Saturday, May 31, 2008

Don't Forget To Carry The One

For anyone who is curious, the current ridership for the Route 111 is 10,271 people per average weekday. That's 5300 going into Boston and 4971 heading out to Chelsea. Just a bit of random T knowledge for you.

The official MBTA 2007 Ridership and Statistics Book (latest edition) says: 8292 riders per weekday.

Keep in mind that that count was done during Winter Rating 2003.

So does that mean that instead of three passengers using the Route 431 (Lynn Depot - Neptune Towers) on Saturdays it is actually more like fifteen?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Green Line Accident

Wednesday evening, 6:00pm. It is the height of the evening rush hour and commuters are heading home after a day of work on the Riverside Branch of the Green Line. A train has just left the signal near Woodland Station when it is struck from behind by another train. In one of the worst MBTA accidents in years several people are injured, one of them seriously, and one of the operators is killed.

The operator of the second train, 24 year old Terrese Edmonds, died in the crash. The cab of her car was crushed severely by the impact. It took rescue crews several hours to remove her from the wreckage. My thoughts and condolences are extended to her family.

She had been operating trains since last October, still a rookie. Rumors have been flying around that she may have been on her cellphone just before the crash. The NTSB is trying to get copies of her phone records to confirm these rumors. Others say she simply wasn't experienced enough to be on that line. Unlike the other branches of the Green Line, the Riverside Branch has a regular operating speed of 45-50 mph. I admit I have seen operators do 55-60 at times.

The NTSB has determined that the train was traveling at about 35-40 mph when it should have been doing about 10. The train it stuck had just began to accelerate, going barely 5 mph. Track geometry tests show that there were no problems with the tracks at the time of the collision. Any mechanical errors with the brakes have also been ruled out by the National Transportation Safety Board. It appears that human error may be to blame for the accident.

Unlike the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines, there is no failsafe mechanism in place on the Green Line. On the subway lines, if a train gets to close to another train (i.e. within 500 feet or so), the emergency brake is triggered and power cut. The train then comes to a halt. On the Green Line, however, it is up to the operator to keep a safe distance from other trains. Due to its unique operating environment (most trackage is at grade, headways between trains in the Central Subway can range from 10 minutes to 10 seconds, etc.), it does not appear to be very practical to install such a system on the line.

But what about passenger safety? I'm sure we all remember the "fender bender" at Boylston Station. It was no where near as terrible as Wednesday's accident, but several people were still hurt.

Cars 3667 and 3703 have been damaged beyond repair. After the investigation is over, there are plans to retire and scrap them. However, it may still be possible to splice the two undamaged ends together to create a new car.

But the MBTA can always buy new trains. You cannot, however, replace the dear person lost.

This section of the line was shutdown for three days. Buses from all over the system, Charlestown/Bennett, Albany, Arborway, Cabot, were called in to provide shuttle services. Regular bus service felt the strain. The MBTA does not currently have a contingency fleet of buses to provide shuttles in emergencies. On Saturday, Green Line service resumed through the area. It is expected to be suspended again for the NTSB to conduct a test on Sunday. Monday morning should see a return to normalcy.

The accident was eerily similar to one which occurred 28 years ago, also on the Green Line and on the Riverside Line, near Brookline Village Station.

Images Courtesy of Scott Ruffinen

Like yesterday's accident, the first train was waiting a signal when the second struck it from behind. Speed was a factor in the accident.

Do I still feel safe riding the T? Yes, do you? There have been shootings on MBTA buses, bus I still catch bus each day. A runaway box car stuck a Commuter Rail train, but I still grab a Fairmount Line train every now and then.

