Sunday, August 17, 2008

Out And About

Carrie Dubose, the longtime superintendent at Cabot Garage, has moved on to Charlestown. The new guy, to the best of my knowledge, is a fellow by the name of John Houghton. Hope he knows what he's gotten into. Cabot can be a difficult garage to manage. I'll have to stop by and introduce myself.

So yesterday I decided to do my bit to help out the economy. Taking advantage of the tax holiday, I went to several booksellers (I picked up an 1869 translation of the odes of Horace...for only $9.50!), and spotted some interesting things in my travels. On the Blue Line I discovered that the new cars display "GOVERNMENT C" for Government Center. Why not program them to say "GOV'T CENTER". That's fewer letters and is easier for the riders to understand. Oh well, the electronic PA still insisted that trains were operating to Bowdoin even though it was the weekend. On the Wonderland side, I had the warm company of about 100 people waiting for the train. Soon a train pulled into the station, showing off the impressive horns the 700's have, then stopped. We eagerly went up to the doors to board...and the train left. You know, if you're heading back to the yard, displaying "out of service" (and maybe turning out your lights too) would've been nice. Oh yes, and on its way out, I spotted a poor woman and her baby on board. She must have boarded the train on its way to Bowdoin and had gotten stuck on board. Thankfully, I notified the motorman of the next train to call ahead and make sure the mother and child were taken care of.

Now get this, on weekends the Silver Line Washington Street supposedly only runs 40' buses (the 6000's). This helps with fuel economy and better meets ridership demand (correct me if I'm wrong). So what was 1013 (a 60' bus) doing out on the street yesterday?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some Updates...

Earlier this week, the T finally lifted its 10 mph speed restriction on the Longfellow Bridge. Guess that means I can't challenge Red Line drivers to race across the bridge anymore. Service on the Mattapan Line was suspended for a few hours yesterday morning. The "grease" they smear on the rails to cut down on screeching (particularly at Ashmont) was apparently on a little too thick. Talk about a slippery slope. Or I guess, "slippery viaduct". Passengers were told to take Route 27 to/from Mattapan and Ashmont. Oh wait, that bus runs only every 35 minutes! Thankfully, Arborway sent over a few extra buses to help out. Service was back up and running before long. 3234 has been chugging along for about a week or so. No major problems reported so far. The second AC PCC to enter service (3230 was the first), it is planned to have all the Mattapan cars retrofitted by October. 3265 is up next for installation.

Note the AC unit on the roof.

PCC 3260 is slated to be moved over to Riverside after an encounter with a stray tree branch left it with some major damage to its frame:

Nothing major on the Orange Line. I've noticed a few more repainted cars lately. Lookin' spiffy!

Word has it that starting this fall, six-car trains will start operating on the Blue Line during rush hours. While it will not be every train (3 or 4 out of thirteen), it should certainly help with crowding. And of course, move to the first four cars to get off at Bowdoin! Unlike the other stations, Bowdoin cannot have its platforms extended. So two cars will be out in the tunnel.

Fifty of the 600-Series cars planned to be scrapped over the next several months. 20 cars will be kept to supplement the growing 700-Series fleet). Hopefully, Seashore (Trolley Museum) up in Maine will get a pair for their collection.

New Flyer D40s have made their debut on the North Shore! Up in Central Square, Lynn, Dan Grabauskas and company had a little debut ceremony. Lynn Garage will receive 70 new buses, Quincy Garage gets 65, and Cabot Garage 20. Any Neoplans from Lynn and Quincy will be shifted back to Fellsway, Charlestown, and Albany.

Oh, and one last thing...

