Thursday, June 30, 2011

Quiet Cars go system wide!

Commuter Rail train passing through Route-128
on its way to Boston
Finally, commuting on the T will become a little less frustrating. I won't have to think "Hey you with the cellphone... Yeah, you, the guy who's talking at an above normal and obnoxious level on your cell phone... SHUT UP!". Now when I ride the Lowell line I can sit and listen to my iPod in peace. That's right! The MBTA is finally rolling out quiet cars, which got rave reviews during their trial run on the Fitchburg and Franklin lines, on all 13 commuter rail lines.

While on the cars, commuters must refrain from using cell phones, keep their conversations to a whisper, and may not blare music on their iPods.

Overall I think that this program is an awesome idea. I mean it's about time that the MBTA puts one of these programs into place. Amtrak has had quiet cars on every one of their lines, including Acela, for over ten years. Similar programs also exist on Chicago's Metra and the New Jersey Transit commuter rail system. My biggest concern with the program though, is where the quiet car is located. The MBTA quiet car on each commuter rail train will be the coach closest to the locomotive. Hmmm... that's interesting. For some reason I thought the MBTA's old diesel locomotives made tons of obnoxious noise. I know the coach does filter out quite a bit of noise, but still some of the old F40PH locos are just so load its unbearable. I feel that the quiet cars should be in the middle of the train (this is what Amtrak does).

Quiet Car sign on Amtrak Northeast Regional 
On Tuesday, in order to get the word out to customers, the MBTA made announcements at both North and South Stations and had mimes walking around the stations giving out cards describing the dos and don'ts for behavior on the quiet cars. Wish I could have caught a pic of that! Conductors will also make regular announcements on their trains to let passengers know that the first coach is the quiet car and that cell phone use and loud conversations are prohibited. If issues do arise with passengers not wanting to adhere with the quiet car guidelines they will be taken care of by MBTA transit police and not the conductors. I think that is a great idea. There is no reason why a conductor should have to put themselves into a situation like that.

Overall I really hope this program becomes even more popular as the months and years go on and I hope that the T keeps thinking up more creative things to make the commuter rail a little more enjoyable...and on time!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bruins' Victory Parade!

The last five days have been pretty crazy in Boston! The Bruins won the Stanley Cup against the Vancouver Canucks and the city's been buzzing ever since. All weekend the city was filled with ecstatic Bruins fans, here to partake in festivities for one of the biggest victories for Beantown's hockey team in thirty-nine years. 

Line of policemen at Boston Common Wednesday night
On Wednesday night and into the wee hours of Thursday morning, fans flooded the streets downtown to celebrate. Boston and State police were more than prepared, though and were stationed everywhere throughout the area, ready for the worst. On Thursday morning, the Mayor's office scrambled to put together plans for a parade and decided on the route and time for Saturday morning at 11am.

I was lucky enough to be a spectator in the parade, as the route went right through my neighborhood. I actually had to work that morning, but couldn't get to where I needed to be because I couldn't cross Tremont Street! The streets were crowded with hundreds of thousands of fans, crowding sidewalks and large public areas like the Common, City Hall Plaza, and Copley Square. Thankfully, I was able to catch some amazing photos though, so check them out below!

YAY History: MBTA LRV's

Well everyone, strap into your seats because this history lesson is filled with all kinds of information! Thats right, this month I'll be taking you through the success and failures of the MBTA's acquirement of three different types of Light Rail Vehicles (LRV)

Let's start with a little bit of background information. Starting in 1905 the MBTA or then The MTA, started purchasing trolley cars for their entire system. They also began a numbering scheme that would characterize all new trolleys purchased as "Types". From 1905 until 1922 the MTA purchased around 946 "Type" cars that ran from Type 1's right through Type 5's. When the company was looking for a replacement of their type cars, they chose, like many other cities did, the Presidential Conference Committee (PCC) street car. They did not opt to call these their Type 6 cars though. In August of 1964 the MBTA acquired the MTA and took full control of all bus, trolley, commuter rail, and subway service. At this time they also introduced the T logo and advertising campaign that we recognize today.
"Type 6" Mockup! 

At about the same time as the formation and take over of the MBTA, engineers working for the Authority began designing a replacement for their World War II era PCC street cars. The design was given the designation "Type 6" resuming the MTA's original numbering scheme. The engineers created a wooden mock-up of one end of the proposed Type 6 at their Everett shops in 1968. The purpose of this mock-up was to allow designers, operating personnel, and the public to judge the designs, layout, and comfort on a full scale. The actual mock-up still exists and it is currently on display at the Seashore Trolly Museum! Unfortunately nothing ever came from this mock-up. The design was solicited out to a few companies but was rejected by the T because all of the bids were to high.