Hopefully, we will all learn something from this tragedy.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Day At The Races

So I went to catch the 111 this evening at Haymarket. Even though everything is on a Sunday schedule for the holiday, I figured the wait wouldn't be that long. The 111 has a pretty good frequency even on weekends. To my surprise (I wasn't really surprised) there were three buses at Haymarket. What luck! All New Flyers, but still, having a choice between bus #0634, #0660, and #0741 made me feel pretty special. Again the MBTA underestimated ridership. Today is Memorial Day, a day of remembrance and reflection. Surely most people would be at home. Yeah, on a warm and sunny day with no school or work, I'm sure. Turns out we had quite a mass of people waiting for the 111 (~50-75 people).

The man in the red hat is watching the first bus (laden with passengers of course) pull away. Bus 660 would soon follow. My bus (in the corner) got the leftovers. Now today there are four buses on the Route 111, operating every 12 minutes. Hmm...Three of the buses are in Downtown Boston, so that leaves only one bus in Chelsea. Heading inbound I'm sure. But wait! On our way up North Washington Street (still in Downtown Boston by the way), what's that I see? Why it's the fourth bus! Heading towards Haymarket! So we have three buses that have not yet reached the Tobin Bridge and another pulling into Haymarket. Thus at that very moment...there was not a single Route 111 bus in all of Chelsea! Yes, I did do my math correctly.

Now that's what I call service, folks!

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I also owe an apology to the Green Line's Type 8's.

The accident involving car 3879 was NOT the fault of the train (nor the driver!).

It was caused by a faulty switch.

Sorry about that, Breda.

A Blast From The Past

It has been one zany week in my transit travels this week. This, however, takes the cake. I went to catch the 111 Monday morning and got quite a surprise. I caught RTS #0216. What's so special about that?

Bus 0216 lacks...

...automated stop announcements

...the digital stop display (it still has the exterior destination signs of course!)

...GPS tracking and vehicle location

...and a TRANSITMASTER! The driver had no idea if they were on time or not. By the way, a TransitMaster is that little electronic device by the driver which gives information like schedule accuracy (it tells the driver if they are late, early, or on time), the next stop, etc.

Plus it still has the light up "Stop Requested" box up front! I haven't seen one of these on a bus in years. Rumor has it that #0216 was to be shipped off to Everett Shops where it would be retired and sold for scrap. However, someone accidentally mixed it back in with the regular buses and found its way back at the pullout lot.

The horn didn't work either.

I got RTS 0216 again on Tuesday during the PM rush hour. The driver told me it was all that was left at pullouts at Charlestown Garage.

What's next? A Flyer D901?

Flyer D901 #9471, Former MBTA Transit Bus, Current MBTA Fire Bus

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The F***ing Type 8s

Photograph Courtesy of The Boston Globe

Well, 3879 derailed near Chestnut Hill Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton the other day (May 14). It was the operator's last trip for the night (c. 1:30AM) and about 30 people were on board at the time of the accident. The trolley jumped the track and hit a pole, causing the overhead wires to come down and set the car on fire. Thankfully, no one was injured, however substitute bus service ran for most of Wednesday between Washington Street and Boston College on the B Branch. Wednesday morning was spent cleaning up the wreckage and getting the line back online for service. 3879 is currently sitting at Lake Street (the yard facility at BC) awaiting its fate. The damage it sustained is pretty devastating. Some rumors are flying around that it may be the first Type 8 to be retired. Theories abound as to what caused the accident. Another slip up by an unreliable piece of equipment? Operator speeding? College kid saboteur (what some think, but not me personally)? The MBTA says it will investigate the matter. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

To be honest, I wasn't surprised this happened. Not at all.

I have always had a distrust for these cars. They have caused trouble for the T right from the start. Now all my faith in them is completely gone. I'm going strictly Type 7 from now on. Harsh, but totally warranted.

