MBTA Track Improvement Project

Downeaster MBTA Track Improvement Project

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 Keolis under contract to the MBTA.

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. The project was selected for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding under the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA’s) High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program. 

The project is underway and will be completed in 2017.

Project Background

The MBTA segment of the Downeaster Corridor is constrained by 6 miles of single track.  The 10 daily Downeaster trains share that segment with 58 MBTA commuter trains and several Pan Am Railway freight trains.   This Project will restore critically needed double track between Wilmington and Andover, Mileposts 18.2 to 20.4; make grade crossing improvements between Milepost 15.70 and 17.3; and replace older gas plant welded rail between Mileposts 27.2 to 32.3.

The objective of the Downeaster MBTA Track Improvement Project is to alleviate congestion on the portion of the MBTA line used by the Downeaster.  Following the completion of the Project it is expected that the minutes of delays experienced by Downeaster passengers will fall well below the threshold of 900 per 10,000 train miles and overall on-time performance will meet or exceed 80%. The Project will also create more flexibility in schedules, and facilitate the eventual operation of an additional Downeaster round-trip frequency each day.  Reliability is extremely important to Downeaster success given the relatively short trip, the uncompetitive scheduled trip time, and the availability of other transportation alternatives in the corridor. Over the past four years however, the Downeaster has experienced a noticeable increase in ridership and resulting decrease in reliability.

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 rehabilitated with replacement of the track panels and roadway surface. 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, new track structure through the crossings and new crossing surface installed.

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

At Wilmington Junction (WJ), the present #15 turnout will remain and two #24 crossovers in a universal configuration, will be constructed just east of the existing #15 turnout, and will become the new WJ interlocking. 

Work at Wilmington Junction will also include adding a # 10 electric lock turnout to connect existing Wildcat Branch with new Wildcat Branch lead out of the new universal interlocking.  This will create a new “controlled” siding along existing Wildcat Branch between the new #10 electric lock and existing #15 turnout at junction of Wildcat Branch and Haverhill Line. Additional work between Wilmington Junction and Tewksbury Street includes:

·        Construction of 14,100 feet of new second main track with 132 lb. continuously welded rail (CWR) from Wilmington Junction to Tewksbury Street grade crossing in the Ballardvale section of Andover.

·        Construction of a # 20 left hand crossover at Lowell Junction.

·        Modifications to the grade crossing at Lowell Junction Road resulting from the addition of the new second track

·        Removal of a 200 ft long retaining wall adjacent to Keyspan Facility north of I-93 underpass in Wilmington and replace with a riprap slope. 

New interlockings will be installedat Wilmington Junction and Lowell Junction in new configurations to support the new second track and future double track expansions of the adjacent lines and territory including a bi- directional signaling system on both tracks.

Highway crossing work will include the replacement of the automatic highway crossing equipment and cables at Lowell Junction Road and Middlesex Street, as well as modifications to Salem Street (to accommodate removal of automatic signal) and Concord Street (to accommodate incorporation of new automatic signal).  In general, new houses, gates, and cables will be installed at Lowell Junction Road and Middlesex Street.

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. The MBTA will replace 25,650 track feet of this rail.