T officials scramble to muffle noisy trolleys at Ashmont

This YouTube video shows the Ashmont turn-around of the Mattapan High Speed Trolley. The noisy circuit is the cause of consternation for abutters.

The MBTA will try to mask the high-pitched screeching caused by Mattapan Line trolleys turning around at the newly re-built Ashmont Station, a problem that drew the T's new boss to a lively community meeting last night. Officials admitted to an angry crowd of abutters Thursday night that there was a design flaw in the newly built trolley bridge that abuts the station: A too-sharp turn, coupled with the steel wheels of the 70-year-old trains hitting steel rail, results in an ear-splitting sound. The sound becomes even louder on hot days because of the increased friction.

The general manager of the MBTA, Rich Davey, pledged to meet with residents once a month “for as long as it takes” to deal with the issue.

“We will solve it,” Davey told the crowd. “If it’s a man-made problem, there’s a man-made solution. I’m certain of that.”

Brian Dwyer, the director of light rail operation, said they had been greasing the wheels and the rail. “It’s not doing enough,” he told a crowd of several dozen station abutters.

The transportation agency is now turning to “noise attenuating blankets” – quilted blankets that muffle the sound. The agency has already placed an order for the blankets, which were used in the Big Dig project, and will be installed and tested in the next two weeks.

Dwyer said the blankets are a “proven technology,” but this would be the first time they are used in a rapid transit environment.

At a sometimes-tense meeting in the All Saints Church, top MBTA officials balked at station abutters’ demands to shut down the Mattapan high-speed line and bus passengers between the Ashmont and Mattapan stations. After one resident suggested it, the idea got a round of applause from the room.

“There are other people on the line who will be impacted,” Davey said, adding that he cannot shut down a train line without a “public process.”

But Davey said he would consider busing MBTA riders from Ashmont to Mattapan in the evening.

Ashmont Station abutters pointed to a 2008 pledge from the previous general manager to deal with the problem.

“We’ve been dealing with this for two years,” said David Breen, who lives near the station and says his children are frequently woken up at 11:00 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. by the noise. “We’ve been very patient. And we’ve listened to excuse after excuse.”

“I’m hearing it until 2 o’clock in the morning,” said one woman who had just moved into the Carruth building from the South End.

“It is unsettling,” said City Councillor Maureen Feeney, who also lives nearby. “It is just truly unsettling.”

“If I lived here I wouldn’t be happy either,” Davey said.

State Sen. Jack Hart (D-South Boston) asked whether to shut down the Mattapan line was a “good question.”

“I don’t want to shut the line down but I think it’s a good suggestion,” he said.

Hart added: “If we can send a guy to the moon…hopefully we can find a way to muffle the sound.”