I was watching Channel 7 tonight and there was a story about the cameras on MBTA buses. I couldn't help but chuckle at the fact that they showed mostly NABI's (only four out of 299 NABI buses have cameras) and even a few RTS buses on the CT1! Chances are, you'll never see a security camera system on an RTS as they are slowly being phased out (only a handful are expected to remain in service until 2012). At least they had a clip of a New Flyer D40 on the 74...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Today the MBTA turns 44! In honor of this momentous event, I have put together a timeline of some of the major events in the MBTA's history. For a more detailed history of the MBTA, check out Jonathan Belcher's Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district 1964-2008

August 3, 1964 - The MBTA succeeds the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). Unlike the MTA, which only served 14 cities and towns, the new MBTA has an expanded service area of 78 cities and towns. However, many would not receive direct MBTA service for several years.

August 26, 1965 - The MBTA gives the rapid transit lines their colors:

The Cambridge-Dorchester Tunnel Line becomes the Red Line after the school color (crimson) of Harvard University. At the time, the Red Line only operated between Harvard and Ashmont.

Photograph Courtesy of The Joe Testagrose Collection

However, the cars being used at the time (the 1400's Series) had been purchased with state money, and as a token of thanks, were painted in the state colors. Clearly this could lead to some confusion...

Photograph Courtesy of The Joe Testagrose Collection

The Main Line Elevated becomes the Orange Line. Washington Street in the South End and Roxbury, over which the el ran for most of its route, was once called Orange Street.

Photograph Courtesy of The Joe Testagrose Collection

The several streetcar lines that fed into the Central Subway and Park Street were called the Green Line, as many of them ran parallel to some portion of Boston's Emerald Necklace park system. However, many of the PCC streetcars would remain in their MTA orange paint schemes for years, with a few even being retired in that color.

Photograph Courtesy of The Joe Testagrose Collection

And finally, the East Boston Tunnel Line became the Blue Line, as it ran under Boston Harbor and along the ocean.

Photograph Courtesy of The Joe Testagrose Collect
Note: The trains in this photo (dated 1972) first entered service in 1924
when the East Boston Tunnel was converted from streetcar to subway operation.
The original 1924 fleet would remain in service until 1979/1980 when they were
replaced by the current 0600-Series Hawker -Siddley fleet. With the exception of
the Mattapan PCC's, no other MBTA vehicle would surpass their 56 year service life.

1966 - The MBTA begins to renumber its bus routes. By 1969, the current numbering system would be in place. Some examples were:

Route 31A became Route 24 (Mattapan - Wakefield Avenue)

Route 47 became Route 01 (Dudley - Harvard)

Route 77 became Route 69 (Harvard - Lechmere)

1966 - The MBTA purchases its first buses. All of the buses in the MBTA fleet up to that time had been inherited from the MTA (with a few leftover from BERy days!). These buses, 1966/1967 GMC "New Looks" or "Fishbowls" as they were sometimes called, would remain in service for decades. In fact, in the early 1990's there were still a few in service.

March 30, 1968 - The MBTA absorbs the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway. The merger resulted in the MBTA taking over and operating bus routes on the South Shore (now the 200-series routes), North Shore (now the 400-series routes), Route 616 (now known as Route 34E), Melrose area routes (now the 130-series routes), as well as buses in Lowell (until 1975), Lawrence (only for several months), and Brockton (until 1969).

June 21, 1969 - The MBTA discontinues service on the "A" branch of the Green Line to Watertown via Allston, Brighton, and Newton Corner. Service was only "temporarily suspended" due to a streetcar shortage, however it has never resumed. Route 57 replaced streetcar service along the line.

September 1, 1971 - The South Shore Extension of the Red Line opens. Service is extended to Quincy Center via North Quincy Station and Wollaston Station. Ashmont and Quincy trains would diverge at Andrew Station. It would not be until 1988, when an additional platform was built, that South Shore trains would serve JFK/UMass Station.

July 5, 1972 - The MBTA absorbs the Middlesex and Boston Street Railway. New routes added into the MBTA system included bus routes in Newton, Waltham, Needham, Arlington, Lexington, Belmont, Bedford, and for a brief time Framingham, Wayland, and Wellesley. Several routes were discontinued over years (i.e. the Framingham/Wayland/Wellesley routes), however many of the former M & B routes remain as today's Routes 52, 59, 62, 67, 70A, 76, and 553-558.

