Monday, August 29, 2011

The T's Aging fleet: How they are managing to squeak by

©2011 Boston to a T
A few weeks ago current MBTA General Manager Richard Davey revealed, for the very first time, the true status of the Orange and Red line fleets.

Currently, the only reason the Orange Line is still operational is because of the dedicated and hard work of the T's vehicle maintenance department. Band-aid after band-aid have been put on these cars and no one truly knows how much longer they can keep that up. GM Davey did unveil a plan however that may cost a pretty penny but will actually allow the Orange Line fleet and the older Red Line fleet to function for a little longer, or at least until the T can afford to fund their overall replacements. 

The plan, which will cost a little over $100 Million, will upgrade the entire Orange line fleet and the 01500-01600 series cars on the Red line. The in-house overhauls would install a variety of new components on these trains, including speed sensors, electrical converters, trucks, and cosmetic touchups. All of these repairs would probably add about seven to ten years onto the life of these trains which will hopefully be enough time for the T to plan their overall replacement. 

Over the past few months Davey and his team have been conducting an extensive review of the status of the oldest vehicles in the T's fleets. The news, which is not truly shocking as most commuters have suspected it for years, is however very disheartening. In its current state, the T is lucky, if they have enough Orange Line cars available to run the morning rush hour. The Orange line fleet consists of 120 Hawker-Siddeley married pair cars. The T only requires 102 of those cars to be able to send off a new train every four to five minuets during the morning and evening rush. But cars are breaking down so frequently and are requiring more extensive repairs which in turn is causing cars to stay out of service longer. With more cars out of service wait time has also been a huge issue on the Orange Line and it is only going to get worse.  

As usual neither the total replacement or even the seriously expensive Band-aids were included in the MBTA's 2012 budget. The board of directors is well aware of the problem though. They have been discussing the overall maintenance needs of the entire system for years and have come to the conclusion that a total overhaul of all maintenance issues would probably put the T into bankruptcy, with a total price tag of over $3 Billion. 

The Orange line fleet was manufactured by the Hawker-Siddeley company (now Bombardier) and were put into service between 1979 and 1981. The oldest cars in the Red Lines fleet are the 01500-01600 series cars manufactured by Pullman-Standard. These were put into service during the peak of the Vietnam War. Subway car manufactures build their cars to last for about 25 years. This is provided that they also receive a mid-life overall during this time to replace key components of the car like lighting, brakes, propulsion systems and so on. None of the Orange line cars have ever received any form of an overhaul during their 32 years in service. The oldest of the Red Line's fleet received one full rebuild between 1985 and 1988 but that is still almost 25 years ago. 

The sad truth is the MBTA hardly has enough money to meet the needs of their rapidly expanding ridership and none whatsoever for the expansions and acquirements that are sought by the board and lawmakers. If nothing is done now the T could be on the brink of some pretty bad situations. The thing I find to be the most disgraceful about this whole situation is how years of leadership allowed the two lines with the most ridership in the entire system to fall into such turmoil and overall despair. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Huuricane Irene: MBTA shutting down entire system

Tomorrow, August 28th, 2011, the MBTA will be suspending all services for the entirety of the day due to hurricane Irene.

These services include all lines of the subway, bus service, ferry service, and all MBCR commuter rail service.

The RIDE will only run trips based on the medical nature of the call.

MBTA buses will also be on standby to help with any necessary evacuations.

The T's number one priority this weekend is safety. MBTA crews will be out all day tomorrow monitoring the system making sure that it is ready to open at the start of Monday mornings commute.

The MBTA is following New York's MTA, New Jersey Transit, and the Metro North Railroad in suspending their entire service this weekend.

NYC transit system to close in anticipation for hurricane Irene

For the first time ever the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which operates the New York City Subway, Bus, and Commuter Railroads, is intentionally shutting down its Bus and Subway operations in anticipation for one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit New England since hurricane Bob in 1991. The MTA's step-by-step hurricane protection plan, which was devised in 2007, calls for a all service to be offline at least 12 hours before the storm makes landfall in the city. There will also be an evacuation period that would last about 10-12 hours, during daylight, before the shutdown. This will allow residents and tourists to use the system if they would like to leave the city.

