T lays out plans to mute screeching Ashmont trolleys; some residents still unhappy, wonder about buses

The MBTA is pushing ahead with a multi-pronged approach to lower the volume of the screeching wheels at Ashmont Station as local residents say they are running out of patience.

In a meeting at All Saints Church last week, area residents, plagued for years by the high-pitched squealing produced by Mattapan Line trolley cars making their way around the bend at the T station, met with top brass from the MBTA and local elected officials where the MBTA laid out the three solutions they’re pursuing: rubber hubs for the wheels, a spray that would coat the front wheel with a liquid, and a “tune vibration absorber” on the wheels.

The rubber hubs are already in place on the nine-car fleet, but some residents, who say the noise is hurting property values and causing emotional and physical pain, assert they can’t hear a difference. One of them, Brian Driscoll, noted that there had been an improvement, but he added, “It’s still very loud.”

Jeffrey Gonneville, the MBTA’s chief mechanical officer, said he sympathized. “It really is unbearable,” he acknowledged.

After hearing complaints of the trolleys speeding as they make the tight turn at Ashmont and head back to Mattapan Square, officials also pledged to ensure that trolley operators will adhere to the speed restriction of three miles per hour at the turn.

“There’s no silver bullet,” said Rich Davey, general manager of the MBTA. “We said we would comb the world to get an answer.” He said he was “very optimistic” that the various approaches would work, noting that the T has worked with German company Schrey and Veit GMBH on the creation of the “tune vibration absorber,” which will require another month or so of testing.

As for the spray, which would be triggered by a button controlled by the driver, it will be installed over the next month, MBTA officials said. The liquid cuts down on the friction between the wheel and the rail and reduces the noise.

Davey again rebuffed requests from some residents to run buses instead of the train, saying the MBTA has to look at engineering solutions first. “At this point I can’t commit to that,” he said of the buses.
“You’re not living on Radford Lane,” said one frustrated resident, Diane Picard. “I am.” Picard said her 93-year-old mother can’t sit outside on the porch because of the noise.

State Sen. Jack Hart, a South Boston Democrat whose office has been organizing the periodic meetings between the MBTA and residents, said a Silver Line type of bus should be up for a discussion as a replacement for the 70-year-old trolleys.

“I’ll say as an elected official that that discussion is coming to the table,” he said. “I just want it fixed,” said Moo Bishop, another area resident.

One resident said the MBTA should not be holding a ribbon-cutting to mark the end of construction on Ashmont Station until the noise problem is permanently fixed. “You don’t have a christening before the baby’s born,” he said.

Residents and MBTA officials are expected to meet again within the month for another update on the transportation agency’s efforts to solve the problem.

June 2010: Residents angry over noisy trolley turns at Ashmont