Longing for 'The Comet'

If only…    The old New Haven Railroad put a unique three-car articulated high-speed passenger train called “The Comet’’ into service between Boston and Providence during 1935. The radically streamlined train was designed and built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company using the latest aerodynamic methods and technologies. Unfortunately, the speedy Comet was a bit too successful on the Boston-Providence run. When the New Haven's passenger business picked up at the start of World War II, the small train couldn't handle the crowds of people who wanted to ride it. The Comet was taken off the Boston-Providence run and spent the remainder of its service life on short-haul commuter runs in the Boston area. It was scrapped in 1951.

If only…

The old New Haven Railroad put a unique three-car articulated high-speed passenger train called “The Comet’’ into service between Boston and Providence during 1935. The radically streamlined train was designed and built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company using the latest aerodynamic methods and technologies. Unfortunately, the speedy Comet was a bit too successful on the Boston-Providence run. When the New Haven's passenger business picked up at the start of World War II, the small train couldn't handle the crowds of people who wanted to ride it. The Comet was taken off the Boston-Providence run and spent the remainder of its service life on short-haul commuter runs in the Boston area. It was scrapped in 1951.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal 24.com

It’s too bad that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation decided not to have a second set of tracks laid for the new Pawtucket commuter rail station and instead is building the station directly along Amtrak’s very busy Northeast Corridor tracks. As The Providence Journal’s Patrick Anderson reported in an Aug. 26 story (“Pawtucket station cost climbs to $51 million’’), “With the station directly on the Northeast Corridor, intercity or express trains couldn’t overtake trains stopping in Pawtucket.’’ That may well slow down traffic on that very heavily traveled Amtrak/MBTA line. And, Mr. Anderson noted, “ot building a second set of tracks could make it more difficult to create a Rhode Island-run rail shuttle.’’

The Transportation Department’s decision to forgo the tracks was done to save money but the project has included a hefty cost overrun -- $11 million so far -- at least in part because, Mr. Anderson reports, Amtrak rules (it’s their track!) “have forced the station work to be done at night and at other times of light traffic,’’ driving up costs. But the biggest false economy in this is for the long-term.

Of course, Amtrak itself needs more tracks to allow more and faster trains and help get as many vehicles as possible off the roads.

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Kudos to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker for making a push for MBTA express trains between Boston and Providence. But this will require working it out with Amtrak, which runs on the same line. Again we need more tracks!! And an express train program may also require leasing electric-powered trains from Amtrak; the diesel trains now on the MBTA’s Providence-Boston route are less reliable than electric ones.

What could happen faster is having express highway lanes on highways in and around Boston that drivers would have to pay a toll to use. That would bring in money for transportation projects and encourage use of mass transit. Mr. Baker seems to like the idea, though many will yelp. But the region’s highway-congestion crisis has reached the point that strong, perhaps politically unpopular measures must be taken – and soon. (Some wags are calling the proposed express lanes “Lexus Lanes,’’ implying they’ll unduly favor richer folks who can more easily afford them.)

Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, former Amtrak chairman and now a Northeastern University political science professor, said at a Grow Smart RI meeting in April:

“The only way to solve this congestion problem is to have a first-class regional rail system not only for Massachusetts but for all of New England, with the six governors deeply and actively involved. It would take 60,000 to 70,000 cars off the road every day.”