Friday, March 16, 2007

saying goodbye to the Boeing Green Line cars

(Globe Photo / Jodi Hilton)
Now, after years of being cannibalized for spare parts, the Boeings -- which first hit the rails on Dec. 29, 1976 -- are making just one trip a day on the D branch of the Green Line. Only two are used on any given day.

"If we get one good trip out of it, we feel good," said Peter Messina, chief inspector at Riverside. "It's like having an old person around, you know? They can only walk so much. They can only go so far. I came on the job before they were here, and they're going to retire before me."

The last trips were scheduled for today, but snow could cancel them.

Most of the remaining trolleys will be disassembled by backhoe for scrap metal. One car may go to a trolley museum in Maine, and about six could find new life scraping slush off overhead trolley lines.
originally written in January

There are only a few left in service and as Breda finally delivers the last cars in an order than has been a saga in itself for over 9 years, the infamous Boeing cars will soon be retired. The Green Line cars numbered in the 34-3500's were supposed to be the future when they were introduced in late 1976. They were the first new streetcars bought by the T since 1951 and they were a disaster. But in this case the T wasn't at fault.

The Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation decided that the MBTA and the San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) should work together in producing a new generation of streetcar. What wound up happening was that both the T and MUNI were forced to accept things they didn't want in the new cars so it would be able to run on both systems. The contract was put out to bid and was awarded to a helicopter manufacturer Boeing-Vertol and the order would be for 250 cars (150 for Boston). The one major difference in the order was that Boston would have air conditioning something not needed in San Francisco.

In Boston there were problems with derailments, power failures and doors (which had over 1300 parts) closing unexpectedly on passengers. In San Francisco they found that only 2 of the 3 doors could function in the Market Street Subway. The T sued Boeing-Vertol for the repairs and won $34 million dollars in damages.and Boeing in turn was able to convince San Francisco to buy 40 of the cars that the T no longer wanted. The T tested a Canadian made LRV for 3 months in 1980 but in the end decided to build their next cars from scratch. Eventually the new design would become the
Type 7 cars manufactured by Kinki-Sharyo of Japan (numbered in the 36-3700's) starting in 1986 and for the most part the T only ran the remaining Boeing cars during rush hour. The Kinki cars proved to be very reliable and the T bought 20 more 10 years later. San Francisco decided to replace their Boeings with cars manufactured by an Italian company named Breda. Boston then decided that instead of ordering the new Type 8 cars 10 years ago from Kinki-Sharyo that they as well would use Breda which has proven to be a disaster equal to the Boeings. The Breda cars were supposed to be fully delivered in 1998 but the T will take final delivery sometime in 2007 on the remaining cars.

Still there is a certain nostalgia concerning the Boeing cars though they will never be as beloved as the old PCC cars they replaced. They were a part of Boston for 30 years but it is time to say goodbye to them. Those interested can read more on the MBTA's problems with streetcars in an article written some 9 years ago by Scott Moore. The last words in the article proved to be incorrect and we the riders continue to suffer.

The new cars are expected to arrive sometime in 1997 or 1998. With the MBTA planning on keeping the LRVs until 1999, it is possible that the system has learned from the mistakes of the past, and will be much more careful when purchasing rail-cars in the future.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Charlie's Mailbag - March 15th

trying to catch up on the mail at

Stephanie writes about Charlie refunds

In November, I bought a Charlie Ticket for use on the Green line so I would not have to use tokens. Unfortunately, no one had told me that tickets were not accepted on the green line. By advise of a T agent, I sent a charlie ticket in for a refund in November so that I could buy tokens. After numerous calls (and rude responses including "too bad, people who sent their tickets in June are still waiting for refunds"), I reached the "proper" person. Someone named Barbara? She said that tickets were non-refundable and that T agents were making things up by telling people that they could get refunds. After that, it was announced that Charlie Cards were soon to be released. I found out that Charlie tickets could be changed into Charlie cards. After numerous tries, I reached her again and requested by Charlie Ticket back so I could turn it into a Charlie Card. She told me to call her back on January 31 if I still had not received my charlie ticket. I also tried the MBTA "write to the top". After an apology letter for not returning my email for several months, I get a response saying that my email has been forwarded. Since then, I have not heard anything from the "write to the top" and I have not been able to reach Barbara. She never returns phone calls and she never picks up. Sometimes her answering machine is completely full. It is now March 14 and still nothing. I was wondering if anyone might be able to give me the contact information of someone who might be able to help me get my refund or my charlie ticket back. It seems that other people on the website are more successful than I am at getting refunds. I am owed $16.25.