April 4, 1975 - Service on the Charlestown Elevated is discontinued. The Charlestown El is replaced with increased Route 92 service, and the Orange Line is relocated to the Haymarket North Extension. Stations closed on the Charlestown El were: Everett, Sullivan Square (old station), Thompson Square, City Square, and North Station (old El stop).

Photographs Courtesy of The Joe Testagrose Collection

December 27, 1976 - The MBTA takes over the commuter rail system. Formerly, the Boston & Maine Railroad and Penn Central provided commuter rail service in the Greater Boston area. Purple had been chosen to represent the commuter rail system in 1974.

December 30, 1976 - First first LRV's (or Light Rail Vehicles) enter service on the Green Line. Built by Boeing-Vertol (yes, the airplane company), they were the first brand new cars purchased for the Green Line since the Picture Window PCC's in 1951.

March 22, 1980 - Red Line service is extended to Braintree Station. Quincy Adams Station would open in 1983 due to construction delays.

December 1980 - The MBTA closed for one day due to lack of funds. As part of the fallout from this event, many services (largely bus) are cutback or discontinued completely wholesale.

January 31, 1981 - The original Harvard Station (remnants still visible today) was closed in preparation for the Northwest Extension to Alewife. Several temporary stations (Harvard/Holyoke, Harvard/Brattle) would serve the area until the new station was completed.

1983 Through 1985 - The Northwest Extension of the Red Line opened. First the new Harvard Station in 1983, Porter and Davis in 1984, and finally Alewife in 1985.

1985 - The RTS makes its debut in Boston. The first MBTA bus to use electronic destination signs (instead of hand-cranked rollsigns), they would eventually become the only type of bus in the MBTA's fleet until 1999, when the first New Flyer C40's (initially bought for the Silver Line) entered service.

December 28, 1985 - The E Arborway Branch of the Green Line is temporarily suspended and replaced by Route 39 service. No Green Line service operated between Copley and Arborway. In preparation for the introduction of the LRV's, the Northeastern Incline was rebuilt to allow for the increase weight. The E Line was the last branch of the Green Line to still use PCC streetcars, some dating as far back as 1941. In 1986 service resumed on this branch only to Brigham Circle. Service was initially provided with Boeing LRV's, but by 1987 all service now used Type 7's. Service would return only as far as Heath Street on November 4, 1989. To this day, Jamaica Plain remains without Green Line service. Trolley poles, sections of track, and even a full Green Line stop at Forest Hills are all that remain. Bustitution had claimed its last victim in Boston.

May 4, 1987 - The Washington Street Elevated is closed and subsequently demolished after 86 years of service. The Orange Line was rerouted to the Southwest Corridor (originally planned to be a highway extension). Elevated stations closed were: Dover, Northampton, Dudley, Egleston, Green Street (old station), and the original (constructed 1909) Forest Hills Station. The historic Dudley Station is then converted into a bus terminal, with several original pieces of architecture incorporated into it. As was the case with the Charlestown El, service was replaced with increased bus service on Route 49. For 15 years, Route 49 service linked Dudley Station with Downtown Boston (Route 42 was extended from Egleston to Forest Hills and provided service from there to Dudley Station). However, Route 49 could not compare to the El's 8 minute trip from Dudley to Downtown Boston. The only stations remaining from the original Orange Line are Haymarket, State, Downtown Crossing, and Chinatown.*

Photograph Courtesy of The Joe Testagrose Collection

*Even these stations are not really the "original stops". The Washington Street Tunnel opened in 1908. For the first seven years of service (1901-1908) Main Line Elevated trains operated through the Tremont Street Subway. So the actual original stops are Government Center, Park Street, and Boylston. Streetcar service had been reconfigured during this time to allow for subway train operation.

