T adds commuter rail engines

Md. locomotives fill temporary gap

One of three used locomotives from Maryland that the MBTA is leasing for immediate use on its commuter rail lines. One of three used locomotives from Maryland that the MBTA is leasing for immediate use on its commuter rail lines. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / March 24, 2011

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Dingy but functional, one of the T’s new “preowned’’ locomotives backed into North Station for the first time yesterday, where MBTA General Manager Richard A. Davey applied a T decal and officially put the engine in service.

The locomotive is one of three formerly owned by Maryland’s MARC commuter rail that the T plans to put into service by the end of next week. The MBTA is leasing them at $300 apiece per day from an Idaho locomotive maker that recently built new engines for MARC and that is also slated to build 20 engines for the T, at $115 million.

Although cast off by MARC, the 16-year-old locomotives are newer than all but two of the 82 engines owned by the MBTA, more than half of which date to the 1970s and nearly all of which are at or past the manufacturer’s recommended lifespan of 25 years.

“We’re excited,’’ Davey said, before applying the decal to the first MARC locomotive in plenty of time for it to make its first MBTA run, pulling a five-coach train on the 11:20 a.m. outbound to Newburyport. “While not new, these are much newer than what we have.’’

When five of the Maryland engines arrived in Worcester earlier this month, MBTA officials did not know what to expect. After the T had a chance to “kick the tires,’’ three were deemed fit for service, Davey said; of the other two, one was sent back to MotivePower at no charge, and another is being kept for spare parts, at a price to be negotiated.

Davey called the $300-a-day-price, on a month-to-month lease, a good deal. “It’s not a lot of money when it comes to locomotives,’’ he said.

The used locomotives should help bridge the gap until the T’s 20 new ones begin arriving in 2013, Davey said. The MBTA began searching for temporary engines this winter during a particularly poor season for commuter rail, with about one in every four trains delayed in January and February.

About half of all commuter rail delays is caused by mechanical failure, with nearly all of those problems occurring in the engines, not the coaches, according to T officials. Of those failures, more than half come from the most decrepit 18 locomotives in the MBTA’s fleet, known as F40PH-2s, which the T is trying to retire, transit officials said.

The leased Maryland engines are GP40WH-2s. They were built in 1995 — though some of their components were repurposed from locomotives dating to the 1960s — by a corporate predecessor to MotivePower Inc., the Idaho company that the T is paying $115 million to build its new locomotives. (The T is also paying another $8.7 million to a team of consultants, including Parsons Brinckerhoff, to serve as its representative and provide quality assurance on the deal.)

The Maryland engine displayed yesterday was not much to look at, snub-nosed and speckled with grime and rust and stationed a few tracks over from a true head-turner: one of two gleaming, streamlined locomotives that the T purchased outright last year from the Utah Transit Authority at $3.5 million apiece, after Utah overbought while starting up its first commuter rail service. Those began running in the Boston area last month.

Though Utah does not want to sell more engines, the T is trying to persuade it to lease some and is also looking elsewhere for other lease opportunities. Yesterday, MotivePower indicated it may be able to send two more former Maryland engines as early as next week, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

While the Utah engines were painted with the T’s purple-and-yellow commuter rail color scheme, the Maryland locomotive introduced yesterday still carried the red stripes of MARC, against a blotchy gray background. The MBTA had stripped off the MARC logo, but hints of it could still be seen, including the ghosted slogan “Maryland With Pride,’’ near where Davey applied the T decal.

The general manager, who marked his first year on the job this week, said he was more concerned with performance than aesthetics.

“I said: ‘Don’t worry about the paint. Just take MARC off and get it in service,’ ’’ Davey said. “We need it right away.’’

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at