Since this fiasco started the T has opened a new Customer Service Department so you might want to contact them and see if they can figure out what is going on. I know the T watches the blog so maybe that will help as well. Let us know what happens

Paul writes

tried to search for these answers on your site, as an FYI.

I was wondering if anyone has posted in regards to the new CHARLIE gates not opening very well or quickly when people come up to them.


has anyone ever commented on the escalator etiquette (stand on the right, unless you are passing) and how the MBTA subways cars could actually fit more people on them, if passengers removed their bags and backpacks from their backs/shoulders?

The slow faregates have been mentioned several times. There doesn't seem to be a uniform standard on how they open.

Your other points are common sense which sadly is lost on many riders.

Mike wants to pass on a link

Saw your recent posts about SF, Chicago, and Boston… and thought I would send this link along.

Think of it as mapquest for public transit.
Thanks Mike. I am sure many will find it useful.

and David has some concerns about the blog

I like your Charlie on the MBTA blog, but lately the entire tone has just become nothing but complaints. When I first started reading it I was compelled by the fact that it wasn't just the classic Boston/MBTA blog where people write in and relentlessly complain about their commutes, etc. If people are so fired up about issues that they think should be fixed on the T they should write the T and if that doesn't work, their elected representatives, the governor, etc. Get results oriented, or quit complaining.

I liked your piece on the trolley cars you saw in San Fran, and some of the other pieces you have done on the history of the T, how the T runs, etc. Those tend to get responses from people who want to discuss transit, rather than just complain. I know a blog is just somewhere people can post their opinions, but maybe there is something that can be done to set the tone. Alternatively, if the blog is designed to solicit opinions for public action, perhaps you could incorporate an element to actually facilitate that happening, such as on-line petitions, that could actually be conveyed to a public official. Again, I like your blog and appreciate the hard work you put into it. I just hope it does not deteriorate into a message board of complaints that no one follows up on.
Thanks David for the note.

Obviously people tend to write more when something goes wrong but we have encouraged people to tell GOOD T stories as well.

I hope as we evolve that some of your ideas will start to happen. One reason I have been reporting on other cities is to show the MBTA is not alone with problems but perhaps they can learn from how other cities cope with moving people around.

Charlie sees America the Amtrak way.....

One forgets just how big the USA is until you go coast to coast in one trip on Amtrak.

I left San Francisco at 8:20 AM on Sunday morning and arrived at South Station Wednesday evening at 7 PM.

The first day of the trip was enjoyable as the train went thru the Sierra Nevada mountain range on a perfect day and a California railroad museum had a narrator between Sacremento and Reno.

Then a long trip thru the Nevada desert as the train was forced to travel no faster than 30 because of track work being done by the Union Pacific. Monday brought Utah and Western Colorado on another perfect day but we were running 5 hours late.

Tuesday we awoke in Omaha and then spent the rest of the day traveling through Iowa and Illinois arriving in Chicago at 7:35 PM giving me 20 minutes to make the Boston train.

Wednesday at 7 AM we were forced to leave the train in Buffalo and take a shuttle bus to Albany as the tracks were closed because of a major accident near Syracuse. Trust me riding a bus after being on a train for 3 days is not fun.

My bags decided to stay in Chicago and hopefully will arrive today.....

Still I would highly recommend that everybody do the cross country trip ONCE....

Last Boeing LRV run will be on Friday March 16th

Charlie is back in Boston exhausted after almost 4 days on Amtrak (more on that later)..... and can report that Iowa is boring

2 months ago we wrote about the end coming for the Boeing LRV's on the Green Line and that day has arrived.

WEATHER PERMITTING the final Boeing revenue run will leave Riverside at 11 AM on Friday with the return trip scheduled to leave Government Center at 11:40 AM.

MBCR replies to Worcester Line service complaint

Kelly Crosby complained to MBCR about consistently late trains on the Worcester Line:

I have been very happy with the results I have received from this form in the past, and hope to get an answer now.

