Silver Line to get some buses that run solely on electricity

Electric Silver Line bus

New bus nearing road readiness. Photo by MBTA.

The MBTA reports it plans to pilot electricity-powered buses on the Silver Line starting later this winter.

The T is buying five zero-emission Xcelsior Charge buses from New Flyer of America, through a grant from the Federal Transportation Administration that includes money for bus charging stations.

The Silver Line, of course, already has buses that can run on electricity, but only in the relatively short tunnel from South Station to South Boston.

The buses can carry 120 passengers.

The T already runs diesel-hybrid and CNG buses from New Flyer.


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It makes sense to use them on

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It makes sense to use them on the airport run, and thus avoid the changeover at Silver Line Way. Are they configured with bag storage?

What DOESNT make sense are the rumors that they want to remove the wires and go battery only. Thats insane! Wires are a lot more efficient than a battery which nobody knows how they hold up after 10 years of bus use.

What they should do is wire up all of SL2



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Dump the wires all together. There's no need for them any longer. RTA's have been using these for a few years, and the T has used a similar bus for 4. They are well tested now. PS - You can replace batteries.

Wires are ugly and just cause delays now with the pole drop. I hope these will be for the SL3 where we need the capacity and newer buses.

You know battery production

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You know battery production is incredibly resource intensive and creates a lot of toxic discharge right?



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Now tell the Prius owners that too. Let's see how THEY feel.

(and yes I am aware.. )

Oh, God ...

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Is this discussion going to end up with a link to some stupid article about how a Prius is more environmentally harmful than a Hummer?

Yes, making batteries is not 100% environmentally pure. Nothing is, really. But electric engines use less hydrocarbons over the long run than gas or diesel engines (yes, even though they draw electricity from a generating plant) and that, at this point, is kind of the pressing issue. Also, the battery components are recyclable (and at this point mostly made without nickel, which was the alleged problem when that stupid article was written).


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It is far more efficient to generate and transmit electricity directly to the motor in the bus thru the wire than to generate the electricity, hook the battery up to that electricity to charge, and then drive the bus around draining the charge. There is a significant amount of loss of total energy in the transfer from the electricity source into the battery, and from the battery to the motor.

The battery just allows the bus to drive where there are no wires using electric power. It would be foolish to get rid of the wires where we have them. What a waste of power generation.


On-wire charging

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One thing that's bugged me is that no one seems to have come up with a solution which takes advantage of the unique features we have in a few cities with trackless networks - in-motion charging. There's a lot of promising developments in battery bus technology, but they're still pretty limited, and a lot of the ones developed so far still have pretty limited capabilities. With the two small networks we have, trackless with extended off-wire capability could be used to electrify a number of routes which spend considerable time under wire, but not all of it. The SL tunnel lines, also Harvard based routes like 74, 77, 78, 96. This would enable the buses to be regularly "charged up" while in service without needing to sit at a charging station, and could potentially mean not having to carry around such substantial battery banks. Kind of surprised the major west coast cities (San Francisco, Seattle*, Vancouver) with large trackless networks haven't pushed a manufacturer to come up with something like this - though perhaps it's not as big an issue as their overhead networks are much larger.

This would mean that the poles up/poles down at Silver Line Way would continue, but I still have a hard time figuring out why that can't be done faster. probably with CCTV monitors for the driver to do the visual check.

*I'm aware that for other reasons, Seattle actually moved away from dual-mode diesel-electric buses to hybrids with an electric-only mode for the downtown tunnel, but that had to do with the overhead issues with the light rail.

If they don't have to deal

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If they don't have to deal with the poles up/down issue, they might be able to have the SL1 and SL3 enter/leave the Silver Line tunnel right at D street, and not have to go to Silver Line Way at all.


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Removing the 4 minutes it takes to untie and raise poles at SLW is a step forward to making the service less disastrous.

30+ min SL3 wait at the Chelsea Bridge

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And you're gripping about 4 mins at the Seaport? It's time to admit SL3 was on mistake and move on. Let the "BRT" route run over the Tobin.

I may be wrong but I thought

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I may be wrong but I thought the reason for not installing wires on SL2 route was because of the volume of over-height container trucks in the area.