Safety is the MTA's top priority in the situation. They are making sure their employes and engineers will have adequate time after the shutdown to make it to a safe place to ride out the storm. Employees have also been swiftly stockpiling supplies like sandbags and completing last minute  maintenance projects like clearing drains and moving sensitive equipment to higher ground. After the shutdown each station will be searched to make sure no one is left behind in an elevator or bathroom, and then gates or barricade tape will go up to block stairways at the street level. The MTA is also encouraging their employees to carry bags with them that have extra food, water, and clothes incase they have to stay on duty for longer periods. 

The largest risk for the system is not what everyone may think. It's not the high winds, flying debris, or even heavy raining fall. It is the surging from the ocean that can flow right into, and flood, the subway tunnels. There are handfuls of tunnels that run under rivers or through lower Manhattan that are guaranteed to flood during a category 1 hurricane. The MTA is planning on having service running again by Monday but that may change with how much damage the system sustains. The only other time the MTA had to terminate all subway service was during a Nor'Easter in 1992 that sent surges into a ConEdison station which cut all power to the system.

A flooded Kenmore station in 1996. 
Well enough about New York. Some of you are probably wondering "well if New York's shutting down is the MBTA?" The answer to that is not yet. As of 4:00pm this afternoon, I am currently riding on the commuter rail home to Lowell, the MBTA has no plan to alter any of it's services. In anticipation for the storm the T is beefing up all inspections of their backup generations, tunnel pump rooms, and poor drainage areas. They are also keeping a very close eye on the Fenway portal on the "D" branch of the Green Line. They have been inspecting pumps and surveying dam equipment so they can be prepared if then need to shut off the portal. The portal and Kenmore station was the sight of the last MBTA tunnel flood which occurred in october of 1996.

The dam at Fenway last year!
The dam system that is in place currently at the portal was put into place in the early sixties after a massive rainfall caused the Muddy River to breach its banks and flow water right into the portal. This is also what happened in 1996. The reason the dam did not work in this situation (1996) is because MBTA engineers could not figure out the proper way to build it. Today, however, the MBTA does know how to use the dam system so that Kenmore station will never again have to be submerged in over 20 feet of water. If the dam is needed to overt the course of water, the MBTA will use buses to shuttle commuters from Kenmore station to Reservoir station.

Another large concern for the MBTA during this weekends storm is flooding of tracks. This could eventually lead to sink holes or washouts. In march of last year the MBTA has an incident, once again on the "D" branch of the Green Line, in which heavy rain caused a portion of earth and gravel ballast to wash away, leaving a large portion of trackage suspended in mid air.

The T seems like they are taking this storm very seriously so hopefully no big incidents will occur this weekend. If you are planning on using the MBTA subway, bus, or commuter rail system this weekend (Im not sure who would want to leave their homes) make sure you check before you head out the door. They will be posting down to the second alerts for the entire system all weekend!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Interim MBTA GM unveiled

Davis (left) Davey (right)                            Courtesy: MBTA
Today, more than two weeks after Richard Davey was named the new MassDOT Secretary of Transportation, Richard Davey announced his interim replacement.

Since 1995 Jonathan Davis has overseen and maneuvered all of the MBTA's finances as the T's Chief Financial Officer and Deputy GM. He has been finding interesting way to pay the debt struck MBTA's bills for over fifteen years. His new job, which he will hold for about two months while a search committee can find a permanent replacement, will certainly be a lot more trying. Currently he is not being considered for the permanent position.

Davis has expressed that he would like to continue to work on the goals and ideas that Davey has brought to the T. These include the high focus on safety and customer service. The largest goal for Davis over his two months as the GM is to keep the T's finances in perfect order. I feel that because he has so much experience with the MBTA's finances already he can keep moving the agency forward all while keeping it stable.

