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Report cites Mattapan trolley repair needs

MBTA study leaked to magazine, local electeds waiting for full report

Trea Lavery
Report cites Mattapan trolley repair needs
An MBTA-commissioned report found that the Mattapan High-Speed Line needs repairs to bridges and other critical infrastructure. BANNER PHOTO

The aging trolleys on the so-called Mattapan High-Speed Line are not the only urgent infrastructure problem on the line, according to an MBTA report.

According to CommonWealth Magazine, which obtained the heavily redacted report through a public records request and appeal, the trolley line has infrastructure issues that also include tracks, bridges, stations, signals and switches, as well as the fleet maintenance facility.

Some of the infrastructure issues that the report says require “immediate attention” include deteriorating structures on both the Gallivan Boulevard and Medway Street bridges, a maintenance facility composed of a barn-like structure open on two ends that was called “barely marginal” and issues with Americans with Disabilities Act compliance at all eight stations, especially Ashmont Station.

The Mattapan Line, which runs through Dorchester and Milton and connects the area with the MBTA Red Line, uses Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars, which were built over 70 years ago and whose parts are no longer manufactured, making the line difficult and expensive to maintain.

However, local lawmakers have continuously supported preservation of the line, which they say is a key resource for people in the surrounding community.

“It’s first and foremost an issue of transit equity. If you live in Mattapan, you have the longest commute of anyone in Boston to get into the city,” said State Rep. Dan Cullinane of the 12th Suffolk District, who represents part of the area in which the Mattapan Line runs. “The trolley is what takes that average closer to the rest of the pack.”

Preservation

Suggested replacements for the original Mattapan streetcars include replica trolleys with modern components, light rail vehicles similar to those on the Green Line, alternative propulsion methods and bus shuttles, if the tracks are removed and paved over. It is unclear from the redacted report what the feasibility or costs of these different options would be.

Cullinane said that his constituents “unequivocally” want trolleys to remain on the tracks, to preserve the historical significance of the line, but are open to new cars.

“While people want trolleys as the service vehicle, if it is possible to get a newer vehicle that is easier for people with disabilities and seniors, you can absolutely fit that vehicle with an historic outer shell, and there’s no reason we can’t marry those two things,” he said.

The report was commissioned by the MBTA and conducted by consultant CH2M alongside an April 2017 investment of $7.9 million by the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board for repairs to the trolleys. The study was originally meant to be published last winter, but was postponed twice to June and then the end of 2018. The report is now expected to be released in January or February of this year.

It is unclear how the report has or will affect the $7.9 million investment.

Cullinane said in a public Facebook post on Dec. 31 that he was disappointed he had not been notified that the study was even near completion, and had not been supplied with any of the information it contained. He attached a letter sent to Governor Charlie Baker and the MBTA on Dec. 18 requesting that the MBTA meet with both elected officials and the public to inform the community of the information gleaned in the study.

“By overwhelming numbers, those in the community want to preserve the Mattapan Trolley Line with trolleys as the service vehicles connecting Mattapan and Milton to Dorchester’s Ashmont Station to access the Red Line and numerous bus connections,” Cullinane wrote in the letter, referring to a petition to save the line that he sponsored in summer of 2018, which received close to 2,000 signatures. “I am reaching out to ask you as Governor, for your leadership and support in the effort to save the Mattapan Line long term.”

Since publishing the letter, Cullinane said he has spoken with MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, who promised to provide both meetings that the representative requested in his original letter, as well as a more transparent process going forward.

MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said in an email to the Banner that the report includes “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.”

Cullinane said he is glad to have more specifics on issues with the Mattapan line, but looks forward to the full report being released with all of the financial information.

“Upgrading and restoring the line to the quality it should be is not one project with one dollar sign,” he said.

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