Monday, June 20, 2011

YAY History: MBTA LRV's

Well everyone, strap into your seats because this history lesson is filled with all kinds of information! Thats right, this month I'll be taking you through the success and failures of the MBTA's acquirement of three different types of Light Rail Vehicles (LRV)

Let's start with a little bit of background information. Starting in 1905 the MBTA or then The MTA, started purchasing trolley cars for their entire system. They also began a numbering scheme that would characterize all new trolleys purchased as "Types". From 1905 until 1922 the MTA purchased around 946 "Type" cars that ran from Type 1's right through Type 5's. When the company was looking for a replacement of their type cars, they chose, like many other cities did, the Presidential Conference Committee (PCC) street car. They did not opt to call these their Type 6 cars though. In August of 1964 the MBTA acquired the MTA and took full control of all bus, trolley, commuter rail, and subway service. At this time they also introduced the T logo and advertising campaign that we recognize today.
"Type 6" Mockup! 

At about the same time as the formation and take over of the MBTA, engineers working for the Authority began designing a replacement for their World War II era PCC street cars. The design was given the designation "Type 6" resuming the MTA's original numbering scheme. The engineers created a wooden mock-up of one end of the proposed Type 6 at their Everett shops in 1968. The purpose of this mock-up was to allow designers, operating personnel, and the public to judge the designs, layout, and comfort on a full scale. The actual mock-up still exists and it is currently on display at the Seashore Trolly Museum! Unfortunately nothing ever came from this mock-up. The design was solicited out to a few companies but was rejected by the T because all of the bids were to high.

An ad thanking Boston for choosing Boeing!
Notice it says next stop Cleveland.
Cleveland opted not to make a contract with Boeing
At the same time however, the San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) was also looking into designing new cars to replace their aging streetcar fleets. The United States Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA) and the Federal Funding Agency mandated that MUNI and the MBTA work together in a joint design for a new type of street car. This would eventually be dubbed the Standard Light Rail Vehicle (SLRV).

By 1973, the UMTA awarded the building contract to the Boeing-Vertol company of Philadelphia at a cost of $300,000 per car. Initially MUNI ordered 80 cars and the MBTA ordered 150. Later though, the orders were increased to 100 and 175 respectively  It took until 1975 for demonstrator models to be sent to both cities. After they proved to operate successfully, the MBTA then put them into full revenue service by 1976 on the "D" Riverside Branch of the Green Line.

Right after the LRV's entered revenue service, however, they proved to be very troublesome. They were prone to numerous problems such as derailments on the tight curves of the nearly 100 year old MBTA subway, shortening out of electrical systems, premature failure in the cars' motors and propulsion systems, the overly complex plug doors not operating properly, and much more.


MBTA LRV #3424 at the Seashore Trolly Museum
This has the Bi-fold doors and the A/C units!
In Boston, the LRV situation was becoming a major political and public relations nightmare. The MBTA was still accepting new cars from Boeing-Vertol, but the cars were falling out of service faster than the MBTA's maintenance staff could repair them. Additionally, the MBTA could not acquire replacement parts fast enough to repair the disabled LRV's. In an effort to keep as many LRV's operating as possible, MBTA maintenance crews began cannibalizing some of the disabled cars for replacement parts. To help prevent the riding public from seeing the sheer number of brand-new, but heavily cannibalized LRVs, several of the cars were hidden around the system where the public was not likely to find them. The Boston Globe released an article about the cannibalized and hidden LRVs, becoming the first time the issues with these vehicles came into public view. 


In 1979, the MBTA successfully sued Boeing-Vertol for financial damages, the cost of repairs and modifications to several cars, and the ability to reject the delivery of the last 40 cars of their 175 car order. The T also put into place a PCC rebuilding program in order for them to keep a functional fleet of street cars on the Green Line. Since the T ended their contract with Boeing, they now had the ability to do absolutely anything they wanted to do with the cars. One of the first things they did was add air-conditioning units to the top of the cars. The original cooling systems were a forced air system that were mounted on the bottom of the cars and were problematic because they sucked in dirt from the tracks (one of the many reasons why an airplane manufacturing company should not be designing and manufacturing trains and trolleys). The T also replace the troublesome and complicated plug doors with bi-fold doors that we see today. 


The CLRV 4027 sitting at the Riverside car house in 1980
So it is now 1980, and the MBTA is now looking to design a trolley that might actually be useful on the Green line and might not be a money pit. During the first steps of this process the MBTA looked to Canada for assistance. The T began leasing three Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRV) from the Toronto Transit Commission. For about 90 days the T operated, maintained, and evaluated their performance on the Green Line. The T thought that maybe they would find luck in making another joint venture. These cars were very different from the Boeing LRVs. The CLRVs had no articulation in the center of the car, they did not have a pantograph and instead had a whip like the PCCs, and they also did not have doors on the left side of the train. One of the largest differences though, was that they did not have cabs at both ends of the trolly. All in all the MBTA ended up passing on the CLRV design and decided to create a brand new design on their own. 


Repainted Type 7 at
Reservoir Yard!
Next came the Type 7 LRV. To me the Type 7's are a hybrid car. The T took aspects of many different cars and put them all together. They have the looks of the CLRV and the Type 6 prototype, they have articulation and pantographs like the Boeings, and they have foot-petal control like the PCCs. The overall design was sent to the Kinki-Sharyo company out of Osaka Japan in 1986 and the first of the 100 ordered started arriving in Boston in 1987. After the T found them to be extremely reliable and a good addition to their fleet, they decided to order another set of 20 cars in 1997. The T retired every Boeing LRV by 2007. 


Soon after the MBTA received their last order of Type 7s from Kinki, they were already looking into designing and purchasing their Type 8 cars. 


The T purchased 100 low-floor cars (these unlike the Beoings and Type 7's would comply with ADA requirements). from the Italian train manufacturer AnsaldoBreda (Breda). Right from the beginning these cars were proven problematic and extremely difficult to maintain. The first few cars delivered, in 1999, were failing consistently every 400 miles which was far off from the MBTA standard of 9,000 miles. The cars were also prone to frequent derailments which caused the T to modify a large amount of their trackage around the system at a total cost of over $9 million. In December 2004, the MBTA canceled orders for the remaining cars still to be delivered as part of the authority's nine-year, $225 Million deal with Breda. One year later though, the MBTA announced that they were restructuring the deal and reducing their order to only 85 cars. The last car of the order entered service in Boston in 2006. After the restructured deal with Breda the T was actually receiving a quality product, and this is why in 2007 the T ordered another 10 cars from the company and had them put into service by the end of 2008. 

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