Not always

Routes 71 and 73 are infamous for trackless trolley pole dewiring, especially at the junction of Belmont St and Mt. Auburn Street. A trackless trolley driver getting out in the snow/rain/cold weather/hot weather to reset the trolley pole was not often a happy one.

Also, if one of the wires goes down, the entire trolleybus system goes down, and then you have to send out replacement buses, traffic becomes jammed beyond belief, etc. That happened 3 years ago when one of the wires fell around Fresh Brook Parkway and it bungled the entire system.

What Routes 71 and 73 do need are longer buses with more capacity (even if they have to install left-hand doors for Harvard). Hopefully if the Xcelsior Charge XE60 are successful on the Silver Line, the T will order several for Routes 71, 72 and 73.

The T's TT overhead...

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After a few trips to San Fransisco and Seattle, I am left with the impression that the T's maintenance and/or design of the North Cambridge trackless overhead leaves a lot to desire. The TT's in those cities are most certainly NOT nursed through the special work (switches and crossings in the overhead) at 3 mph like here. As with many things MBTA, it's not the concept, it's the execution.

Also, we lost out big time in getting saddled with these Neoplan beasts without any backup power systems. To my knowledge, all tracklesses built for North America (SF, Seattle, Vancouver, Philadelphia, and Dayton) since ours have had either diesel or battery auxiliary power systems which allow some range of off-wire capability. We're stuck with the last of the "old generation" trackless without this capability.

They tried, but it was a failure

I think the T tried to have auxiliary power at one point in the early '80s - they retrofitted one of the TTs with a VW Rabbit diesel engine, but it was a failure - the buses on diesel power were very slow, and they had a bad habit of conking out completely.

Are these buses intended to augment the fleet

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or replace some of the current buses?

The Silver Line is already a bumpy, uncomfortable sardine can during much of the day, and ridership will probably double again within the next few years as more Seaport offices and residences come online.

The buses currently used are woefully inadequate as airport transportation, especially those without luggage racks. I was on one yesterday, and the aisle was completely blocked by luggage -- very dangerous should there be an emergency, and inefficient at every stop as items had to be shuffled so people could board and deboard.

Last summer a few of the "trackless trolley" buses from Cambridge were painted in the Silver Line livery and were intended to be run on the SLW short-turns. They disappeared after a week of idling on the Courthouse Station siding, and I never saw them in revenue service.

More importantly, what is the status with the "negotiations" with the State Police about the Silver Line Way ramp to I-90 East? Free the Ramp!


The New Age...

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A few months back I spotted 1294 being tested in Chelsea. With 1295-1299 now on order many wonder if the final years of true trackless trolley operation are upon us. Such is the march of progress. Amazing that beginning in 1936 the trackless network grew to serve most of Greater Boston {from Roslindale Square to Revere Beach} before being whittled down to the current North Cambridge-based operation by 1963. Ironically, Routes 71, 73 and 77A were the final routes converted from streetcar to trackless in 1958. {Supposedly to free up PCC streetcars for the soon-to-be-opened Riverside Line.} The 72 had been converted to trackless in 1938.

Route 72 among the missing

Route 72 (Huron Avenue) has seemingly been under repair for many years...I used to ride the Route 72 as an alternative to Route 71 and 73 back to Harvard; I wonder if the T's figured out that diesel may be the best bet for that line, regardless of the state of repairs on Huron Avenue.

Route 72

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I've heard that there is no intention to ever run tracklesses on the 72 again. There are plans for a major renovation of the Harvard bus tunnel, during which time the 71/73 will terminate on the surface on Mt Auburn St, and the Huron Ave line will be the only link to/from North Cambridge for the TTs. I would presume that it might be possible to catch deadheading TTs in service on the line during that time, but that might be it.

I figured as much

The positive side, if any, is that the 71/73 will receive an increase in buses per hour, and thus a decrease in headway. The negative side: many of those people on Huron Ave/Concord Ave are not going to be very happy. Cambridge and Watertown are fierce in protecting their TT lines, so if the rumor to keep the 72 permanently diesel comes true, expect the residents to protest vigorously to keep them. EDIT: See anon below - if the TT system is converted to battery bus, it'll be a moot point.

If all of the trackless are

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If all of the trackless are replaced with battery buses, which is what MBTA managemennt has said they plan to do in presentations to the FMCB, then it won't matter.