Davis has over 40 years working in the financial world. Before joining the T he worked for Lynnfield based H.P. Hood dairy as a Vice President, Chief Controller, Operations Planner, and Treasurer. He starts his job officially on September 2nd the same day that Richard Davey becomes head of MassDOT. I really hope that Davis continues to grow on what Davey has already started and I really hope the new permanent GM isn't like some other we had in the past!
 I will keep you all posted as the search process moves forward!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bad Advertising?

Today while Aaron and I were about to start another one of our adventures on the T we spotted this interesting piece of advertising. 
No it its actually not that obvious...Because this sign is in the wrong station!
Apparently the MBTA has changed the name of Bowdoin Station to State Street

This is another one of the MBTA's security advertisements for their see something say something campaign but seriously who was the person who put this up?!  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Introducing Secretary of Transportation: Richard Davey

Courtesy: MassDOT
Today Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick appointed the current MBTA General Manager, Richard Davey, to be Massachusetts next Secretary of Transportation. Davey will become Patricks fourth Secretary of Transportation and will be replacing Jeffery Mullin who announced  last month he would be stepping down from his position in order to return to his old law firm.

The new job is defiantly a huge step up for Davey, who for the past year and a half has been slowly but surely fixing the disaster that is the T. He will now oversee not just the T and other public transportation but also, the states highways and airports. While at the T Davey was committed to improving safety and customer service and those were the two key reasons why Gov. Patrick chose him for the job. The Gov. hopes that the energetic leadership style Davey used while heading the MBTA will be brought over the MassDOT and help him reform the organization.

Jeffery Mullins' choice to vacate his current position come at a very interesting time for MassDOT. The past few months have brought a lot of scrutiny to both Mullin and MassDOT because of multiple 110-pound lighting fixtures falling from the ceiling of the central artery tunnel. No injuries were reported in the incidents but they uncovered that many workers were aware of the ongoing problem but it did not get brought up to Mullin until about a month after it was discovered.

Just like when he took over the reigns of the MBTA Richard Davey will have to figure out how to deal with revenue shortfalls. He will also have to deal with the overbearing debt that is still being racked up because of the Big Dig.

Now lets take a little time to focus on what Richard Davey has done for the MBTA over his year and a half on the job.

*He has avoided fair increases
*He help to set a standard for excellent customer service
*Seen the T's ridership skyrocket to record numbers
*Introduced the first new locomotives in twenty years
*Has 75 new bi-level coaches on order for commuter rail
*Implemented the use of "Smart" technologies for Parking and Bus, Subway, and Commuter Rail info
*Increased advertising revenue with new way for companies to advertise across the MBTA system
*Station renovations
*First steps to making the MBTA "Go Green"

All of these things, plus many many more, have truly made Richard Davey one of the most successful and responsible GM's in MBTA history. For sure he will be missed when he leaves for his new post, but hopefully he can do the state a lot more good. Davey has stated that he will be highly involved in the processes of finding his replacement. He is set to take over his new position on September 1st.

I really hope the new GM picks up right where Davey left off because if they don't the MBTA is going to just keep crumbling and crumbling. Davey aided the T in so many ways but there is still so much that is going to need to be fixed.

$8 Billion and rising

Well folks the T is broke. Well its probably not exactly what you think. No there is no signal problem on the B line, the orange line is not experiencing 15-20 min delays due to an earlier disabled train, and no your commuter rail train is not suddenly canceled because of a mechanical problem. This time the T is broke like OMG we need to win The Lottery broke.

If some of you haven't noticed yet the country is in a sort of recession. There has also been a lot of talk lately about debt. Theres the national debt, personal credit card debt, foreign debt, and of course student debt. There is also a new genre of debt that has been making some news lately, that being the MBTA's colossal debt. Which is estimated at well over $8 billion.

First I want to focus a little attention to how the MBTA racked up this insane number. First off the MBTA's Green Line is the oldest subway system in America. This means it racks up high amounts of maintenance costs. The rising debt also includes purchasing skyrocketing diesel fuel for locomotives and paying for the largest electric bill in Massachusetts. Wasteful spending is also to blame. The T purchases poorly made uniforms for its employees on an annual basis and they also have to pay out their insanely high pensions and benefits. Overall, there is truly not just one area at fault for this seemingly never ending debt. Even so the T needs to find a quick fix for this problem or its going to have them sinking faster than the Titanic.

