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The case for saving the Mattapan trolleys

Our own Suldog makes the case for preserving the historic trolleys that run between Ashmont and Mattapan Square.

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Every day almost every line suffers a major, servicing crippling break down. Except the Mattapan trolly which is almost never in the news. So of all the things the MBTA can do, why pick a fight with the one line which works just fine and most people really like? It's a horrible attempt to distract the public from the real problems.

As always the T is underestimating the cost of change and switching to busses won't be free. They'll need vehicles and enviably they'll need to do something like pave the current tracks and use electric busses or build new bus stops, etc. All of this would cost more than whatever it takes to just keep the current trolleys in service.

The T has relentlessly cut all corners when it comes to basic maintenance and upkeep elsewhere. It's about the only place they work hard at saving money. And nearly all the problems found on the other lines are a direct result of these "cost savings" decisions. The cheapest way of doing something isn't often the best -- if it cost more to keep the High Speed Line running it's because that's what it costs for reliable service.

If the T wants to save money, start by canning whoever is behind this push to eliminate the PCCs.

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Do you have the data on this? What I read was that the PCCs cost more to run than other lines and, also, the parts are hard to find. Keeping the line because "it's quaint" doesn't seem to be a good enough reason.

If the money's the same, then sure, leave it.

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I'd love to see some data. Someone please post some links. (Although given the recent news about the GLX who knows the numbers are even believable.)

I'm not arguing keeping the line because it's quaint, I'm arguing to keep the line because it works fine. And if they discontinue it now the cost to reactivate it in the future will be astronomical. (See: GLX.)

If the cost savings aren't enormous, why change what works? The whole reason the T has a billion dollars in deferred maintenance is because they kept going with what was cheapest at the time and in retrospect it would have been better to just spend the money when the problem was new.

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I'd LOVE to see the cost analysis between keeping it and fixing what issues it has (or how much per year it costs to keep it running

VERSUS

Paving over the tracks, buying additional electric buses, and what the maintenance would be (just for that line once its converted to buses). (aka what the total cost would be).

VERSUS

Fixing the bridge issues and converting it to modern LRVs

I honestly think the savings converting it to bus won't be as much as the Charlie thinks it is. I do think, its just a ploy to convert it to buses by filing it under the "it will save us money" excuse.

Besides, if this was such a big cost saver.. why haven't we done this sooner? the T is INFAMOUS for bustitution streetcar lines...... (see A and Arborway for examples, along with the miles of streetcars that were replaced with buses years ago). Because if it was such a cost savings, it would have been done decades ago......

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FIFY

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Autocorrect sucks :D

fixed.

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It's the same logic of someone who decides to save money by switching from home cooked meals to McDonald's $1 value meal items without factoring in the cost of diabetes they'll get in a few years.

"If I can get a McChicken sandwich for $1 why the hell am I buying all this expensive produce?!?"

If the MBTA is looking for advice on switching transportation methods maybe they should call John Henry. Word is he decided to switch from something that worked just fine to another system in effort to save money. I wonder how that worked out for the Globe?

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The High Speed line data probably doesn't exist as the ridership data is very, very far off as fairs are almost never collected on it. But, in generally, light rail is more expensive upfront, but much cheaper maintenance wise down the road.

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The parts are not hard-to-find. The parts are impossible-to-find. The MBTA has their own blacksmithing shop that has to make the parts for these old cars. (Yes, that's how it's referred to in the news articles I've seen, an actual "blacksmithing" shop.)

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As the Herald op-ed mentioned, San Francisco, Philly, San Diego, and Kenosha WI have recently rolled out service with PCCs. With five cities operating them instead of one, isn't it possible that at least some of those parts will now be manufactured in order to serve five times the number of customers?

My question: why not extend the actual Red Line from Ashmont down to Mattapan? Yes, the cemetery may present a challenge, and yes the bridges will have to be reinforced, and yes, there may well be other issues more significant than that (though I don't know what they are).

But at least this way there'd be a one-seat connection for more customers, a legitimate quality of service upgrade.

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According to Jim's op-ed - Kenosha is new.

I don't know about San Diego.

Philadelphia and San Francisco, however, have been running these PCCs for decades. Maybe the reference in the op-ed means that these cities have expanded the use of PCCs. Part of the reason they've been able to maintain/expand is that one or two other systems that still had PCCs discontinued them and sold their rolling stock (see Newark).

