MBTA Track Improvement Project

Downeaster MBTA Track Improvement Project

The Downeaster MBTA Track Improvement Project will add double track and replace rail in Massachusetts on the portion of the Downeaster line owned by the MBTA. These improvements will help improve Downeaster reliability /on-time performance and set the stage for more Downeaster frequencies. The total Project cost is $26,027,764; NNEPRA received a FRA grant for $20,822,341 and the MBTA provided a match of $5,205,423.

Project Background

The Downeaster MBTA Track Improvement Project will result in a more reliable Downeaster service, while setting the stage for an additional frequency in the future.   The 38-mile long segment of the Downeaster corridor location in Massachusetts is owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and is used in commuter rail service operated by the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR) under contract to the MBTA.

A significant portion of the MBTA segment is constrained by 10.5 miles of single track over which operates extensive MBTA commuter service, Pan Am Railway freight trains and the Downeaster service.  The planned improvements on the MBTA owned line will provide a critically needed passing siding and increased train velocities between Wilmington and Andover, Mileposts 15.7 to 20.4, as well as replacement of older rail with gas plant welds between Mileposts 27.2 to 32.3.  The proposed improvements in Massachusetts will also provide benefit to MBTA commuter rail operations on this constrained corridor.

Project Overview

Described from west to east, the Project starts on the Wildcat Branch, just east of the Route 38 grade crossing in Wilmington.  The work element numbers 1 through 3 are as defined on the cost estimate.

Grade Crossing Upgrades on Wildcat Branch, Milepost 15.7 to 17.3

Three grade crossings will be completely rebuilt including automatic highway crossing warning systems. The three crossings include:

  • Clark Street, Milepost 15.70
  • Glen Road, Milepost 16.20
  • Salem Road, Milepost 17.30

Work will consist of removing existing pavement and track structure, widening the roadway approaches to allow traffic islands to be placed on both sides of the crossing, new track structure through the crossings and new crossing surface installed.  The warning systems will be upgraded to include four quadrant gates, new flashers, new instrument houses, cabling and adjusted start points.  The upgrades will enhance the reliability of the operation and provide improved safety.

Wilmington Junction to Tewksbury Road, Ballardvale - Milepost 17.5 to 20.4

At Wilmington Junction, the present # 20 turnout interlocking will be moved about 2,000 feet west and rebuilt with two # 20 equilateral turnouts in a configuration that will allow adding double track to both the Wildcat Branch and West Route at some time in the future. Wilmington Junction will also include a # 10 turnout and 1,000 feet of maintenance of way track to facilitate quick egress and access of on-track maintenance equipment.

  • 14,100 feet of new second main track will be constructed from Wilmington Junction to Tewksbury Street grade crossing in the Ballardvale section of Andover.
  • The new second track will require moving the present turnout to the Georgia Pacific distribution warehouse to the new track.
  • At Lowell Junction, a # 20 left hand crossover and a # 15 right hand crossover will be constructed.
  • The new track will require modifications to the grade crossings at Lowell Junction Road and a private cemetery crossing. 

Rail Replacement of Older Rail that has Gas Plant Welds – Milepost 27.2 to 32.3.

Significant portions of the Western Route between Lawrence and the State Line have approximately 54,000 track feet of rail rolled in the 1950’s that was welded into strings using a gas welding process. This rail needs to be replaced.  Under the Project, the MBTA will replace 25,650 track feet of this rail.

Communications & Signal Improvements

Communications and signal improvements are included in each of the previously defined work elements. The signal modifications include the installation of a new interlocking at Wilmington with two # 20 equilateral turnouts. The new interlocking will consist of three new signal housings with vital microprocessors, five new ground mounted signals, two new powered switch machines with helpers, one new powered switch for the MOW siding, and new signal cabling. Tie-in modifications for Wilmington Interlocking will also require modifications to Salem Street and Middlesex crossings on the West Route as well as replacement of Automatic Signal 169 on the West Route with a new Signal 161 due to the new interlocking.  A new utility power source will also be required for the proposed power turnout snow melters.  A new electric lock will be provided for the Georgia Pacific siding.

The proposed track modifications at Lowell Junction which include a new # 20 left hand crossover and a new # 15 right hand crossover will require three new signal housings with microprocessors, five new ground mounted signals, four new power switches (two with helpers), and new cabling for the additional equipment proposed.  The five new signals include new signals on the outbound side of the Shawsheen River Bridge due to the proposed # 15 crossover.  The additional housings and equipment will tie into the existing Lowell Junction signal equipment.

Highway crossing signal modifications will also be required for Clark Street, Glen Road and Salem Road between MP 15.7 and MP 17.3. New signal crossing equipment, including housings, gates, and cabling, will be required for Lowell Junction Road and a private crossing due to the new second track and modifications at Lowell Junction.

Central control modifications will also be required to permit remote control of the new Wilmington interlocking and the modified Lowell Junction.

Project Status

Funds for the Project have been obligated by the FRA.   Work is scheduled to begin in Spring 2012.