Saturday, April 30, 2011

YAY History: The "EL"

In this months history post I am going to be covering the history of the, now defunct, Orange line Elevated or the "EL".

MBTA map that shows the 
The first phase of the "EL" , which was opened in 1901, was dubbed the Charlestown Elevated. The line ran from Everett right through Charlestown and then descended underground at North Station. The line then ran underground through downtown (todays Orange Line Subway) and then once again came above ground to meet the Washington Street Elevated. The Washington St. Elevated ran from the Chinatown station (then Essex st.) and terminated at Dudley Station. In 1909 the Elevated was then extended to Forest Hills. 

During the 1970's the MBTA was experiencing a time of growth. They began to examined many of their lines and fund improvement and revitalization projects. The Orange Line Elevated was the first on their list. The MBTA first thought of ways that they could extend the Orange Line. They proposed extending the northern terminus to Route-128 in Reading, then extend southern terminus to Dedham. As a result of this review the MBTA decided they were going to rip down the Charlestown Elevated. 

The MBTA built a brand new route for the Charlestown line. The new line ran from A new underground station at North Station through an underwater tunnel under the Charles River. The line then traveled at grade along newly acquired track from the Boston and Maine Railroad right of way under I-93. The line  then terminated at the present day terminus of Oak Grove.

Riding over the Charlestown Bridge
It wasn't long after the closure of the Charlestown Elevated that the MBTA came up with the idea to try and re-rout the rest of the elevated Orange Line. 

During the early 1980s, although the Orange line had become the most reliable and most ridden rapid transit line in Boston, it had become the most unsafe line in the system, due to the amount of crime on trains and at stations. 

The once beautiful victorian style elevated stations were now in horrible despair and were in need of a major refurbishment or total demolition. Although it was going to come at a huge price tag, around $730 Million, $1,677,050,744 in today's money, the MBTA was going to re-route the entire southern half of the Orange Line and rip down the Washington St. Elevated. In May, 1987 the last revenue trip was performed on the Washington St. Elevated. Thereafter the Orange line, instead of rising to the elevated tracks on Washington St., would veer west to follow the Mass Pike on the acquired right of way from the Boston and Albany Railroad and then travel along a newly constructed right of way all the way to Forest Hills. This became the Orange line that many of us ride today. 
North Station Elevated

As with many high profile and expensive projects, there was much controversy that came with the closing of the elevated. Although the line terminated basically in the same place, the new route largely bypassed Washington St. The MBTA promised replacement service to local residents who relied on the Elevated to get to work. A green line extension that would run from Washington Street to Dudley Square, then divert southeast on Warren Street towards Dorchester was proposed, but dropped soon after. It took the T until 2002 to implement some sort of service replacement for this area, being phase 1 of the Silver Line.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sights from Marathon Monday

The city was abuzz with tourists, runners, and their families this past weekend, as everyone gathered for the 115th annual Boston Marathon. It is the oldest annual city race in the world and attracts some 500,000 spectators along the route. (To give some perspective, the entire population of Boston proper stands at just over 617,000.) Over 20,000 runners participate every year, making this one major event for this city.

Dan and I decided to join in the fun and headed down to Kenmore Square to walk along the last mile of the route. The streets were crowded with people everywhere, but an overwhelmingly positive atmosphere was present everywhere. Check out some of the things we saw.

 The crowd on Boylston Street

 After crossing the finish line, runners were draped in thermal wraps and given a bag of food to help replenish their systems.

 Near the Prudential center

These two guys were dressed as Solo cups.

On our way back home, we decided to take the Green Line. There was a "medical situation" and the whole station at Hynes Convention Center was backed up and filled with trains.

So there you have it, folks, scenes from Marathon Monday, even though its Wednesday.

Silver Line: More than a glorified bus line

Ah the Silver Line, the often overlooked and sparsely ridden segment of the MBTA's rapid transit system. Not quite a bus and not quite a subway. What's the deal with this oddball of a transit system?

An extremely new system by Boston's standards, the Silver Line Phase 1 first opened in the summer of 2002. At that time it only ran from Dudley Square to Downtown Crossing and was created to meet the needs of residents displaced by the relocation of the Orange Line Elevated system (the El) that used to run along Washington Street. The system uses bus rapid transit (BRT) vehicles, which are dual-mode buses that run on electric power from an overhead line and are considered trackless trolleys when running in the underground tunnels from South Station to the Waterfront. They also run on diesel fuel while on the street.

Phase 2 of the Silver Line, originally called the South Boston Piers Transitway, opened in December of 2004, running from South Station to Silver Line Way. In January of 2005, service to Logan Airport began. The Dudley Sq.-to-Downtown Crossing and South Station-to-Logan portions remained unconnected for nearly five years until October of 2009, when the Patrick-Murray administration announced that the new service connecting the two routes was to open, running from Dudley directly to South Station and constructed using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The picture of the map at right shows the newest version of the Silver Line service. I've found that the maps in most stations still don't show this newest connection and still say that the line ends at City Point on the Waterfront. The service to City Point (SL3) was shut down in 2008 after the MBTA found the ridership of that portion to be insufficient.