Also, San Fran runs the PCCs (and many other historic trolleys) as a tourist attraction, so they pay for their distinctiveness (to a degree). I'd also point out that the different winter climate in San Francisco (and the corresponding different degree of road treatment needed) means a much less corrosive environment than Boston - that's why you see a lot of older automobiles still on the road in SF.

All that being said, I would rank the alternatives in order of preference
1. no change (short term)
2. bring in modern LRVs - gotta happen sooner or later, I suspect. Leaving the line as-is is just a stop-gap for ADA issues.
3. convert r.o.w. to ETB - I might be persuaded to that as a compromise/consolation, but suspect there isn't the will or good faith from powers-that-be. If there was, this could have been done with the A and E lines (and the Silver Line would have been much better done)
4. abandon the r.o.w. and convert to regular street bus service, which would result in horribly inefficient and/or fractured routes, a grave disservice to current customers, and bruise property values in that neighborhood.

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What's wrong with the T making parts by hand?They run a huge variety and type of equipment. Keeping spares for all of that equipment is going to be nigh impossible with or without the PCC fleet. Having a few highly trained guys (and girls?) who can make *anything* if a part can't be found is a good thing. I am sure that these same people also provide parts for various other lines like our 40+ year old red line cars, 40+ year old green line cars, and 30 year old orange line cars.

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here's a case of someone (poster and media) talking about shit which they know nothing about. Old vehicle repair has been going on for close to a century. In Cuba they have been keeping 50s era American cars on the road for about 50 years with HOME MADE PARTS. It REALLY isn't the rocket science everyone makes it out to be. The PCC cars are mechanically very simple. Much less complicated than modern trains. I had bumper brackets for my old VW bus fabricated at a local machine shop. Whats crazy is now with modern technology, you can save the plans on a CAD file and a CNC machine can just rattle off the parts once you have one good one made. My brackets cost $240 to set up, and for the rest of time I can get the fabricator to make them for me for $42 cuz all he has to do is pull up a CAD file and fire up the machine.
MAKING mechanical parts isn't a deal breaker, but it is a convienient excuse that they can throw out there that 9 out of 10 people don't understand is just pure mis-information. The T has its own machine shop. They have been making and repairing these parts for a long time as well as getting good used parts from the Trolley Museum, etc. The Mattapan Trolley has a fleet of ten, count em 10 cars to maintain, 6 run at peak times.
As someone else pointed out if it was really a huge cost savings they would have gotten rid of it a long time ago, Boston hasn't been shy about ripping up rail lines, only to dream of re-installing them later. It's pathetic.

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Weren't these trolleys just restored a few years ago? I remember being at a ribbon cutting not to long ago?

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if it cost more to keep the High Speed Line running it's because that's what it costs for reliable service.

The Blue Line and the Silver Line are just as reliable (at least going by the anecdotal standard of "almost never in the news") as the Mattapan trolley. What's the cost comparison between these two and the trolley? These other two lines use modern equipment with easily-replaceable parts so I'd bet they're a lot cheaper. Because that's why the Mattapan line costs so much, not because it's reliable, but because they have to literally make their own parts to keep these antiques running.

[Yes, I know the BL just had an urgent shutdown a couple weeks ago. That was caused by a metal grate falling from the ceiling of the tunnel, not vehicle/track/signal/switch issues. That failure belongs more in a "sh*t happens every once in a while" category than maintenance issues borne of cost-cutting.]

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What part of tunnel inspection, including anything on the tunnel roof is not part of maintenance?

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Nostalgia and aesthetics are not a reason to save it.

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But i wont be replacing my AWD car with one anytime soon!

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For you maybe... and you are NOT in charge. Next!

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Of course you don't mind, I'm sure, if he has to keep paying for your nostalgia as a taxpayer, right?

<selfish-twit> Next!! </selfish-twit>

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and forgive me if this has been published anywhere yet- a thorough, in depth interview with the MBTA machinists who are able to custom-make all of the parts to keep the aging trains alive. Those guys have skills!

(I remember the Globe did a brief interview with the carhouse that kept the Orange Line trains chugging along, but nothing on the Mattapan Line.)

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There are lots of other "heritage" PCC operations in this country that also need parts periodically. Maybe the MBTA can make a little cash providing parts for them as well.

In my opinion, the whole argument against the Mattapan line basically amounts to "you can't have nice things because GE needs their ill-gotten tax breaks"

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That makes no sense.