Fall 1995 - The Crosstown Buses make their debut. Unlike other bus routes, they make limited stops (making the trip between major points faster). Also, for a little extra fare, passengers could transfer to the subway system.

1999 - The first Type 8 Green Line cars arrive in Boston. Plagued with a variety of problems including poor brakes, misaligned wheels, and wobbling axles (not to mention several derailments), the full fleet does not enter service until 2007/2008. In fact, the entire order was not carried out as the MBTA was unsatisfied with the manufacturer (Breda of Italy) and only accepted 85 (later 95) of the 100 cars.

1999 - The state's "Forward Funding" program expands the MBTA's revenue base and service area (now 175 cities and towns). In the additional communities, the MBTA is not responsible for providing local service.

2002 - The Silver Line Washington Street opens up, much to the dismay and ridicule of riders who were expected light rail rapid transit instead of "bus rapid transit".

2003 - The first CNG buses, purchased by the MBTA amid mounting community pressure to do away with the diesel fume spewing RTS, enter service. They were also some of the first low floor buses in the T's fleet. They are only assigned to Cabot and Arborway Garages (which host routes that primarily serve Boston). This soon leads the T to purchase cleaner buses, many with Emissions Control Technology (ECD), for its fleet. The era of the RTS was drawing to a close. By 2005, almost all RTS buses built before 1989 (8400's thru 8900's) had been retired. All remaining 1994/1995 RTS buses had particulate filters added to reduce emissions. Now, even these buses are slowly being phased out.

1989 RTS Bus.


2004 - The Silver Line Waterfront opens. Service initially operates with Neoplan trackless trolleys on a South Station - Silver Line Way shuttle. Soon service expands to three distinct services; SL1 to Logan Airport, SL2 to Boston Marine Industrial Park, and the SL3 to City Point (slated to be discontinued due to low ridership). Unlike the Silver Line Washington Street, Waterfront service features a tunnel, partially grade separated right of way, three underground stations, and straight electric propulsion for part of its route (using dual-mode articulated buses built by Neoplan). Not bad for $601,000,000.

December 2006 - Charlie comes to Boston. The MBTA replaces its decades old system of tokens and turnstiles with the CharlieCard and Automated Fare Collection (AFC). The change over comes just before the 2007 MBTA fare increases. Rather than paying for each trip in cash, the CharlieCard (and to a lesser extent the CharlieTicket) allow riders to store multiple fares and even passes on an electronic smart card. New faregates at subway stations also help to crackdown on fare evaders (though the "backpack trick" and other ways to cheat the system soon are developed).

The new AFC and CharlieCard system did away with tokens as well as paper transfers like these.
I had always had the odd fortune of coming across books of bus transfers, sometimes in the most unlikely places.
I have found books of transfers in the middle of the street, in a park, on a subway seat, even just laying on the ground!
Nothing like a day of free bus rides!

The MBTA has had its ups and downs over the past 44 years, but overall has made a great deal of progress in that time. After all, Boston is a city of many transit firsts. But what does the future hold? Currently, the MBTA is on unsteady financial ground with a debt (interest included) of about $8,000,000,000. This has sadly been a trend for Boston's past transit systems. The Boston Elevated Railway was bought and taken over the the Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1947 as the BERy was falling "deep into the red". But the MTA would only last 17 years before it too succumbed to its financial woes and was replaced by the MBTA. At times, the MBTA has flirted with financial ruin, only to come away with a few wounds. There is still hope for the T, however. Plans (dating back some 63 years) for the Green Line extension to Medford are coming closer to fruition. New technologies such as GPS, CAD/AVL, and AVI are helping the T to improve its services. So who knows where the T will be in fifty years. Will the system grow into a shining example of transit at its best? Or will it fall to its troubles, perhaps rising again out of the ashes like the phoenix?

I guess time will tell...