Today, according to the same press release announcing the construction of the Dudley-South Station connection, the Silver Line averages a daily ridership of 29,670. 

There are four routes that the Silver Line follows. SL1 runs from South Station to the Airport terminals. SL2 runs from South Station to the Design Center on the Waterfront. SL4 runs from South Station to Dudley Square and SL5 runs from Boylston Street to Dudley Square. 

A Phase 3 has been proposed to create a tunnel running below street level from South Station to Tremont Street to connect that station with the Boylston Street and Chinatown stops underground. The estimated cost for this project stands at around $780 million. According to A Better City, Phase 3 could relieve congestion on the core downtown stations and bring the 265,000 residents living on this line access to the 491,000 jobs located within walking distance of stations with two-seat ride access to the Airport. These numbers are expected to increase exponentially by 2030.

Despite many other benefits though, the project has been on hold since 2005, due to the enormous cost and scale of it and lack of consensus with neighborhood residents. It is currently listed as an "illustrative project," but has not received funding in the September 2009 amended version of the Long Range Transportation Plan put forth by the Boston Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization.

A study looking into expanding the line to Chelsea is currently underway. 

So although it may not be as heavily ridden or widely known as its heavy and light-rail brethren, the Silver Line still plays a major role in the daily commutes of thousands of passengers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring is in the air!

Well everyone, Spring is finally showing itself here in Boston! That's right!
Frog Pond is filled up, cherry blossoms are blooming, tulips are poking out, and of course, the beloved Swan Boats are awaiting their passengers in the Public Garden.

Every year when these unique and beautiful boats hit the water it is a sure sign that Spring has hit the city. The boats have been a Boston tradition and trademark since 1877 when Robert Paget created the first Swan Boat to sail the pond in the Garden. The first boats were single seaters that could only carry about 8 people.

Today's boats are replicas of the originals, but the oldest of the six boats in service date back to the 1910's and 20's. For over 130 consecutive years the Paget family has owned, operated, and maintained these boats in their original glory and have also kept the tradition that Paget started alive and well.

Last week I caught a rare glimpse of the Paget Family assembling and prepping the Swan Boats for their opening day on April 16th. I talked with some of the members of the family about the assembly of the boats and their current specifications. At their present state, the boats can hold about 20 people seated on transverse benches. The boats are 30 feet long and are formed out of 2 pontoons, making them almost like catamarans. The boats are manually operated, usually by a college student (Man I should get that job!). The crew member pedals thee almost bicycle-like mechanism which is located in the swan shell at the back of the boat. The pedals then power a paddle wheel that is located in between the two pontoons. 

Here are some pics of the assembly!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What's new at Fenway?

The baseball season is officially in full swing, and even though this year's Sox team hasn't quite been pleasing fans, spectators of all kinds will be able to find something to appreciate with the newest renovations and additions to America's favorite ballpark.

This year marked the tenth and final year in a series of renovations costing $285 million to restore and revamp the park. The plan, begun in 2002, was to ensure that the 99 year old park will remain the home to the Red Sox for at least the next three or four decades. Construction was finally completed by opening day on April 8, with the unveiling of three new HD video boards, seen at right.

The John Hancock screen in the center, measuring in at 100 feet wide and 38 feet high cost the team $40 million. New videos and player information can now be seen on this screen, along with the to-be-expected large space for advertising. To the left, the Bank of America display, 17 feet high and 100 feet wide, was replaced with a brand new LED screen, and over the right field bleachers, the 16 by 30 foot display is also new.

ANC Sports undertook the installation of this brand new equipment. 

Spectators will now be able to see the same type of information that fans watching on their TVs at home can see. The screens will remain clear even in bright sun, ensuring a high picture quality all the time.

In addition to these new displays, renovations over the past off-season included the replacement or refurbishing of 10,000 seats in the lower grandstand of the right field and major improvements at Gate D. Also new this year are the creation of concrete surfaces on walkways from Gate D to Gate C which will make it easier for people to move about.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Check this out!

Thanks to Evan Sudarsky, Aaron and I have been introduced to this new website that shows real time data for the T and does it with a bit of humor! Check it out!!!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Encounters with the "New" fleet

Hi everyone! Aaron and I have been wanting to do this post for a long time now. We've been waiting till we actually got to see each locomotive in person and today, as we were on our way back to the Bean on the Lowell line, we saw the last one on our list!