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Makes perfect sense...

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The MBTA is giving GE tax breaks? The state is giving GE tax breaks out of the sales tax monies they normally give to the MBTA? Boston is giving GE tax breaks and reducing whatever they pay in community assessments to the MBTA as a result?

If the answer to these is "no," it makes no sense. But it was a cute cheap shot.

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Is it better for the state to invest in bringing notable businesses to Boston or should they spend the money directly on things like transportation, roads, schools, etc? There isn't an easy answer.

If bringing GE to Boston nets the state a huge windfall in additional taxes that can be spent on things like the T then Baker and Walsh will look like geniuses. But many are skeptical of this sort of wizardry and feel the state should only invest directly and not attempt to gamble by picking one business over another.

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They are getting tax breaks, not being paid tax dollars. They aren't giving money to GE, so they couldn't have given it to the T instead.

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If the state didn't give these tax breaks to GE another company would have moved in paying the full amount. No one in their right mind would think the seaport area is depressed and otherwise would be vacant.

If you spend $10 on lunch it's the same being given a free lunch and taking a $10 pay cut as far as your wallet is concerned.

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I'd say is equally as likely that a company would have moved in from the suburbs instead, in wich case the Stae tax base would not have changed. There is more of a trend of companies moving to the city from the burbs than moving into Mass from out of state. So in that case the State is not losing anything, and is attracting a high profile name to the area.

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The state has costs for every resident and business -- schools and towns get state aid based on number of residents, etc. So having a company move in-state might be cost neutral for the state but another company from out-of-state will cost the state more as the population rises and a new large employer will need new state services.

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The Mattapan line and Mattapan PCC's are NOT considered a heritage operation. Equipment's been in continuous service and modified several times (those air conditioner units on the roof are not exactly 1941- historically accurate), line has been subject to multiple rebuilds and doesn't have any vintage structures left on it. It's got the same historical restrictions on it as the Red Line Braintree Branch: none.

That relieves the T of any burden to preserve the cars in their original configuration. So if they don't want to bring LRV's down, they can choose to gut the PCC's down to the shell and rebuild them with entirely modern and generic guts. Some of these "new" PCC streetcar systems are just that: old cars rebuilt with all-new systems, that just wear the vintage frame and interior livery like a hermit crab to pretend they're still old cars. Philly's PCC II's were done up that way. Except for the anachronistic presence of wheelchair lifts it's difficult to tell the difference from the real antiques.

Whether the T would consider that is another matter. Gut-and-rebuild may cost more than just prepping the line for LRV's and trucking down a half-dozen Type 7's from Riverside. And these 10 PCC's may be worth more in their original state, because the heritage operators will pay top dollar to get something as good-condition and near-vintage as these. If the T does opt for LRV's in Mattapan I could easily see MUNI in San Fran offering to buy up the cars for service expansion on its F Market heritage line. They'll be running somewhere for a long time to come, even if it's not here.

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I wholeheartedly agree these things should be preserved. There's a lovely one sitting in repose at Boylston Station. Maine has a famous trolley museum and they have lots of old MBTA/MTA/BERy cars already on display.

What we don't need is to keep paying through the nose to keep someone's high-maintenance nostalgia rolling on the tracks.

It is one of the very fond memories of my childhood that still exists. And my fervent wish is to see it continue to exist.

Then I invite you to take up donations to pay for it. Because the MBTA is supposed to be a transit system, it's taxpayer funded, and it should only be paying for what's minimally necessary to move people from place to place in an efficient manner.

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Anything except service cuts will cost money, so the obvious answer is always service cuts. Eliminating late night service, cutting back on the commuter rail schedule, and reneging on the green line expansion are all short-sighted and small-minded but will be popular with suburban voters who only use highways.

The easiest way to deal with deferred rail maintenance is to eliminate the rails. This is why the silver line, which should have been a train, wound up being just another bus route. If they can kill off the Mattapan trolleys without much of a fight I would expect more cuts to follow quickly on other lines.

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http://www.brookvillecorp.com/streetcar-modernization.asp

The MBTA is not the only organization in the world that can make parts for these cars.

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The Gov should ask GE to buy this company and open a satellite operation in Mass , there you go.

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Why aren't they using newer Green line cars on the Mattpan line? I assume there's a technical reason. I just don't know what it is.

