Report outlines woes along Mattapan trolley line

Cullinane presses Gov. Baker, MBTA for update

Findings in a long-awaited report on the future prospects of the Mattapan Trolley Line assert that problems associated with the Red Line extension extend well beyond the viability of the 75-year-old trolleys. The consultant’s study, made available this week after Commonwealth Magazine reported elements of its contents on Sunday, has prompted renewed calls from state Rep. Dan Cullinane for the MBTA to better engage the public about plans for the trolley line’s future.

The “due diligence” study, which was first expected to be released last winter, lays out in detail the infrastructure issues involved in rehabilitating the high-speed line: Various elements, including tracks, stations, bridges, signals, switches, and the maintenance facility, were ranked marginal or poor 41 times; fair, moderate, or functional 48 times; good 47 times; and excellent only 5 times, the report notes, adding that “immediate attention” is required to address deteriorating rail ties on two bridges along the Mattapan line – the Gallivan Boulevard bridge and the Medway Street overhead bridge.

The study’s findings lead-off with an oft-stated assessment of the Presidential Conference Committee (PCC) trolley cars age and condition: “Vehicles are over 70 years old and are approaching a point where further maintenance action and operation becomes impractical.”

The report also focuses on “poor” condition of the maintenance facilities located at Mattapan Square, with an array of photos depicting the crumbling barn-like structure that is open to the elements at both ends. It is “barely marginal” for its intended use of servicing an aging fleet, the consultants noted, adding that the “limited and exposed maintenance area . . . makes large-scale fleet improvement efforts and internal modification programs extremely difficult, costly, and inefficient.”

Portions of the $1.1 million study by engineering firm CH2M were first revealed in a story published online by Commonwealth Magazine on Sunday. The article by Colman Herman, a contributor to the magazine, said the Gallivan bridge’s wooden rail ties are in poor condition and need to be replaced to “ensure safe operations,” and the bridges themselves suffer from cracks, deteriorating masonry, and paint issues.

The magazine’s reporting prompted state Rep. Dan Cullinane, who has made the status and future of the line an integral issue for his office, to publish a statement to state and local officials noting that he had sent a letter “to Governor Baker last week expressing frustration over the silence and lack of details surrounding the several times delayed Mattapan Trolley study.”

“My ask was simple - have the MBTA leadership meet with all of us as a delegation for an honest conversation about what is in the report and why the delays and then have MBTA leadership host a meeting with the community for the same honest dialogue. … considering the holidays I did not expect to hear back until after the new year.”

Given that, he said, he was “shocked and disappointed that somehow Commonwealth Magazine got the report and ran an article outlining what was contained in the MBTA commission report without so much as a phone call or email from the MBTA or the Administration “to his office.”

In a Dec. 18 letter to Gov. Baker, Cullinane noted that the MBTA had convened a series of public meetings on the status of the trolley line in spring 2017. But, he noted that “there have not been any follow-up informational community meetings or any proactive meetings with the delegation of elected officials who represent the communities the Mattapan Trolley Line serves to inform us, and or our constituents, of the status of the upgrades to the trolley line or of the findings of the MBTA’s study.

Cullinane pressed Baker to direct MBTA leadership to brief him and other elected officials and to commit to the T “host an informational public meeting to do the same.”

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the MBTA— Joe Pesaturo— said that the transit agency “MBTA is committing to both a briefing for the delegation and an informational public meeting in early 2019.”

Pesaturo said that Steve Poftak, a longtime Control Board member who began his tenure as MBTA General Manager on Jan. 1 “is committed to a transparent process that includes input and feedback from elected officials, the community, stakeholders and riders.”

“The scope of the line’s comprehensive assessment included a thorough analysis of the condition of the corridor’s infrastructure, which is needed to make informed decisions regarding future capital expenditures. In the meantime, workers continue to fully overhaul the existing Presidential Conference Committee trolley cars with new propulsion, brakes, and power supply systems. This multi-million dollar investment by the MBTA Control Board will extend the life of the more than 70-year old vehicles and maintain the historical character of the distinctive orange and cream-colored cars,” said Pesaturo.

Rep. Cullinane said he had “a frank and productive conversation with MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak” on Monday.

“GM Poftak gave his personal commitment and the commitment of the MBTA to both requests I made in the letter and to a fully transparent process with frequent communication moving forward,” said Cullinane. “We agreed to get a date on the calendar that works for all of the elected officials in the very near future.”

News editor Jennifer Smith and associate editor Tom Mulvoy contributed to this report.