4.9.07

ONCE THE WORLD'S LARGEST TERMINUS. But after the eastern railroad bankruptcies as well as massive public spending on not quite enough road capacity, the owners of Boston's South Station sold off half of the trainshed area as well as most of the headhouse for office towers, a postal station, and a bus terminal. (The gentrified food court and waiting area cum concourse remain only because some preservationist actions coincided with a downturn in the real estate market.)

But there's no room for more roads in Boston, and additional trains will likely clog what's left of the station.

The 1997 North-South Rail Link Major Investment Study indicates that with the Greenbush Line expansion, South Station is at risk of a domino-effect scenario in which one train’s delays “cascade rapidly into following trains,” jeopardizing the entire schedule.

Steps have been taken to prevent that scenario, said [transit authority] spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

“South Station has the capacity to handle Greenbush Line trains,” he said. “We simply have to adjust schedules to accommodate the additional trains.”

However, service at South Station is likely to expand beyond the Greenbush Line. Amtrak’s Acela ridership is growing; Worcester riders are holding onto a Romney administration promise for more trains; and momentum is gathering to extend the Commuter Rail to New Bedford and Fall River.

Executive Office of Transportation officials said they are contemplating taking over the adjacent post office to add new South Station tracks.

“The Postal Service has indicated a willingness to vacate the property, thereby providing sufficient room to increase capacity at South Station for future rail expansion,” transportation spokesman Erik Abell said.

However, the ability to move the post office depends on whether the Postal Service can strike a deal with MassPort for a parcel along the Reserve Channel in South Boston. The Postal Service “has been in discussion with MassPort for several years now” about that property, said USPS spokesman Bob Cannon.

That transaction adds only four platform tracks. (Many of the Boston-area commuter trains are short by Chicago standards. The British solution of double-platforming is not an option, however, as an office tower above the existing tracks is improperly ventilated, and exhausts from idling diesels under the building get into the building. Passengers therefore have to walk halfway to Boston Common to board trains that are marshalled with the diesels south of the office tower.)

Former Massachusetts governor and onetime presidential nominee Michael Dukakis goes on record in favor of a railroad connecting North and South Stations, permitting consists to turn at coachyards or outlying terminals rather than occupy a stub track.

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