As you might have heard, the MBTA is currently trying to increase the reliability of their commuter rail locomotive fleet. To do this the T recently put into service two brand new MPXpress locomotives manufactured my Motive Power. These locos were purchased from the Utah Transit Authority because they had an excess amount of them. These were the first new locomotives for the MBTA in 23 years! Twenty more of these same MPXpress locomotives are on order from Motive Power and are expected to start arriving on MBTA property by early 2013.  

 Here are the pics of my encouter with MP-11 at North Station!

Another step that the MBTA took toward finding relief for their trouble-prone and "antique" fleet of locomotives was to lease, on a day to day basis, 3 "preowned" locos from Motive Power. The T is paying $500 daily for these locomotives! These locos formally served the MARC system in Maryland. The T was originally supposed to recieve 5 of these locomotives, but GM Davey deemed two of them not fit for service and sent one back to Motive Power and kept one, free of charge, for spare parts. Although these locomotives were built in 1995 they are still much younger than most of the locos in the T's fleet. Aaron and I have been waiting to see one of these for some time now and today we finally got our chance!! Here are some photos of what we saw.

The loco is kind of beat up

The remnants of the MARC logo

Still has the MARC colors!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rehab of Government Center Station!

Finally the T is using a little common sense! Thanks to Rich Davey of course!
In today's Boston Herald the MBTA announced it is looking to go forward with the once planned Government Center station renovation. This time around the new, but not really any more, GM will be using a wonderful plan to finally save the MBTA some much needed money and also a lot of time during the construction process. The plan, which is still in it's planning stages, calls for a complete top-to-bottom make over of the entire station. If you use the Government Center station on a regular basis or have just walked by it before you know that its not much to look at first of all and the inside is very rundown and just plain old.

The head house that is in place now was built in 1964. To me it kind of looks like a war bunker right out of WWII. The inside of the station also kind of feels like a bunker. Its dark, cramped, and very hard to move around in. The current station also does not comply with The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, meaning the station has no elevator access to its platforms from the street.

The $71 million renovation calls to level the existing head house and build something new and inviting. The new head house will be a large, three story glass tower. Two brand new elevators will be installed for the station making it ADA compliant. All of the platforms for the Green and Blue lines will also be rebuilt. Hopefully it will make it easier for people to get around down there! Tile floors, new lighting fixtures, and almost double the amount of fare gates (which will help eliminate the bottleneck that usually occurs during rush hour) will all be new features of the new station.

Now for the issues with the project: The T has proposed to close the current Government Center station for three years or until the project is complete. By closing the station for the entire construction period the T would save around $16 million and also cut about 15 months off the estimated 4 year construction time. The problem with closing the station for around three years would be that the 21,000 riders who use this station would have to look elsewhere to get where they need to go. To me this does not seem like that big of an issue. People who use the station to access the Green and Blue lines don't have to look too far to find other stations. There are four stations within walking distance to GC that offer Green and Blue line connections; Haymarket, State st., Park Street, and on weekdays Bowdoin station. Walking a little farther for your commute really is not going to kill you. Especially if the you can get a brand new, state of the art, station and it will help to save the MBTA a little money. As of right now Mayor Menino has not signed off on closing the station but I am keeping my fingers crossed. LETS START DIGGIN!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Pink Palace" to Get a New Lease on Life

Late last month the mayor's office released a statement announcing that Earl of Sandwich, a sandwich shop based in Orlando, Florida will be moving into the Boston Common. The restaurant will make its home in the Common's "Pink Palace," an old and decrepit men's restroom, built originally in 1920. The plan is to have outdoor seating.

The Palace, nestled near the tennis courts and the gazebo on the southern end of the Common is a 660 square foot structure that has been long since abandoned and has seen much better days. The city considers it a historic landmark, with its granite walls and glass ceiling. Today one can observe the front door to the Palace locked and hanging by its hinges, the floor falling through, and the ceiling broken all over. You've probably walked by this tiny building many times before without even knowing it. I know I have. 

The project to allow a commercial restaurant to operate within the Common is part of the city's larger plan to help revitalize the 377 year old park, one of the nation's oldest. In addition to the Palace's face-lift, the city has begun construction of the Liberty Mall, located further up the Common, as Dan talked about in a previous post. A remodeling of the Visitor Information Center to upgrade the HVAC system and the restrooms and to allow for less wind to come through the entrance, along with a remodeling of the exterior of the Deer Park Maintenance Building on the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets are also in the works.

Earl of Sandwich has 11 locations nationwide in Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, Nevada, and Michigan. This new location will be the second for Boston, the other one located at Logan Airport.

Hawker-Siddeleys are falling short.

Yup! You guessed it I'm talking about the Orange Line. You know, it's that line that you've ridden on that you probably got talked to by some crazy people on, had to evacuate for a fire, had your train breakdown and got stuck in a tunnel, the door you were standing at that didn't open, or you were new to the city and thought, because an outdated map at one of the stations told you so, that you could connect to the Green Line at Forest Hills.

