T riders give their input on trolley line's future at Mattapan meeting

MBTA officials spoke in front of a group of about 30 residents and public officials at a meeting held to discuss the Ashmont-Mattapan trolley line at the ABCD Family Service Center in Mattapan Square on Wed., March 27, 2019. Yukun Zhang photo

Mattapan trolley riders call for infrastructure repairs and new vehicles

MBTA officials have asked for input from residents about their current plan for the future of the Ashmont-Mattapan trolley line — and they got it on Wednesday evening at the first of three public meetings to be held over the next three weeks. About 30 people gathered inside the ABCD Family Service Center in Mattapan Square, including including state Rep. Russell Holmes and Rep. Daniel Cullinane.

Cullinane kicked off the meeting, giving an overview of the origin of the Mattapan High Speed Line study, a two-year review whose results were made public in January. MBTA officials then presented MBTA’s plans to transform the trolley and options for vehicles.

Erik Stoothoff, MBTA’s chief deputy operating officer, presented the three phases of the potential “transformation.”

The ongoing phase 1 embodies a $7.9 million investment to repair the current fleet of President Conference Committee (PCC) trolleys to keep them running for another eight to 10 years, assessment of investment and service needs, continued community feedback and evaluation of future vehicle options.

“What we heard loud and clear, time and time again was that folks wanted trolleys as the service vehicle on those tracks,” Cullinane said about the $7.9 million invested to keep the trolleys on the track.

Phase 2 will bring repairs and upgrades to infrastructure and stations to accommodate new vehicles: bridges that support heavier vehicles, track, power system, new signal system at Central and Capen road crossings. Stations will be accessible, platforms will be repaired and access and paths of travel at Valley Road, Milton and Ashmont will also see improvement. Phase 2 is expected to cost $90-115 million.

In Phase 3, a new fleet will likely replace the current fleet of orange PCC trolleys, which were built in the mid 1940s. The six options laid out by the study range from keeping the existing trolleys to electric buses. Buses are unpopular with the community, and the installation could cause long service interruptions. Keeping the old trolleys or buying new models of the trolley won’t solve the accessibility issue. Of the two options for light rail cars, using the existing Type 9 cars, which have already been tested on the Green Line, is more economic than buying new cars.

“Our next step is going through our capital investment plan to request funding for phase 2—we have done that and it’s in the program—and we’ve got several public meetings coming up,” Stoothoff said as he concluded the presentation.

People at the meeting voiced different perspectives, from 3-D printing old trolley parts in an effort to keep them running for years to come; to extending the Red Line. Many commented on the urgent need for revamping stations, which is now part of phase 2.

An inaccessible and tumbledown station at Valley Road, a closed station at Milton, lack of stop sign at Central Avenue, no coordination between the red line and the trolley leading to sometimes a 20-minute wait at Ashmont Station were all matters raised in the meeting.

On the implementation of phase 2, Stoothoff said, “I can’t promise what the timeline is going to be. All I can tell you is that we’ve got a plan that we are working towards. We fully anticipate that the $60 million as part of the capital investment plan is available to us on July 1, and that will start the engineering process to start putting together plans for making those investments, particularly the accessibility and the safety investments at the stations in the next coming years.”

Stoothoff said the engineering and design process will take about two to three years, and new stations are five to seven years away. Cullinane added that the trolley plan is not the only MBTA funding option for emergency funding for infrastructure and station.

The slow pace with which the transformation is moving troubles Barbara Crichlow, a community activist.

“I’m hearing the same story I heard when we renovated the Mattapan station…I have grandkids who since then have entered college,” she said. “How much longer will we hear this over and over and over again?”

Eliza Butts, a Milton resident who commutes to Fenway every day, noted that repurposing Type 9 cars depends on the MBTA purchasing the Type 10 cars. Butts asked when that will be certain and whether there will be a vote on the deciding the vehicle.

Stoothoff said the MBTA will know whether Type 10 cars will be purchased “in the next couple years” and there’s no vote scheduled.

Cullinane said that modernizing the trolley route is a transit equity issue.

“Mattapan has one of the longest commutes into Boston in the entire city…I feel strongly that it takes about one hour to get into town, but if you take the trolley out of the mix, that commute time balloons," Cullinane said.

But for some at the meeting, equity means not taking the Type 9 cars which would have been running on the Green line for years before they are put on the Mattapan tracks.

“I implore you to explore option 4 (procuring new light rail vehicles). I think we have not had any investment in that line for 80 years—the least you can give to a system of trains,” said Donovan Birch Jr., a digital communications strategist.

“Symbolically, knowing that you waited 80 years to give a community something new, you should give them something brand-new instead of something handed down from the Green Line,” Birch told the Reporter.

Rep. Holmes defended the Type 9 cars, saying by the time the Type 9 cars replace the trolleys, the cars will have been running on the Green Line for some time, but new light rail cars will be “the only cars in the country of that nature.”

Stoothoff added that the MBTA will have the opportunity to see how the Type 9 cars are working before repurposing them for the Mattapan line, and the extra funding from not having to buy new vehicles could be invested in infrastructure.

“As we are looking at which vehicle choice, the Type 9 does seem to be the most favorable option… But even if that’s the case, when we are talking about being seven, eight or nine years away from anything, I think we should approach it with an open mind,” Cullinane told the Reporter.

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