The Type 8 has had a less than impressive track record (sorry for the pun) in its seven-ish years of service for the MBTA. After about a year of vehicle testing, the first Type 8 entered service in 1999. The problems started soon afterwards. The brakes were no good and operators had a hard time stopping the trains. Legend has it that one car rolled uncontrollably down a hill and the operator had to use the emergency brake to stop it. The MBTA actually paid $3.25 million a piece for these things? And I thought Greenbush was a waste of money. There had been about dozen derailments before the MBTA decided to take action against the builder, Breda, in 2004.
After the legal dust settled, the MBTA and Breda decided that the T would take 85 of the 100 cars ordered and accept 15 "shells" to be used for spare parts. In 2007, the MBTA agreed to take ten more bringing the total to 95 cars.

The sad thing is that most riders have no idea about the Type 8's shady past. Many of them just get on and ride something that ought to be under the watchful eye of the National Transportation Safety Board. Well, they say "ignorance is bliss". If they did know, what would that do? Would there be a public outcry? Would we all just not care that much and go on with our lives? Who knows, who knows.

Monday, May 12, 2008

25 Things I Hate About The MBTA - PART 1

Well, here's my list!

This is sorta a rant, so don't be surprised...

#1. Type 8 Green Line Trolleys

They are crap on wheels. From the faulty brakes to the derailments, the many many derailments, it is no surprise that the T canceled their order with the builder, Breda. The order was originally for 100 cars, but with all the reliability problems it was dropped to 85. Oddly, the T agreed to take 10 more bringing the total to 95 cars that the MBTA wasted its money on.

See that:
A Type 8 derailment is to blame.

#2. The MBTA's Secretive Photography Policy

So I go out one day to do some "railfanning" (consult Wikipedia for a definition). Naturally, I plan to take some photographs of the rolling stock. So I find a nice station (interesting architecture, nice light, etc.) and wait for a train to come in. Once I see a train entering, I focus my camera and SNAP! take a picture. As a rule, I NEVER use the flash (even in the subway). It is rude and possibly dangerous to the operators of the trains. It also just ruins pictures. So I go about taking some more when someone approaches me and asks "Excuse me, sir, do you have a permit?" Pausing, I reply, "No, it is no longer required for personal photography [i.e. what I'm doing]." For you see, in July of 2007, the MBTA rescinded its old photo policy which required a permit for all types of photography.

Apparently most of their employees (and just about every T police officer I've talked to) didn't get the memo.

So I try in vain to explain the new policy to them.

(go here for more info:

The person either...

A) Realized they missed something and thank me for the update

B) Tell me to "hold on" and call the Line Dispatcher for confirmation. Usually the Line Dispatcher (of all people the Line Dispatcher!) is oblivious and knows nothing of the new policy.

C) They tell me to stop, lest I be reported for committing a 'terrorist act'.

D) Just say "whatever" and leave me alone.

Most of the time B happens.

Please, MBTA, whenever you make a major policy change notify ALL your employees and staff!

#3. Vague Subway Announcements

Ever been on the train and they announce that it will be standing by for a "schedule adjustment"?

Do you even know what the hell a "schedule adjustment" is?

For those of you who don't, when subway trains get too close together (i.e. are not on the scheduled headway), Central Dispatch orders them to hold their position to keep them evenly spaced apart.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a "schedule adjustment".

"There is a disabled train up ahead that is causing 10-15 minute delays."

I hope the track is ADA compliant.

"We will be standing by for an adjustment in the system."

Sounds major, are they opening a new line?

The list goes on. How about some information we can actually use.

#4. MBTA Bus Fareboxes/Automated Fare Collection In General

These were not designed with the user in mind. Whether they are eating up your money, or simply not taking it at all ("You money is not good here!" Better smooth out that dollar real good), the new system has been one big pain in the ass. Seriously. Be sure to ALWAYS get a receipt when you add money to your CharlieCard at the station. Don't be told you "do not have enough value" when you know good and well you just put $5 on that thing.

As for the bus fareboxes, wasn't it oh so much easier when you just dropped in your change or swiped you pass? Now the coins must go in single file lest that technobox confuses a dime with a quarter!