Over the past six months the cash strapped T has been trying to find ways to reduce their multi million dollar budget shortfall for fiscal year 2012 along with reducing their overall debt. They also want to do this all while trying not to initiate a fare hike. Ambitious huh? Many ideas have come across the GM's table some of which might actually aid the T and some of which are just plain insane! One of the greatest ideas that Richard Davey and the T implemented over the past few months has definitely been Not only is the merch on the site awesome (I still need to buy the MBTA shower curtain for the apartment) but it is also expected to generate about $150,000 a year in revenue.

L.L. Bean wrapped #47 Bus
Another big venture for the T over the past few months has been in advertising. The T has literally been trying to sell space every where they can for ad's. They started with allowing companies to purchase ad space in wrap form. For example the L.L. Bean ad campaign, which promoted their free shipping offers. Then moved on to allow ad's basically every where! Even while getting scrutiny for it. They now have since added ads on, their trying to get them on the back of charlie cards, and also trying to get voice ads on buses.

The most interesting step for this massive attempt to quadruple advertising revenue came last month. When I first read about it I could not even believe that it was actually happening. The T was going to try and sell the naming rights to a few of their subway, commuter rail, and bus stations! The names of the stations would still be permanent but household names would just be sponsoring the station. For example, Scotch Tape station at Park St. Personally this is going a little far but I guess if it's going to help avoid a fare increase then I'm all for it.

Hopefully over the course of this year and next the T will find more options to help save them some money even if it is just a few grand. I just don't want it to get to the point where they start to cut corners with equipment. But with Rich Davey on board i'm sure things will be just fine! Hopefully by this time next year I can report back and say that the MBTA's debt is at $8 Billion and falling!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Field Trip!: Amtrak's 40th Anniversary Train

©2011 Boston to a T
 On Saturday Aaron and I decided to go on one of our crazy field trips. This trip took us down to Providence Rhode Island to visit Amtrak's 40th Anniversary exhibit train.

Since 1971 Amtrak has carried millions of passengers across the nation. They have carried families on vacation and men and woman on business trips all while showing them what America has to offer. For their 40th anniversary Amtrak put together a special exhibition train that would travel the entire country and show the public how this company has prospered. So far the train, which departed from Amtrak headquarters at Union Station in Washington D.C., has traveled along the entire Northeast Corridor. After it leaves Providence the next stop will be South Station in Boston and then head up to Vermont.

 The train itself is quite magnificent. It totals 510' in length and it consists of a GE Genesis P-40 locomotive., a GM F40PH Non Powered Control Unit (this allows the train to operate in either direction without having to be turned around), three refurbished 1950's baggage cars, a former Pacific Bend sleeper car, and a reconfigured Amfleet Cafe car. Each car was handpicked out of storage by Amtrak to be part of this exhibition. They were also extensively refurbished before heading out on this trip. The cars that received the largest reformation were the baggage cars, which were transformed into display cars. Crews added new display cases, lights, electrical outlets, and HVAC systems.

Aaron Sitting with one of
the manequins
The exhibits on the train were nothing short of incredible. The cars had thousands of nostalgic photos and pamphlets in display cases. They had mannequins modeling crew uniforms from the 70's till today and tables displaying different Amtrak china. The train also had some interactive exhibits. One had five different locomotive horns that allowed you to push a button and see how the tones changed over the years. There was also one that let you see, up close, how a pantograph works and the difference between the catenary wire between Boston and New Haven and New Haven and New York. My overall favorite exhibit on the entire train though was all of the Amtrak Advertisements from over the years.

Pieces of Amtrak advertising ranged from small buttons and bumper stickers to huge billboard posters.

Overall, this was not only the most unique museum I have ever had the privilege to visit but also one of the most informative. Amtrak truly is one of the companies that has truly defined itself in America. Even though they have had their fare share of problems and scrutiny they have still managed to move thousands of passengers everyday on their 21,000 miles of track!

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