Who knows if it will ever happen, but MBTA planners are currently reviewing replies from several train makers to a T request for information on what it would take to begin converting the current diesel-powered commuter-rail trains to trains powered by overhead electric wires.
In a presentation this week, planners highlighted the responses to the currently hypothetical question of the T buying "electric multiple units" (EMUs), in which the train motors would be built into at least some of the passenger cars, rather than using dedicated locomotives to pull the cars.
One premise of these cars - similar to subway cars or the old Budd diesel cars the T inherited from the Boston & Maine - would be to give the T more flexibility for running more frequent service on some lines, for example, on the Fairmount Line, by letting it run trains with as few as two cars.
Some companies proposed dual diesel/electric locomotives that would let the T take its time converting lines to electric, or that would let it run electric trains in the denser inner core of the system, while continuing to use diesel to reach more remote locations that might not have enough riders to justify the cost of installing overhead power lines.
Several of the designs also show coaches with some doors designed for both "high level" platforms - where passengers don't have to climb stairs to get into and out of trains - and the "low level" platforms currently found at most MBTA commuter-rail stops. High-level platforms typically help shorten commutes because passengers can get on and off trains much faster.
Bombardier proposed units that could be connected to existing MBTA coaches rather than requiring all new cars. Bombardier said if it made a formal bid, it would like be based on bi-level cars it's built for New Jersey Transit.
Also making proposals: CRRC, the company currently building the T's new Red and Orange Line cars, and Hyundai Rotem, which built the bi-level coaches now used on commuter-rail lines, and which has built electric commuter-rail EMUs for SEPTA, which serves the Philadelphia area. However, Hyundai Rotem's trains do not have toilets.
Planners hope to have a final report ready sometime this summer - and to incorporate possible future electric service in contract terms the T is now writing for its next generation of bi-level coaches.
The earliest the T could likely hope to see its first electric train would be in 2025 or 2026 - based on the need for 18 months of detailed specification writing and then 3 to 3 1/2 years to design and build the actual cars. Also, the T would need to figure out how to pay for overhead wires, new signaling systems and the equipment and facilities needed to service the new trains.
Via Franklin Matters and Transportation for MA.