An ad thanking Boston for choosing Boeing!
Notice it says next stop Cleveland.
Cleveland opted not to make a contract with Boeing
At the same time however, the San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) was also looking into designing new cars to replace their aging streetcar fleets. The United States Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA) and the Federal Funding Agency mandated that MUNI and the MBTA work together in a joint design for a new type of street car. This would eventually be dubbed the Standard Light Rail Vehicle (SLRV).

By 1973, the UMTA awarded the building contract to the Boeing-Vertol company of Philadelphia at a cost of $300,000 per car. Initially MUNI ordered 80 cars and the MBTA ordered 150. Later though, the orders were increased to 100 and 175 respectively  It took until 1975 for demonstrator models to be sent to both cities. After they proved to operate successfully, the MBTA then put them into full revenue service by 1976 on the "D" Riverside Branch of the Green Line.

Right after the LRV's entered revenue service, however, they proved to be very troublesome. They were prone to numerous problems such as derailments on the tight curves of the nearly 100 year old MBTA subway, shortening out of electrical systems, premature failure in the cars' motors and propulsion systems, the overly complex plug doors not operating properly, and much more.

MBTA LRV #3424 at the Seashore Trolly Museum
This has the Bi-fold doors and the A/C units!
In Boston, the LRV situation was becoming a major political and public relations nightmare. The MBTA was still accepting new cars from Boeing-Vertol, but the cars were falling out of service faster than the MBTA's maintenance staff could repair them. Additionally, the MBTA could not acquire replacement parts fast enough to repair the disabled LRV's. In an effort to keep as many LRV's operating as possible, MBTA maintenance crews began cannibalizing some of the disabled cars for replacement parts. To help prevent the riding public from seeing the sheer number of brand-new, but heavily cannibalized LRVs, several of the cars were hidden around the system where the public was not likely to find them. The Boston Globe released an article about the cannibalized and hidden LRVs, becoming the first time the issues with these vehicles came into public view. 

In 1979, the MBTA successfully sued Boeing-Vertol for financial damages, the cost of repairs and modifications to several cars, and the ability to reject the delivery of the last 40 cars of their 175 car order. The T also put into place a PCC rebuilding program in order for them to keep a functional fleet of street cars on the Green Line. Since the T ended their contract with Boeing, they now had the ability to do absolutely anything they wanted to do with the cars. One of the first things they did was add air-conditioning units to the top of the cars. The original cooling systems were a forced air system that were mounted on the bottom of the cars and were problematic because they sucked in dirt from the tracks (one of the many reasons why an airplane manufacturing company should not be designing and manufacturing trains and trolleys). The T also replace the troublesome and complicated plug doors with bi-fold doors that we see today. 

The CLRV 4027 sitting at the Riverside car house in 1980
So it is now 1980, and the MBTA is now looking to design a trolley that might actually be useful on the Green line and might not be a money pit. During the first steps of this process the MBTA looked to Canada for assistance. The T began leasing three Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRV) from the Toronto Transit Commission. For about 90 days the T operated, maintained, and evaluated their performance on the Green Line. The T thought that maybe they would find luck in making another joint venture. These cars were very different from the Boeing LRVs. The CLRVs had no articulation in the center of the car, they did not have a pantograph and instead had a whip like the PCCs, and they also did not have doors on the left side of the train. One of the largest differences though, was that they did not have cabs at both ends of the trolly. All in all the MBTA ended up passing on the CLRV design and decided to create a brand new design on their own. 

Repainted Type 7 at
Reservoir Yard!
Next came the Type 7 LRV. To me the Type 7's are a hybrid car. The T took aspects of many different cars and put them all together. They have the looks of the CLRV and the Type 6 prototype, they have articulation and pantographs like the Boeings, and they have foot-petal control like the PCCs. The overall design was sent to the Kinki-Sharyo company out of Osaka Japan in 1986 and the first of the 100 ordered started arriving in Boston in 1987. After the T found them to be extremely reliable and a good addition to their fleet, they decided to order another set of 20 cars in 1997. The T retired every Boeing LRV by 2007. 

Soon after the MBTA received their last order of Type 7s from Kinki, they were already looking into designing and purchasing their Type 8 cars. 