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The loop radius? Weight maximums for bridges? Signal systems? I have to ride the Mattapan line now or wait until Philly gets the Girard Ave line done.

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My guess is biggest issues for bringing Green Line LRVs over would be weight and compatibility with the power systems.

Loop radius - I don't think would be a major problem. Ashmont end looks large enough. Mattapan end loop may be too small, but - the Green Line LRVs have operator compartments at both ends of each car, so they can terminate & reverse there, and I think the before-the-end curve into the car barn looks like a better radius.

I'd be surprised if signals were a problem.

Other issue would be upgrading maintenance facilities to be able to do all general/preventative maintenance on the larger/heavier LRVs without having to put it on a flatbed TT and drive it over the road to Riverside or Cleveland Circle. Remember that the rest of the Green Line is interconnected - an out-of-service LRV can putt-putt from anywhere on any of the branches to the service yard.

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Mattapan is very capable of running Green Line LRV's.

-- Power system is exactly the same voltage as Green, Red, Orange, Blue, Silver, and the Cambridge trackless trolleys. The only difference between all of them is method of power collection: third rail, overhead wire w/pantograph, overhead wire w/trolley pole.
-- Power draw, which is shared with the Red Line Ashmont Branch, is scheduled for an upgrade to boost the capacity before the new Red Line cars arrive. That upgrade takes care of the power needs for running LRV's to Mattapan.
-- Green Line trolleys are electrically compatible with trolley poles if they were installed on the roofs. The T could either remove the pantographs and replace with poles, or install poles in addition to the existing pantographs so a portion of the fleet can be traded back and forth between Green service and Mattapan service as needed.
-- All stations except for Valley Rd. (exempt because of the stairs) are ADA-compliant with high platforms that match up with the front doors, meaning the high-floor Type 7 trolleys are 100% accessible.
-- The Ashmont loop is within tolerance of the tightest Green Line curve radius (the inner loop at Lechmere is the ruling minimum radius the LRV's were designed for). The inner loop at Mattapan for turning back onto the platform is the one that's way too tight, but since LRV's are double-ended they can just change ends on the platform like they do when reversing direction at Cleveland Circle. The inner loop can be outright retired.
-- The bridges on the line, which all used to have posted weight limits, have gradually been rehabilitated to modern load ratings as part of the systemwide bridge maintenance program. One of the two Neponset River crossings may (or may not) still be waiting for an upgrade. If yes, it's the last one and will probably get its turn in the next couple years.
-- They have flatbed trucks that can transport a tied-down LRV to and from Riverside. They're in use now as the Type 7's get taken to Hormel, NY for the ongoing midlife overhaul program.
-- There's no signal system on Mattapan, because there's almost never more than 2 trains going in the same direction at any given time and no bunching to speak of requiring track to be separated into signalized blocks. GPS tracking means the dispatcher will be yelling at the operator over the radio to slow up long before they get within sight range of the next car ahead. If they have any desire to install a collision avoidance system there it'll probably be something dirt simple that pings off the GPS rather than involve a trackside signal system.

Main tasks they'd need to do in order to start using LRV's on the High Speed Line are:
-- Complete the scheduled power upgrades and last bridge rehabs.
-- Resurface the track, as Type 7 LRV's are more finicky than PCC's about running on beat-up and bumpy old track. If it's the Type 8's instead, then the track has to be spot-on perfect. But the High Speed Line is ADA-compliant without needing low-floor trolleys, so no need to punish Mattapan riders with those Breda pieces of crap.
-- Build a new maintenance shed equipped to service LRV's, with hydraulic lifts that can handle the much longer cars. They may not have room to expand the Mattapan one because there's some underground utilities complicating things, but the whole southeast corner of Red Line Codman Yard at Ashmont is unused empty space so there'd be no trouble building a new shed there instead accessible by a yard turnout coming off the Ashmont loop.
-- Reconfigure the Mattapan tracks to eliminate the too-tight turnback loop and do whatever tweaks they need to with the yard layout.

That's it. A few minor state-of-repair items that have to get done sooner or later regardless, and the maintenance facility. All of that is less expensive than paving the dang thing over and making all kinds of expensive width modifications to be able to drive a 40-foot bus down it.

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Also, if you wanted to run the Breda's you'd have to grind down the track to accommodate their "unique" needs or you might get derails.

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The fact that they're orange is confusing and internecine.

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Then green, now orange. The orange is the heritage color, since they were painted like that when they went into service.

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