Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween: The Hoosac Tunnel

Photo uploaded by zaigee on Flickr

The Hoosac Tunnel is an almost five mile long tunnel that runs from Florida, Massachusetts to North Adams Massachusetts through the Berkshires. It is the longest, still operational, transportation tunnel east of the Rocky Mountains. Today, the tunnel is only used by PanAm Railways which runs freight traffic through the tunnel

The Hoosac Tunnel was first proposed in 1819 as an underground canal beneath the Berkshires as a way of providing a passage way for goods and raw materials between Boston and points west. With the invention of the steam locomotivewthe tunnel plan was re-evaluated and re-proposed for railway traffic. Work officially commenced in 1851 by the Troy and Greenfield Railroad Company. It would take 24 years and $21 Million dollars to complete. 

Initially the tunnel was to be constructed using a 70-ton steam-driven boring machine. The machine however seized up on a test run and could not be used for construction. Following this failure, the work was done by means of hand-drills and gunpowder. That was until the invention of  nitroglycerine.  The nitro proved to be a very powerful and extremely unstable explosive that resulted not only in successfully blasting the length of the tunnel, but also in killing dozens of men in its use.

The tunnel was considered an engineering marvel when it was completed in 1875. Yet, it would cost 195 lives in various fires, explosions, and tunnel collapses, hence earning its name among the crew as the "Bloody Pit". Today, it is also said to be one of the most haunted places in New England.

Ghost Stories

After the accidents began piling up during the construction many workers came to feel that the tunnel was cursed and many of them refused to enter it again. Some of the crew members simply walked off the job and did not return.

1: Murder ?: On the afternoon of March 20, 1865, three explosive experts named Ned Brinkman, Billy Nash and Ringo Kelley decided to use nitroglycerine to continue their work on the tunnel. They placed a charge and then ran back toward a safety bunker that would shield them from the effects of the blast. Brinkman and Nash never made it there however. For some reason, Ringo Kelley set off the charge before the other men could make it to shelter. The two men were buried alive under tons of rock. Soon after the accident, Kelley vanished without a trace, leading many to believe that the "accident" with the nitro may not have been an accident after all. He was not seen until a year later when his body was discovered inside the tunnel. It was found at almost the exact spot where Brinkman and Nash had been killed. The authorities quickly deduced that Kelley had been strangled to death. The death was thoroughly investigated but no suspects were ever found and the crime went unsolved.

2: On October 16, 1874 a local hunter named Frank Webster vanished near Hoosac Mountain. Three days later, he was found by a search party, stumbling along the banks of the Deerfield River. He was in a state of shock, mumbling incoherently and falling down. He explained to his rescuers that strange voices had ordered him into the Hoosac Tunnel and once he was inside, he saw ghostly figures wandering around. He also said that invisible hands had snatched his hunting rifle away from him and that he had been beaten with it. He couldn’t remember leaving the tunnel. Members of the search party recalled that Webster did not have his rifle when he was found and the cuts and abrasions on his head and body did seem to bear evidence of a beating.

3: In 1994 Kevin from Boston reported that while in the old control room opposite the ventilation shaft he heard "whisperings" and a "shape" about three feet tall and completely black staying just outside of the edge of his flashlight beam. "It always stayed just outside the beam about 20 feet distant, I have to conclude it was the light that kept it away from me. What I saw was real and moved with deliberation and I didn't have reason to believe it was friendly."

Locals in the area still claim that strange winds, ghostly apparitions and eerie voices are experienced around and in the daunting tunnel. Some researches have left tape reorders in the tunnel and have reported hearing what seems to be muffled voices when they play back the tape. There is also rumor of a hidden room in the tunnel. The room is said to be bricked up and house unspeakable horror.


Monday, October 28, 2013

First of 40 New Locomotives Arrive in Boston

Photo Courtesy: MBTA 
For years, Boston commuters have had to deal with old equipment, an aging infrastructure, and of course, delays. Something could soon be giving commuters a little bit of hope, however.

