Thursday, November 10, 2011

How the MBCR is planning to tackle Old Man Winter!

Commuters who regularly utilize the MBTA to get from point A to point B usually dread the winter months. The winter here in New England is much longer than just a couple of months. It can run anywhere from October all the way to April! Last year was one of the worst winters I have seen in quite a while and it was also one of the worst winters on the commuter rail for the MBTA and MBCR. Last year the MBCR, the company which operates the Commuter Rail for the MBTA, was plagued by numerous mechanical failures (which ranged from broken air hoses to locomotive failure), signal problems, trackage issues, and many other problems leaving commuters stranded on platforms in the cold or stuck on trains for hours. The most famous incident that occurred last year was when a train bound for Worcester had its locomotive breakdown in Newtonville  turning a regularly hour and a half ride into a four hour nightmare.

This year however the MBCR says they are more than prepared to take on Old Man Winter! I was lucky enough to recently be invited to the MBCR's headquarters in downtown Boston, and I learned a lot! I met with Ed Motte, the MBCR's Transportation Chief, who informed me of the many plans they have set in place to ease the difficulties brought upon by our fierce New England winters. I was also given these wonderful photos! Currently  the MBCR's largest obstacle for the winter months is keeping its fleet of aging locomotives, many of which are over 25 years old, in working order. Currently the agency has 76 active locomotives plus 5 ex-MARC units being leased from Motive Power. During an average rush hour the MBTA needs exactly 60 locomotives to efficiently run service. According to iRidetheT the MBCR also has 5 locomotives receiving top deck repairs out of state and more than 10 are having minor work done, on sight, at the BET. This leaves very little room for error.

The MBCR and MBTA have a plan for this however! This year, when extreme and severe weather hits the area, the MBTA will be implementing an emergency snow schedule. This schedule, which will have the commuter rail running less trains on each of their lines, will help the MBCR free up space on the tracks to allow for more crews to clear snow and debris. Less traffic on the rails will help crews get tracks cleared quicker so that trains can return to full service as fast as possible. The reduction of trains will also free up locomotives to serve as rescue trains. The leased MARC locomotives will also give the MBCR a little bit of flexibility when it comes to mechanical failures, but according to Ed Motte they will only be used in extreme emergencies.

The MBCR has also invested quite a bit into new and used snow equipment for the winter ($500,000 to be exact). The MBCR recently purchased two (one new and one used from PanAm Railways) high powered and self propelled jet blowers. These jet blowers, similar to the MBTA's "Snowzilla", use a high powered jet engine to clear and melt snow that accumulates on rails and switches. In addition to the two self propelled jet blowers, the MBCR has also acquired a new ogger (a gigantic snow blower) and two smaller non-propelled jet blowers, all of which can be attached to a front end loader.
The New Ogger
The 2 smaller jet blowers
Self propelled Jet Blower
Protective sleeves 

The MBCR has also invested in new protective sleeves that cover air hoses and couplers on locomotives and coaches. These new sleeves will ensure that this sensitive equipment dose not receive any water damage. It will also make it easier in the event of a mechanical failure for a rescue train to attach to a disabled train. Additional personnel have also been hired by the MBCR for the winter months to help with snow removal around switches. This extra help will ensure that frozen switches won't wreak havoc on the morning or evening commutes.

Most of you know that last winter wasn't the greatest for both the MBTA and the MBCR but I feel that with this new added investment by the MBCR, Old Man Winter is going to be getting a run for his money! Although unpredictable failures can still cause major delays, the MBCR seems very well prepared to tackle any type of failure when and if it happens. For a commuter rail system that still uses locomotives that are way over their estimated life expectancy on a daily basis they are doing pretty good. Let's just hope this winter is going to be MUCH different than last year!

For more information on how the MBTA and MBCR are preparing for winter check out:

Also, if you're on Twitter, Tweet your questions and concerns to @MBCR_info or @MBTAGM


  1. Great post! Congrats on your meeting with the MBCR - how did you score that one?

  2. Thanks Tyler! I've been in contact with one of their PR reps for a while and she invited me over. It was a great experience!


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