Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Touring the Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at the T? Now you can experience it for yourself - the MBTA is inviting customers to explore what it′s like to keep America′s First Transit System up and running — from maintaining vehicles, to trafficking subway cars during rush hour, to maintaining over a thousand miles of tracks — all in an effort to get you where you need to go every day.
Today, I participated in the pilot program of the "MBTA Opens Its Doors" which allows interested members of the public to join guided tours of T facilities. I selected the tour of the old Boston Engine Terminal, now known as the Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility. While clearly this is somewhat of a PR stunt, it was cool to see what goes on at the massive repair complex which is tucked away in an industrial area between Charlestown and Somerville.

About a dozen of us went on the tour. I took lots of photographs, as did several others. We saw several coaches having trucks repaired, locomotives being refurbished and refueled, a look inside the cab, and even got to watch up-close as a full trainset moved from its berth out to the yard.

Some of the locomotives were pretty beat up. The guide showed us several parts on the trucks which had to be replaced because they wore off too easily. 1028 had its windshields removed because the metal around them was rusting off. And many featured damage on the front -- apparently it is quite common for trains to hit small obstacles that haven't been properly cleared.

It was a lunch break while we toured so things were relatively quiet. According to the guide, every train comes through here every few days for refueling and maintenance. Even from the south side, which seems rather incredible because they must navigate the somewhat decrepit, largely single-track Grand Junction to get here (and back). He said they need 62 sets to provide a typical weekday service. That means they handle upwards of 30 trains per day. I asked about the winter, and he agreed that it could get really tough, "but that it will be better this year." We can only hope.

One curiosity I noticed was that in every room there was a digital display scrolling some informational text. That included the "on-time performance" of the north and south sides. The guide said that Davey had those installed in order to motivate the employees. In a limited sense, it measures the effectiveness of their work. I don't know if it really means anything to anyone, though, since there are so many other factors which come into play.

I hope the pilot was deemed a success and that other people will get a chance to visit. Thanks go out to the MBTA and MBCR staff who patiently waited for us and showed us around.

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