After 3 years of production, the first of 40 new commuter rail locomotives arrived in Boston on Thursday, October 24.

In July of 2010 the MBTA board of directors approved the initial purchase of 20 new locomotives from Idaho based Motive Power Inc. (MPI). Under the $115 million order, MPI was tasked with designing a unique locomotive specifically for the T, while also meeting the EPA's tier-3 emissions guidelines. Their result was the HSP-46 locomotive.

Under the order, which has since been increased to 40 locomotives, MPI was supposed to ship one of the first 3 production units here to Boston back in June. Unfortunately, with every new order comes delays. According to MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo the order ended up being about 2 months behind schedule due to "design modifications and improvements".

When all 40 locomotives are in active service they will be replacing locomotives that have been in operation since the late 70's and early 80's. These new trains will not only increase reliability for commuters but they will also decrease the T's hefty carbon footprint. According to GE, they will reduce the T's diesel fuel consumption by 1,730,000 gallons, saving around $5.2 million a year. A grant from Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program will be funding part of the order.

Although the locomotive is now here in Boston it may still be a while until it enters service. According to Pesaturo "It will now be subjected to rigorous testing and inspections before it is introduced to passenger service next year,".

Overall, these new locomotives are a win for both the T and their commuters. Lets just hope this order doesn't end up having more setbacks like the Rotem bi-level coaches order.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

So what is Slippery Rail?

© 2013 Boston to a T

Well it's that time of year again. Thats right, it's Fall! The days are getting shorter, nights are getting colder, and the leaves are falling from the trees.

For the MBTA however it's a different type of season. It's slippery rail season. Slippery rail is very common during the end of end of September through mid-November when leaves are falling from trees and clinging to the tracks below.

Slippery Rail is caused when a train, which pushes a large amount of pressure onto a rail as it moves, passes over a wet leaf that has been sitting on a rail. Over time the combination of the leaf's oil and water creates a black gooey substance that layers itself on top of the rail. As this black goo builds up on the rail, it makes it much harder for a train's wheels to gain traction.

During the fall months the residue requires engineers on most railroads in the United States to break earlier and accelerate slower in order to avoid slippage. In extreme circumstances the resultant loss of traction can cause trains to slide through signals or cause inability to pull away from stops or up inclines. If the problem is left unchecked it can cause millions of dollars in damage to equipment and severely cripple on-time performance.

To fight back against Slippery Rail, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR), the company that operates the commuter rail system for the T, devised a plan in 2005 to create a high pressure system that would blast water onto the rails and take the gooey residue right off. The high pressure washer trains safely blast away leaves and residue, using 15,000 pounds per square inch of water pressure without causing damage to the rail.

The MBTA currently owns two pressure washers which were both built by MBCR maintenance employees. The washers include a diesel generator pump, and control cab which are mounted on a flat car. The trains also includes a tank car, which holds 22,000 gallons of water, a caboose, and two work locomotives.

The trains can travel at speeds of around 15-25MPH while still blasting off residue.

Prior to the fall season, MBCR crews cut back trees and shrubs along the MBTA's commuter rail routes to hinder leaves from falling onto tracks.

The MBCR is planning on running train set's during off-peak hours, weekends, and nights this fall.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Next Stop: Facebook

MBTA riders could soon be receiving updates and alerts by way of a simple Facebook post. The T announced on Wednesday that they have "reclaimed" a Facebook Page, that was once maintained by riders, as their own.

According to MBTA spokesperson, Kelly Smith, the T is in the middle of "recalibrating" its social media image, "The reclamation of the MBTA Facebook page is another step in that process and we are currently deciding how best it could serve our customers."

It is still uncertain if the T will begin posting on this newly reclaimed page, but they now have all the necessary tools to do so.

The page was originally created in 2008 by members of the MBTA Rider Oversight Committee.

The MBTA has been steadily increasing its presence on social media. Over the past few weeks the T have switched it's Twitter handle from @mbtaGM to @MBTA, gained around 1600 new followers and has become verified by Twitter.
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