The T purchased 100 low-floor cars (these unlike the Beoings and Type 7's would comply with ADA requirements). from the Italian train manufacturer AnsaldoBreda (Breda). Right from the beginning these cars were proven problematic and extremely difficult to maintain. The first few cars delivered, in 1999, were failing consistently every 400 miles which was far off from the MBTA standard of 9,000 miles. The cars were also prone to frequent derailments which caused the T to modify a large amount of their trackage around the system at a total cost of over $9 million. In December 2004, the MBTA canceled orders for the remaining cars still to be delivered as part of the authority's nine-year, $225 Million deal with Breda. One year later though, the MBTA announced that they were restructuring the deal and reducing their order to only 85 cars. The last car of the order entered service in Boston in 2006. After the restructured deal with Breda the T was actually receiving a quality product, and this is why in 2007 the T ordered another 10 cars from the company and had them put into service by the end of 2008. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Seashore Trolley Museum

Last week Dan and I payed a visit to the Seashore Trolley Museum up in Kennebunkport, Maine, and we were wowed! This museum is amazing, and if you have even the slightest interest in trains, trolleys, or buses, I recommend going because it's completely worth it. Seashore boasts of having the title of the largest trolley museum in the world, with over 250 fully restored trolleys.

The museum was started when in 1939 the founders Ted Santarelli, John Amlaw, and Gerald Cunningham, purchased a trolley car from the Biddeford and Saco Railroad for $150 after it was going to be decommissioned. They restored this car and then a few years later were presented with the opportunity to buy another car when the Manchester Street Railway decided to cease its operations. They also purchased a small strip of land that used to be a farm in Kennebunkport, the location of the museum still to this day. 

In 1941, the New England Electric Railway Historical Society was incorporated as a non-profit educational foundation, and is the operator of Seashore Trolley Museum. Since then, the organization has continued to collect and restore old trolley vehicles.

On the grounds of the museum, you'll find three exhibit carbarns, a working restoration garage in which you can view crews actually working on old trolley cars, and many other exhibits strewn about. There's even a 1.5 mile set of tracks that you can take a ride on a restored trolley! (The ride was incredibly smooth, by the way.) The collection includes cars from all over the United States and the world, including one from almost every major city in the US that has public transit, and places as far away as Britain and Australia. They also have a huge collection of old MBTA vehicles that range from trollies, subway cars, LRV's, and buses.

The T cars were especially interesting to me because they're so relevant to my life and it was great to see what generations past used to ride on. Many of the cars were in impeccable shape and the old original advertisements were still hanging in many of the cars, adding one more bit of realism to these old cars' existence.

Admission is only $8 and goes to funding a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of railroad history. If you're ever up in that area, definitely check out the Seashore Trolley Museum.

For more information, visit their website.

Check out some of the awesome pictures Dan and I took below!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mumford and Sons take America by Train!

Mumford and Sons! You know they're that English rock-folk band thats been on the iTunes top ten albums for like the past 5 months! Their album Sigh No More is literally, in my opinion, one of the best albums I have ever listened to! This year the band was nominated for two Grammy Awards. They also won the ARIA Music Award for Most Popular International Artist and the Brit Award for Best British Album. As you can see they are kind of a big deal right now.

This past April Mumford and Sons, along with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show announced that they would be embarking on a tour unlike any other (to me though it seems much like a modern day Festival Express ). The tour was not so much inspired by some insane push for high-speed rail but it was actually a push for the opposite. It seems like the bands created this tour to try and capture the somehow forgotten romance on the rails. The bands rode on an Amtrak Special made up of vintage rail cars from the 1950's and 60's and traveled through America's Southwest, eating, sleeping, recording, and without a doubt, partying while on the train.The bands visited the six US cities of Oakland CA, San Pedro CA, Chandler AZ, Marfa TX, Austin TX, and New Orleans LA.

Anything that gets Americans to fall back in love with trains is aces in my book. This country has long lost its fascination with trains, and a tour like this could help recapture that romance for the rail. The band rented the vintage cars for this special train from trains museums throughout California and the locomotives from Amtrak. This tour also goes along with Amtrak's 40th anniversary which Aaron and I will be discussing in a post VERY soon! The train consisted mostly of classic California Zephyr, Western Pacific, and Southern Pacific cars which were all manufactured by the Pullman Company. These luxury cars were the pride of the railroad back in the 50's and 60's. They featured dining cars with five star dining, sleeper cars with all of the luxuries of a home, and observation cars that showed amazing views. This was the way to travel back in the day and I really hope that someday very soon train travel will become what it once was in its hay day. 

All the bands covering Woody Guthrie’s “This Train Is Bound For Glory”

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