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MBTA proposes replacing historic PCC streetcars NEWSWIRE

By Justin Franz | January 29, 2019

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An MBTA PCC stops in Milton, Mass., in December 2008.
Justin Franz
BOSTON – The end of the line appears to be in sight for Boston’s historic streetcars.

Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority officials revealed this week that they want to replace the decades-old Presidents’ Conference Committee streetcars in service on the Mattapan-Ashmont High Speed Line with modern light rail vehicles in the next decade.

Although beloved by locals and enthusiasts alike, the 2.6-mile Mattapan route on the end of the Red Line has become an historic oddity for the MBTA. The line has been plagued with service problems in recent years and MBTA officials have said it is hard to find parts to keep the fleet of 10 PCC cars – all built more than 70 years ago – on the rails. In 2017, the MBTA decided to spend $7.9 million to upgrade eight of the PCC cars in order to keep them in service for at least another decade. The agency also hired an outside firm to work with the community to create a roadmap for the route’s future. This week, that plan was finally presented to MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, which will have the final say on what happens to the route.

The outside consultants considered a number of different options for the Mattapan route, including continuing the repair the existing PCC fleet; replacing it with historic replicas; replacing it with modern light rail vehicles; or ripping up the track and replacing it with a bus route. During a number of community meetings along the route, the idea of replacing the streetcars with a bus was widely dismissed by the public.

According to the report given to the management board – and shared with Trains Magazine – the prefered option is to replace the PCCs with Type 9 light rail vehicles from the Green Line.

Phase 1 of the Mattapan line “transformation” is already underway: the $7.9 million upgrade to the current fleet, which will be completed by 2020. Phase 2 calls for right-of-way upgrades, including the replacement of two bridges, one in Ashmont and another in Milton. Phase 3 would see the arrival of Type 9 light rail vehicles from the Green Line in the late 2020s. The project would cost about $190 million.

MBTA is expected to gather public input on the proposal later this year before the management board gives their final approval.

The Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line serves as an extension of the Red Line subway and runs along part of a former New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad route. The 10 PCCs that work the line were all rebuilt in the early 2000s and wear an orange and cream scheme much like the original Metropolitan Transit Authority livery they were delivered in. They also carry an updated version of the old MTA logo.

Although a number of cities still use PCCs in regular service – including Philadelphia, San Francisco, and most recently El Paso – The Boston cars are unique in that they are the only ones in the United States to have never been retired from service.

7 thoughts on “MBTA proposes replacing historic PCC streetcars NEWSWIRE

  1. This is an interesting old route that’s great to visit and fun to ride. Milton is a beautiful little in Norfolk County
    which was the birthplace of four great presidents, one of them in Milton.

    When this topic first came up a few months ago on this forum, some of us were mystified why the PCC cars are maintained at a bus garage in far-off Everett with no rail connection.

    The obvious solution is to mimic the Blue Line: cars that run on both third rail (Bowdoin Square in Boston to Logan Airport) and overhead wire (Logan Airport to Revere). This concept, if implemented on the Red Line, would eliminate the change of cars at Ashmont and would also provide for the cars to be maintained at existing Red Line yards at Alewife (Cambridge-Arlington) to the north or Braintree to the south.

    Many details would need to be worked out, such as the Red Line’s enormous loading gauge compared to the smaller Blue Line cars.

  2. Wait a second…. What about option 4, copying SF lead by sending the PCCs out (I believe to Brookvale?) to be rebuilt and upgraded with modern equipment in a historic package.

  3. On the idea that Charles gave; converting the line from light rail to heavy rail. This has been talked about over the years. However, the line has a number of grade crossings (not a problem with catenary) not to mention the need for high level platforms. Not impossible but would require significant re-design and construction. If the Red Line were extended, the cars used on this line are almost 70 feet long and 6 car trains are the norm…much longer platforms would be needed. I like Eresmus’ :Option 4 but specifying technology common with the rest of the fleet (Type 9’s) might be more practical. Let’s see what happens.

  4. What are the reasons for using PCCs? Size and weight issues on the line? Plus, I am a member of various trolley museums, and have had my eyes open by the costs involved in keeping a “hobby” fleet on the tracks, one where, well if this one doesn’t run we’ll just pull out another. But these cars HAVE TO run to meet schedules or people’s lives are adversely affected. Strangely I don’t hear or read anything about museums or systems like Boston or SF picking up any of the CRVs from Toronto. Seems like they should have some decades left in them.

  5. TOM COUGHLIN – Thanks for your post. Under my proposal it would not be necessary for the Milton – Mattapan cars to be as long as the Red Lime cars. Only would need to be as wide. Stations in Milton-Mattapan would need a high=level platform, but only one (like the Princeton Dinkie in New Jersey) because of infrequent service. If I lived in Mattapan or Milton, I’d love a one-seat ride to downtown Boston or Cambridge.

    Here’s why this will never happen: a dinkie in Milton – Mattapan isn’t any sort of priority compared to MBTA’s other needs. The Green Line “D” train has got to be priority. Or for that matter, the entire Green Line. Boy would I love to repeal the last 130 years and start that one over! The whole Green Line dances to the tune of it being numerous extensions of America’s oldest subway. An underground street car with the traffic demands of a major rapid transit route. The jam-packedness of “D” Green Line trains would embarrass Japan.

    With family at various times in Dorchester, Cambridge, northern Somerville and Quincy, I got to be quite a Red Line fan. The Red Line is a subway line that rides as smooth as a regular railroad like The Hiawatha here in Wisconsin. It’s almost like it was built for my private needs (and I live in Wisconsin!). I got to thumb my nose at patrons of the Blue, Orange and Green Lines built to lower standards.

  6. What is really needed at several locations on the High-Speed are SIGNALS! Mattapan-Ashmont operates by line-of-sight and their car shortages are the result of collisions mostly rather than breakdowns. Did the investigators consider not having a Mattapan-Ashmont line at all and having people trot over to the parallel bus route on River Street? Off-peak ridership is NOT heavy; of course fare “manipulation” and not collecting any fares on the cars can tell too.

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