#5. Seat-Whores

You bastards who insist on taking up valuable seating, especially during rush hour, with a bag or worse your feet, Goddamn! Have you no respect for your fellow riders? You watch us stand while you sit comfortably with all your precious "leg room". The nerve!

#6. Door-Whores

Honestly, must you all crowd around the front door. I'm sure the driver doesn't mind the company, but it is so hard to get on and off the bus (particularly when it is crowded). Don't worry, there is a second door on the bus.

#7. Bus Rapid Transit

When I think of rapid transit, I imagine...


No matter how much silver paint you use, no matter how many community-themed kiosks you put up, no matter how many T police officers are patrolling that HOV lane (wait, there aren't any!), the Silver Line is not rapid transit. No matter how hard I looked, I just couldn't see the tracks. Maybe I need a stronger prescription.

Truly, the MBTA thought they were doing a service to the communities of the South End and Roxbury by replacing the Orange Line El (about 15 years after it closed by the way) with the Silver Line Washington Street. Some MBTA documents refer to the buses as "Silver Line vehicles", whilst they refer to the exact same type of vehicles that are used on the Route 39 as simply "articulated buses". The paint job makes a big difference. Let's bring back the Arborway Line to Jamaica Plain by just painting the 39 green! I'm sorry, but Neoplan USA makes buses, not trains. An "equal or better" replacement? Hardly. But alas, that's a topic for another blog post.

The horror continues! Stay tuned. There will be more terrible transit later...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Let's Go For A Ride On The 111

I ride the Route 111 pretty often. Overall, the route isn't that bad. That is, of course, if you are not riding during rush hour...

A typical morning commute might go like this:

You board a few stops before Bellingham Square heading towards Boston. As you get on, you see another bus coming down the street. "I thought the 111 ran every five minutes?" you ask yourself. Oh well. If you manage to get a seat make sure it's a good one. You're gonna be in for a real show.

You ride a few stops until you approach Bellingham Square. Show time!

Bellingham Square - We arrive at Chelsea's main transit hub, usually with company, and a swarm of people approach the bus. Rather than take the 114, 116, 117, or even the 112 to the Blue Line, commuters opt for the "quick" Route 111 to get them into the city. Despite the pleas of the driver...

"Please, I'm running late! There's another bus right behind me!"

"I've got to go. I can't take any more people, catch the next one."

...A large group of people still try to get on anyway. Luckily the inspector stationed there will often let people board via the rear door to reduce dwell times (time spent at each stop). The doors close and we're on our way.

Fourth Street - If there is still a bit of room, we'll stop to pick up. If not, some people get left behind I guess. Oh well, most of the buses often run in pairs so they don't have to wait long for the next one.

Chestnut Street - If you are lucky, someone is following you close enough so you don't have to stop here. There are often 10-15 people waiting at this stop and for those unfortunate drivers who must pick up, it's not a pleasant experience. The slow parade to the farebox begins. "Sorry, the machine didn't read your card. Tap it again. No, slower, like this. Try again. You don't have enough value on your CharlieCard, you need to add more. Hey! Can you all move to the back of the bus to make room." Then things may get heated...

One driver on the Route 111 strictly enforces the "no standees in front of the yellow line" rule.
Each time someone stands even just an inch over the line, he'll snap "Move behind the yellow line! I'm not going to move this bus until everyone is behind the line. I've got all morning to sit here."

He has sparked his fair share of arguments with riders.

Fifth Street - The last stop before the bridge. We often skip this stop. Not enough room. Just catch the next one. It's not that important a stop. Haha, look at them chase after the bus. Like we're going to stop for them.

Once on the Tobin Bridge, things move rather smoothly. The dense throng of standees sways along to the motion of the bus almost in unison as we fly across the Tobin. We then zip through the tollbooths and down into the City Square Tunnel. Within ten minutes were are pulling into Haymarket Station...along with two other buses.

Then there is the commute home...