The Orange line that we know today, was finished in 1987 and runs from Forest Hills to Oak Grove right through the heart of Downtown Boston. It also has the highest ridership out of the three heavy rail lines in the system. Today, as you might have heard, the MBTA has many problems it is dealing with, but in my opinion, a huge number of their problems lay with the ever-aging Orange Line. In this post I hope to share what I feel are the largest and most concerning problems on the Orange Line and what the MBTA is trying to do in order to fix some of these problems.

New (1981)
First and foremost the largest issue that has been plaguing the Orange line over the past few years and especially this winter is it's fleet of rolling stock. The entire Orange line fleet consists of 120 Hawker-Siddeley (now Bombardier Transportation) 01200 series cars. These cars were bought brand new and were implemented in phases between 1980 and 1981. These cars have reinforced roofs for pantographs (much like their sister cars which were the old Blue Line cars). It was thought that if the Orange Line was extended, they would opt to use overhead collection, but since these extensions were never built, pantographs were never installed. 

Today these cars are really showing their age. These once shiny and state-of-the-the-art trains are now rusted out clunkers in need of a serious overhaul or complete retirement. This past year has been a very trying time for the Orange Line fleet. Many of the trains tried to slug through the winter, but hardly made it out alive. There were a multiple of breakdowns caused by the cold and the snow and also just the overall age of the trains. In many instances snow clogged the air intake for the trains propulsion, causing them to stall out (which is a horrible design, if you ask me, because the Orange Lines undercarriage, where this intake is located, has very low clearance with the ground especially when there is snow on the tracks).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying bash the Hawker-Siddeley's. These were wonderful and revolutionary cars when they first entered the MBTA system, but because of negligence to the fleet on the part of former MBTA heads, these trains are definitely not going to last much longer especially through our tough New England winters.

You're probably wondering if the T is taking any steps toward revamping the current fleet or introducing a brand new fleet. The truth is I did lots of research on the subject and came up with only one answer--being that the T was looking into replacing the entire fleet, but there was no projected time line for it. In my opinion, the replacement of these cars should be a very high priority for the T. Also, if they were to choose a train to base the new Orange line cars off of I would think they should use the new Blue Line cars manufactured by Siemens. These are the nicest, and cleanest cars I have ridden on. This is just my opinion though. Well anyways that's my little (or fairly large) rant about my take on the status of the Orange Line.

Heres a little video about the Orange Lines winter update!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Real Time Displays (Update)

Hi all! Here is a bit of an update on my earlier post about what I thought were going to be real time displays on the Red Line. Yesterday, as I was waiting for a Red Line train to Central at Park Street, I noticed the display that I talked about in my earlier post. I saw that it was lit up and displaying something. I ran over to it, almost tripping, and noticed, to my disappointment, that it was not displaying real time subway data, but instead was showing a quad-screen view of multiple closed circuit cameras. When I got to Central I noticed that same thing on the displays there too. I thought to myself, "Why on earth would the T display c.c. video footage of their stations?" I then came to the idea that maybe it may be for the motormen.

The way the system works now, each red line train, which consists of six cars, has two motormen on it: one who is in the first car and one who is in the third car. Both motormen are responsible for opening and closing the doors for their half of the train. In order for the motormen to know when to close the doors at a station they must hang out the windows on either side of the train. If these monitors are for what I think they are then the motormen will now be able to just look at the monitor to see when they can close the trains doors. Another interesting thought I had was that maybe these were part of the first steps to eliminating the second motorman from all Red Line trains.

The MBTA has been proposing, for quite a while now, to eliminate the second motorman position on the Red Line in order to save more money. Last year the T cut the second motorman position from all Orange line trains and it seems to be working fine. The reason I believe this may be one of the first steps toward this happening on the Red Line is because the monitors and cameras are strategically place so that the Motorman in the first car can get a full view of their entire six car train. This will make it a lot easier for the motor man to lean out his window to see down all six cars. Especially during rush hour when there are tons of people on the platforms. I keep you all posted when I find out more though.

Now back to the real time displays. Yesterday Aaron and I went on an adventure on the Blue Line to Maverick Square in Eastie. As we were waiting for the Blue Line at Government Center we both noticed a very dirty LCD screen, which you could tell had been repurposed, and was displaying realtime Blue Line data. The top of the display says "Blue Line Service (Pilot). I am guessing it is part of the same pilot program the T initiated on the Orange Line. I really hope it sticks around and starts popping up at more stations because it was amazing to see exactly where the next train is and when it will be arriving.

When Aaron and I got off at Maverick station we noticed that the station had its own way of displaying real time train data. This being in the form of a huge horizontal map of the Blue line tracks which shows the location of every running train by lighting up lights along the tracks. Not sure how old this is but I will try and find out!

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