Monday, August 29, 2011

The T's Aging fleet: How they are managing to squeak by

©2011 Boston to a T
A few weeks ago current MBTA General Manager Richard Davey revealed, for the very first time, the true status of the Orange and Red line fleets.

Currently, the only reason the Orange Line is still operational is because of the dedicated and hard work of the T's vehicle maintenance department. Band-aid after band-aid have been put on these cars and no one truly knows how much longer they can keep that up. GM Davey did unveil a plan however that may cost a pretty penny but will actually allow the Orange Line fleet and the older Red Line fleet to function for a little longer, or at least until the T can afford to fund their overall replacements. 

The plan, which will cost a little over $100 Million, will upgrade the entire Orange line fleet and the 01500-01600 series cars on the Red line. The in-house overhauls would install a variety of new components on these trains, including speed sensors, electrical converters, trucks, and cosmetic touchups. All of these repairs would probably add about seven to ten years onto the life of these trains which will hopefully be enough time for the T to plan their overall replacement. 

Over the past few months Davey and his team have been conducting an extensive review of the status of the oldest vehicles in the T's fleets. The news, which is not truly shocking as most commuters have suspected it for years, is however very disheartening. In its current state, the T is lucky, if they have enough Orange Line cars available to run the morning rush hour. The Orange line fleet consists of 120 Hawker-Siddeley married pair cars. The T only requires 102 of those cars to be able to send off a new train every four to five minuets during the morning and evening rush. But cars are breaking down so frequently and are requiring more extensive repairs which in turn is causing cars to stay out of service longer. With more cars out of service wait time has also been a huge issue on the Orange Line and it is only going to get worse.  

As usual neither the total replacement or even the seriously expensive Band-aids were included in the MBTA's 2012 budget. The board of directors is well aware of the problem though. They have been discussing the overall maintenance needs of the entire system for years and have come to the conclusion that a total overhaul of all maintenance issues would probably put the T into bankruptcy, with a total price tag of over $3 Billion. 

The Orange line fleet was manufactured by the Hawker-Siddeley company (now Bombardier) and were put into service between 1979 and 1981. The oldest cars in the Red Lines fleet are the 01500-01600 series cars manufactured by Pullman-Standard. These were put into service during the peak of the Vietnam War. Subway car manufactures build their cars to last for about 25 years. This is provided that they also receive a mid-life overall during this time to replace key components of the car like lighting, brakes, propulsion systems and so on. None of the Orange line cars have ever received any form of an overhaul during their 32 years in service. The oldest of the Red Line's fleet received one full rebuild between 1985 and 1988 but that is still almost 25 years ago. 

The sad truth is the MBTA hardly has enough money to meet the needs of their rapidly expanding ridership and none whatsoever for the expansions and acquirements that are sought by the board and lawmakers. If nothing is done now the T could be on the brink of some pretty bad situations. The thing I find to be the most disgraceful about this whole situation is how years of leadership allowed the two lines with the most ridership in the entire system to fall into such turmoil and overall despair. 

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