I understand why the Framingham / Worcester line has so many problems; I knew its situation when I started riding it. Most of the time, service is acceptable.

However, I have one question. I take the 7:07am train out of Worcester daily (boarding at Ashland and riding to South Station.) I take the 4:58pm Worcester express home (exiting at Ashland.) I have been riding these trains for many moons now, and they are consistently 10 to 15 minutes late. I have come to accept that this is just the way it is, but my question is this: why does the MBTA not update the schedules to allow for these extra daily delays? Are the schedules posted for the Worcester line just goals? Why not just say that the 7:07am train will arrive in South Station at 8:35 (as it consistently does) rather than aim for 8:23am, which is, frankly, impossible?

I am not trying to be rude or complain about a certain incident. My fellow passengers and I discuss this often and would truly like a valid response. We would be a lot less frustrated if the schedules were updated and followed accurately, even if it meant admitting that the trains would be arriving later.

Linda Dillon of MBCR Customer Service replied:

I have read your email concerning the scheduling of trains on the Worcester Line.

Please allow me to attempt to explain the rather unique situation we encounter on this line.

Scheduling trains is a difficult process, and with each review that is done prior to a change, a number of factors are taken into consideration. With some trains, or train times, crew and equipment availability is a problem. In other areas, we have to balance our schedules with other companies, whether passenger rail or freight. Of course in this instance, on the Worcester Line, I am sure you are well aware that we are at the mercy of CSX, the owner/operator of this line; whether it is a matter of imposed speed restrictions, the times that they are running their freight trains, or the ongoing track work along the Worcester main line. There is also the impact that changing the time of one train will have to not only other trains on the line, but along the system as well. Many lines share stops as they come closer to Boston, so there must be some balance between the trains.

I have forwarded your comments about the Worcester Line trains to personnel in the Operations and Planning Department, to be considered in future discussions.

While I realize that I have not provided a solution, I do apologize for the frequent inconveniences and hope that this information is helpful.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A reader writes: Disappointed in Mac Daniel's column today

[Until Charlie returns from the West Coast, I'll be occasionally fillling in for him. -- Ron Newman]

From today's mailbag:

Hi Charlie on the M(B)TA,

Below is a copy of a letter I sent to the Globe today. Nothing new
in it, but I was really dumbfounded by the silly Starts & Stops
column this morning

BTW, I'm a native SF-er who's lived in Boston for the past three
years. Glad you liked "my" city and its transit system. BART is far
better than commuter rail (hey -- it may be dirty, but at least the
lights work!), and I think is a good model for an commuter-friendly,
region-wide system.

MUNI has gotten a lot better over the last 10 years; former mayor
Willie Brown set out to fix it, and I think he did a pretty good
job. Shows that maybe even the stodgy ol' MBTA could be given a

Jon Roberts
Boston, MA

Date: March 11, 2007 9:32:05 AM PDT
Subject: Disappointed in reporting

Dear Mr. Daniel,

I enjoy your column and the "transport beat" that you have at the
Globe. But I'm starting to wonder where the teeth are in your
articles. In today's Starts & Stops, you mention three people who
complained to the T, but whose complaints the T has no record of.
A new customer service system "may" be the issue for having, it
would seem, systematically tossed complaint letters in the trash?
Why let it go at that? Why not ask the next five or ten questions
that naturally follow on?

It seems that of all the local travesties, the T is handled with
the "kiddest" of gloves. Massport, the Turnpike Authority, and
others all get a good grilling, but the T is let off with their
spokespeople saying "oh, good point, we'll look into it.".

I think the Globe really needs to turn its eye to some of the
fundamental issues at the T. A few that pop right to mind:

* Why is customer service responsiveness so poor? Why does the T
feel so unaccountable to its customers and to the media?

* Why are projects so delayed? Kenmore Station? Charles Street?

* Why is service so spotty? The boarding delays with Charlie on
the Green line? Commuter rail cars with no heat or lights?

* Are funds being spent properly?

These are important local issues that deserve strong investigative
reporting. The T isn't the Kremlin; it's a taxpayer-funded,
service-providing, fully accountable agency. I would hope Globe
would treat it as such.

Jon Roberts
Boston, MA