Save the Mattapan Line…

So a few weeks back our friend Bill Forry over at the Dorchester Reporter put out this great piece about the folks who maintain the Ashmont/Mattapan trolley line. With all the anti MBTA sentiment that’s being tossed about it was a welcomed perspective. Of course I, like a lot of my fellow Dot Rats, have a special place in my heart for these wonderful old trolleys. They are a little slice of home…a little thread in that comfy old blanket we call Dorchester. Unfortunately, as the MBTA continues to receive greater scrutiny of it’s operations, our love of these charming trolleys is of little value if the riders can’t quantify the practicality of the line.

Over the years I’ve heard many reverent stories about family hopping on a trolley and cruising just about anywhere in Dorchester and Roxbury as they tended to their daily lives. My mother till this day does not have her drivers license and she’s completely fine with that. She is truly the product of a streetcar culture.

As we all know, the bulk of our nation’s streetcars faded away long ago. Quite simply we turned to buses and the reasoning behind that is still debated today.

Sure, you can argue that buses provide a more flexible platform to move people around the city and taking streetcars off of Dot and Neponset avenues eased congestion with the proliferation of the automobile. But, it begs other questions…

Are buses as clean to run in thickly settled areas? Do buses provide us a as healthy ROI (Return on Investment) – I don’t see any buses built in 1945 carrying people on a transit system anywhere in the world. If we had trolleys with their own “right of way” like the old #29 Blue Hill Ave line (seen below) that wouldn’t cause street congestion…..why did we get rid of them?

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My hope is that we do not make the same mistake we have in the past. Our governor’s efforts to create new efficiency is just more of the same thinly veiled privatization banter he learned from his mentor. His timing was impeccable on the heels of last year’s terrible winter….what’s not is the facts coming back from Keolis. Makes me wonder if Chuck looking at the ridership numbers from the Swampscott stop on the commuter rail…

The “Save the Mattapan Line!” Facebook group has been gaining traction after Universal Hub put out a quick blurb about it a month back. There’s been some healthy debate over there. One young man in particular has been making waves with his take on the weight restriction argument of the line. Have a peek….

 Big hat tip goes to Boston Streetcars for maintaining such an insightful website!

Every single span on the Mattapan-Ashmont Line is as old as the spans on the Riverside Line. Both lines were integrated into Boston’s trolley network from former heavy rail commuter and freight railroads, and the spans originally handled both steam and eventually diesel locomotives, while pulling rakes of packed passenger cars and tons of freight. Anyone who is stating publicly that the spans on the Mattapan-Ashmont Line cannot already handle the weight of modern streetcars (also known as Light Rail Vehicles, or “LRV’s” for short) is either misinformed or lying outright.

That said, the spans in question may need repairs or replacement. If there was money to replace the Mystic River Bridge and to dig that notorious, massive, taxpayer-financed subway tunnel for automobile traffic known as the Big Dig (meaning the public are on the hook to “dig big” into their pockets generations into the future to pay off the colossal debt they’ve incurred for an inherently flawed, short-sighted project), there is money enough to replace a few small aged rail spans in Milton and Dorchester with brand new rail spans.

It is time for the anti-electric rail, anti-connectivity forces to stop their absurd, lie-driven propaganda offensive and admit that they are wildly outnumbered by the riding public who not only have collectively done more research than the Baker administration has over the years on what would work best for Boston, but actually patronize the Mattapan-Ashmont Line on a regular basis. SEPTA are ahead of Boston in the standardization/modernization of Philadelphia’s streetcar fleet. Soon, Philly’s extremely well-maintained Kawasaki LRV (affectionately known as K-cars) fleet will be retired.

While the T follow in Philly’s and Toronto’s footsteps in standardizing and modernizing their streetcar fleet, there is every reason for them to jump at the chance to procure a small fleet of refurbished K-cars for immediate revenue service on the Mattapan-Ashmont Line to supplement the PCCs. The staff at the Mattapan trolley maintenance facility are some of the finest, most qualified professionals on the entire T system. They are well qualified to maintain and operate K-cars.

The Mattapan-Ashmont Line was electrified and incorporated into the rest of the electric streetcar network around which Boston was originally designed. The working class housing stock of the city – triple deckers and rowhouses, as well as more grandiose constructions – evolved around streetcar logistics in the same way that skyscrapers were built after the advent of subways made such tall buildings conceivable. The Mattapan-Ashmont line is a fine example of virtually everything that frequently running electric rail service provides best.

So this business of deliberately engineering equipment shortages and deferring maintenance on critical electric rail infrastructure on Mattapan-Ashmont and indeed, throughout Boston, must end. It amounts to an act of sabotage. It is high time for the riding public in Boston to speak with one unified voice and demand that maintenance of electric rail service – both light rail subway/surface trolley and heavy rail subway – throughout the T – be assigned the maximum level of priority. This perennial practice of holding the trolley riders of Dorchester, Mattapan and Milton hostage to political games and backroom deals is uglier than ugly and it must cease at once.

As one of the legions of people who knew and deeply respected T Librarian George Sanborn and others who were part of the backbone of promoting and maintaining the T as the pride of Boston, I demand that those at the T and in state government who today persist in stating that the spans along the Mattapan-Ashmont Line can’t possibly handle the weight of single or two-car trains of light rail vehicles either put up or shut up. Share with the riding public all data substantiating your absurd claims.

In turn, we, the riding public, will be only too happy to share with you our decades of rail operations, urban planning and urban studies experience, along with mountains of archival photography and reams of anecdotal data to counter your baseless claims.

Some may think that by closing the T’s library at Park Square and decentralizing – and destroying – its vital repository of knowledge – they can actually erase all traces of data and records of a Boston which was built and fundamentally engineered around electric rail.

They are wrong.

 

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