The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said in October that by the end of 2021, at least one newly renovated streetcar would run on tracks through Dorchester, Milton and Mattapan. Citing a long list of unforeseen obstacles, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the MBTA now estimates that the first refurbished Mattapan tram will be in service by the end of this winter. The first was originally scheduled to start operating in August 2019.
Erik Stoothoff, chief engineer of MBTA, hopes that the obstacles encountered on the first car – lead paint, corrosion, staff shortages, incorrectly sized parts – can speed up the process for the next seven cars, with the second cart being refurbished. – currently underway worked at the agency’s Everett repair center – possibly launching next summer.
“Ideally as we progress the learning curve should be shortened,” Stoothoff said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mattapan cart had about 6,600 daily embarkations, according to the MBTA. The 2.6 mile trail connects to the red line and 11 bus lines at Ashmont Station and nine bus lines at Mattapan Station.
The MBTA announced the $ 7.9 million improvement project in 2017 as a way to keep historic 75-year-old trucks on the tracks for an additional eight to 10 years by upgrading their propulsion and braking equipment while the he agency has determined a long-term solution for the fleet.
Shortly after starting work on the first cart, the MBTA discovered lead paint, which can cause serious health problems and must be removed. All lead paint was removed from cars when they were last serviced in 2001, Stoothoff said, but the agency suspects a supervisor at the time decided to use it again without anyone knowing.
At the MBTA Vehicle Repair Facility in Everett, where most of the trolley refurbishment work takes place before the car is transferred to the Mattapan Station garage for final stages, the COVID-19 pandemic forced vehicle maintenance staff to focus on tasks such as adding barriers to buses. to protect drivers and pour hand sanitizer from bulk containers to individual containers. Since then, one of the top engineers on the cart project has left MBTA, and the entire vehicle maintenance team is short by over 100 workers as the agency struggles to hire.
After the teams removed the seats, floors and much of the frames, the MBTA became aware of the level of damage to the cars, requiring more structural work than expected, Stoothoff said. In order to support a new grid resistance on the roof, part of the modern propulsion system, engineers had to add reinforcing beams to the walls and posts near the driveway that resemble subway handrails.
“There will always be hidden damage,” Stoothoff said. “It’s still a 75-year-old vehicle; it has imperfections and complications.
After the furthest car was moved from Everett to the Mattapan garage in October, teams discovered some parts, including a metal box for wiring and wiring connectors, which needed to be refitted.
“On paper, these things seem to be working,” Stoothoff said.
The MBTA says that despite the delays, the project did not go over budget. The $ 7.9 million investment matches the cost of parts, Stoothoff said, and the labor costs are built into the agency’s regular vehicle maintenance budget.
Passengers seem largely oblivious to project delays, which Stoothoff says are not affecting service. The MBTA recently began reducing the frequency of service on the Mattapan line in the morning and afternoon on weekdays and increasing the frequency of service on weekends after 11:30 p.m. due to a shortage of drivers.
Yolanda Harris, 40, took the streetcar as a child and young adult, and recently returned to Mattapan and has started using it again. On a trip to catch the Red Line at Ashmont and drive to Fields Corner to return Christmas presents, she said the cart was exactly as she remembered, including the loud noise and sudden jerking.
“I don’t mind that they’re 75,” she said. “I love it; it’s very easy. I’ve never had a problem with the cart.
Dan Caban, 46, said he takes the bus from his home in Hyde Park to the streetcar, then the streetcar to the Red Line to get to his job in the city center, which takes about a hour and ten minutes door to door. Of the three modes, the cart is the most reliable.
“It’s a little weird because he’s the oldest,” he said. “I love it; I love its age. The lights, the old-fashioned seats.
Elizabeth Higgins, 56, a resident of Milton, takes the tram to her job as a primary school teacher in Cambridge via the red line. Her school does not provide enough parking for all teachers, so it depends on public transit.
“We all feel like if the cart stopped working or wasn’t updated, we’d run out of options,” she said.
Residents served by the streetcar face some of the longest commute times to the city center, said State Representative Brandy Fluker Oakley, who represents parts of Dorchester, Mattapan and Milton, and have long been felt undervalued by the MBTA.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm when we heard about the refurbishment of the trolleys,” she said. “Public confidence has eroded with each delay; with each explanation, the community feels more underestimated.
Following the refurbishment of the trolleys, the second phase of MBTA’s plan to upgrade the Mattapan line includes upgrading stations to make them more accessible and repairing tracks. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency is negotiating an agreement with an engineering company to do the second phase design work and a needs assessment for the entire line.
State Senator Walter Timilty, who represents Milton, said he had “no confidence” in the leadership of the MBTA on the project. He urged the MBTA to move faster with the second phase.
“It is vital to the quality of life for residents of Milton, Mattapan and Dorchester,” he said. “The fact that this project has experienced a series of delays is unacceptable. . . . This is both an accessibility issue and a security issue.
Stoothoff said the MBTA is working to get more staff dedicated to the forklift refurbishment project. When the upgraded carts reach the end of their lifespan, around eight to ten years later, the MBTA plans to use Green Line cars on the Mattapan line, Stoothoff said. The agency had previously considered other options, including upgrading the existing fleet, purchasing new light rail vehicles or operating buses instead.
Harris said she was relieved the tracks likely weren’t paved to make way for buses.
“Keep the cart,” she said.