Starts & Stops

T looks within to restore, repair Red Line cars

Repairmen Michael Romani (left) and Brendan Keeffe worked on one of the Red Line cars last week. Repairmen Michael Romani (left) and Brendan Keeffe worked on one of the Red Line cars last week. (David L Ryan / Globe Staff Photo)
By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / October 24, 2010

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The Red Line fleet has three kinds of cars: old, older, and oldest. In other words, what the MBTA calls its No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 cars. The No. 2s are the ones stamped with identification numbers in the 1700s (01701, 01702, and so on), and they were built in 1987 and 1988 by Canadian manufacturer UTDC. The No. 1 cars date from the late 1960s, and the No. 3s from the mid-1990s.

Confused? Don’t worry. The important part is that 58 subway cars, out of the total of 218, are about 23 years old and beginning to get some much-needed repair and restoration.

Subway cars are designed for a 25-year lifespan but are almost used longer. That, however, requires regular preventive maintenance plus major overhauls every decade or two. But because of the T’s financial limitations, the No. 2 cars on the Red Line never got that midlife overhaul — contributing to equipment failures and ride delays, as well as to their tired look.

The T is now addressing that in the form of a $46 million overhaul. While MBTA laborers are charged with regular upkeep, such an ambitious project would ordinarily get farmed out to contractors, at greater expense, but the T has elected to handle this one internally.

After more than two years of design, development, and procurement of materials, work began over the summer. Preparations included evaluations of every component in the cars for safety, obsolescence, and reliability in order to prioritize replacements within the budget, as well as the creation of a special software system to manage the project. The first cars should be completed in a matter of weeks, with the full project expected to wrap up in April 2012.

Most of the work is being done in South Boston at the transit authority’s Cabot Yard car house — a massive building alongside Interstate 93 that resembles an airplane hangar — where a six-station assembly line has been set up to handle everything from undercarriage stripping to final painting (with special paint, meant to resist damage in case graffiti must be removed later).

The project will restore or replace the propulsion systems; the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems; the trucks and wheels; the low-voltage power supply; and the passenger amenities, including new seats. In the cabs, the operators will get new seats — manufactured by Recaro, better known for making bucket seats for auto racing — and fresh stenciling on the dashboard controls, many of which must now be operated from memory.

“This is a project we can all be very proud of,’’ MBTA General Manager Richard A. Davey said, after touring the work site last week with a collection of officials and representatives of the various departments and unions working on what he called a “marquee project.’’

Accompanied by Ferdinand Alvaro, a member of the board that oversees the T and the Department of Transportation, Davey said completion of the project will send a signal to the board to “look inside first [on future projects]. There’s a way with in-house talent and in-house support that we can get it done.’’

Above the din of heavy machinery, Alvaro thanked the crew for doing “a spectacular job.’’

Somerville condo group meets with officials to ease fears on T’s planned maintenance facility
Residents of the Brickbottom Artists Association condominiums, the lone residential complex in a lightly traveled industrial area sitting in the shadow of East Somerville’s elevated McGrath Highway, dodged a bullet this year when the state Department of Transportation agreed to relocate a proposed 24-hour maintenance facility.

Instead of putting the maintenance facility in their immediate backyard, the state listened to the residents — and to city officials, who feared it would cut off opportunity for economic development in the underutilized area — and agreed to put the facility a few hundred yards to the east, next to the Boston Engine Terminal complex, which is the T’s main commuter rail maintenance complex. The T will use the new facility to store and work on the light-rail trains needed for the Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford.

That the state agreed to the estimated additional cost of $50 million — for land-taking and relocation, including moving a 100,000-square-foot liquor wholesaler — was widely seen in Somerville as a show of faith from the Patrick administration that the state is committed to advancing the Green Line extension and doing it cooperatively.

Previous administrations dragged their feet on the extension, despite a legal obligation to complete it, as part of a roster of public transportation commitments the state pledged 20 years ago to comply with the Clean Air Act and proceed with the Big Dig project and its associated traffic and emissions impacts.

But recent surveying to support the nearly billion-dollar transit project revealed that Brickbottom’s property line isn’t where the condo owners thought it was, and the historic rail right-of-way that the state intends to use for the Green Line comes very close to their building on two sides.

If you think of the extension as a wishbone north of Lechmere Station — with one side being a short leg to Union Square, and the other side being a much longer leg across Somerville to Medford — the split occurs smack up against the Brickbottom lofts. On one side it bisects the back patio; on the other it pierces their driveway and parking.

Worried that it might make their building inaccessible to emergency vehicles and uninhabitable, the condo association revealed in a meeting at Somerville City Hall on Monday that they planned to sue preemptively to protect their rights, in time for an Oct. 21 deadline to object to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act certificate that was issued to the project over the summer.

That made for an emotional and tense meeting of the housing and economic development committee of the Somerville Board of Aldermen, with Brickbottom residents worried about their homes and livelihood, and Somerville officials respecting their concerns but worried that the lawsuit might strain the city’s relationship with the DOT and complicate a fragile project long in the making — especially with the design not yet showing how close the tracks would come to the condo building.

But the deadline came and went, and no lawsuit was filed.

Moving quickly behind the scenes, city and state officials reassured the Brickbottom condo association — at least for now.

“We’ve got some more time to work toward our issues, and hopefully we won’t have to go that [lawsuit] direction,’’ said Heather Van Aelst, a trustee at Brickbottom where the residents, many of them artists, are also worried about noise and vibration even as they support the idea of nearby transit.

Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, called the meeting productive and said another would follow this week, though the details remain private.

That compromise is symbolically important to a city that prides itself on a nearly unified enthusiastic front on the Green Line.

Somerville once packed its high school auditorium with hundreds of residents to hold the Romney administration’s feet to the fire on the project — on the night the Red Sox were winning Game 4 of the 2004 World Series.

Medford, in contrast, has been ambivalent at the official and civic levels — a stance Somerville officials noted last week at the aldermen’s meeting, calling it a reason why the state has postponed plans to extend the Green Line to Medford’s Route 16, citing cost, even as it has pledged an extra $50 million to move the Somerville maintenance yard. (The route slated for completion by 2015-16 will instead stop at Medford’s College Avenue, by the Tufts campus.)

In an e-mailed statement, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville signaled his relief after the lawsuit was averted.

“While there always will be hiccups along the way, we believe that we can give everyone involved fair consideration while still getting the Green Line done on time and on budget,’’ he said.

Somerville spurned, resolute on funding for path
In other Green Line extension news, the US Department of Transportation last week passed over a local application to extend the bike-and-pedestrian path network that currently runs from Bedford to mid-Somerville all the way to Cambridge and the cusp of the 17-mile Charles River path system.

That final connection, known as the Somerville Community Path, is being designed by the state as part of the Green Line extension — to run alongside the tracks and connect to stations — but the state Department of Transportation has been reluctant to assume the roughly $30 million cost of construction. Somerville applied for up to $25 million in federal funds but was left off the second round of Transportation Generating Economic Recovery Grants announced last week, a stimulus-backed program known as TIGER II.

Michael Lambert, Somerville’s director of transportation and infrastructure, acknowledged it was a disappointment, but said the city and path supporters would continue to seek other grants. “We will be resubmitting for any source of funding we can find anywhere,’’ he said.

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at

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