MBTA seeks long-term fix to squeaky-wheel conundrum

MBTA officials said this week they’ll continue to seek a solution to the screeching wheels on the Mattapan Line trolley as the transportation agency’s chief promised residents a “station master” they can complain to about matters at the still-under-construction Ashmont Station. After a Tuesday night meeting at All Saints Church, elected officials and abutters to the station, after years of frustration over the squealing of the wheels as the 70-year-old trolleys round the turn atop a viaduct, said they were optimistic that a solution could be found.

Two “short-term” solutions currently are in place: noise-absorbing blankets have been placed along the track at the station and a sprinkler system sprays water across the tracks to reduce the friction between steel wheels hitting the steel rail. There is also a speed restriction of three miles per hour for trolley operators making the sharp turn as they head back down the line to Mattapan.

The moves have brought the sound level down from between 85-99 decibels to one between 68 and 78 decibels. MBTA officials, while declining to offer a timeline of when a permanent fix would be available, said they are shooting for a sound level of between 65 and 70 decibels, the current level of the Red Line trains at Ashmont Station.

Several long-term options are available to the agency, including affixing a metal and rubber device to the wheels on the trolley cars – the MBTA owns 10 cars in total – or modifying the tracks. “We are leaving no stone unturned,” said Brian Dwyer, the MBTA’s director of light operation. MBTA general manager Rich Davey said the long-term solutions are going to require “some engineering, some review, and, frankly, some creativity.”

The agency is in talks with a company in the Netherlands about the metal and rubber devices, though an engineering analysis is needed first. “We believe that may be the best solution going forward,” Dwyer said.

Whatever the solution is, “we’re not going to stop until we get the noise to a reasonable level,” Dwyer told the Reporter after the meeting, attended by forty people, including local lawmakers, that was put together by state Sen. Jack Hart’s office.

“It seems to me that things have gotten better,” Hart (D-South Boston) said.

“But we don’t want to rest.”

City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley, who lives in the Carruth building next to the station and attended the Tuesday meeting as a “an affected neighbor first and affected city councillor second,” said she was sensitive to frustration felt by other neighbors, and feels encouraged by the MBTA’s responsiveness on the issue.

Hart said he also had been “encouraged” by the MBTA’s efforts to mask the ear-splitting sounds as well as the agency’s attempt to reach out to frustrated residents who say their complaints about the noise have been ignored for years.

“We’ve been to this place many times before,” said Moo Bishop, who lives near the station. “I hope they don’t brush things under the rug. I think the neighborhood is mad enough that we’re not going to let it drop.”

Dorchester City Councillor Maureen Feeney, who also lives nearby, said the noise levels had “changed tremendously.” “I could hear it through our windows,” she said.

Davey pledged to continue holding regular meetings on the problem every month or so. He also said he would appoint an “Ashmont guru” or “station master” for residents to call when the noise gets too loud. Residents had complained they recently had little success getting in touch with MBTA officials with issues through phone numbers on the MBTA’s website.

MBTA officials also backtracked on a previous statement made at a June meeting with abutters that the screeching of the wheels was in part the result of a design flaw in the viaduct. “Whether we call it a design flaw or whatever else, I acknowledge it’s an issue,” Davey said of the screeching.