


  2. New York is the only city in America where a majority of people take public transit to work. There's a critical mass of political support for mass transportation, and it shows. Unfortunately that's unusual in this country.

  3. I commuted to downtown Boston daily from Framingham for about five years.

    While it was not ideal, at least there *is* a commuter rail. Not the case in most areas of the U.S. I lived on the South Shore for most of my life before moving here, and waited in vain for years for the commuter rail to Scituate to be re-built. I moved to Marshfield in 1992 and was told the commuter rail was coming soon. Meanwhile I had to drive or take a bus *20 miles* each way to get to the Red Line in Braintree to get to Boston.

    Finally, the commuter rail to Scituate started up last year, 15 years later!

    So despite the frustrations with the Framingham to Boston rail line, at least it's been there as an option for a long time. My biggest frustration was parking. I was going to the West Natick station, and if you were not there by 6:30 a.m. the lot was full. Not exactly the best way to encourage ridership.

  4. I can tell you that as long as the public thinks "at least we have service, even if it's bad, I'm grateful for anything," that's what we'll always have - poor service. Which means anyone who's got a reasonable alternative to drive a private vehicle will do so, even if the cost is a lot higher. Which makes a smaller constituency for public transportation, allowing officials to get away with even lousier service. And the cycle spirals downward, ending up with what we have today - constantly late, non-dependable train service.

    Ever hear people who drive cars say, "The roads are littered with potholes so you can't drive over 30 mph on the highway anymore. But at least we have paved roads! There are Third World countries that don't even have paved roads!" Of course not. That's because auto drivers expect their government to provide proper infrastructure. That expectation isn't always met, but it's there.

    Until there's a similar expectation of and demand for affordable, reliable, convenient, efficient, reasonably quick, on-time public transportation, we'll never have it.