Thursday, January 04, 2007

E Line: Now Featuring Type 8's, South Huntington Reopened, T Could Care Less

First of all, Happy New Year! This being my first blog entry of the new year, what better way to start it off by than indulging in my favorite pasttime--blogging about the hate-to-love MBTA system. I managed to make it out of 2006 without throwing my $0.02 into the ring about the ups and downs--and downtime--of the MBTA's new website. The reality is, quite frankly, why state the easy--that the downtime of the website due to "the sheer volume of unanticipated traffic" was easily compared to the so-called "revitalization" projects for the aging/ancient subway system and quirky--for lack of a better term--bus network. No, I'll be original and compare the "unanticipated traffic" to the "unanticipated volume" of ridership that occurred shortly after the Big Dig Tragedy this past summer as some of the most hardcore, married-to-their-automobile Greater Bostonians actually stooped to ride the MBTA for a week or so while Big Dig tunnel problems were being sorted out and I-90/I-93 traffic was even worse than usual. Many news sources and blogs, but especially the Boston Herald, which had already been covering ad nauseum the lack of repairs to A/C units on the Commuter Rail trains, had a field day with the fact that the MBTA, the Commuter Rail especially, couldn't reliably handle the temporary spike in ridership. Which brings me back to the T's new website: I'm guessing the logic behind not needing substantial bandwith was that since noboby rides the T, why would anybody check out the new website, let alone actually use features, such as the new Google integration into Trip Planning, that might actually *gasp* crash the servers the website is hosted by--simple shortsightedness, which, interestingly enough, the programmers admitted to, save for the "because nobody rides the T" part.
So how does the up-and-running standout transit website of 2007--to date, anyway--tie into the title of this blog--because for all the millions of dollars spent on it, the T didn't update everything--in fact it made some things disappear, specifically the mentioning of some of its multi-million-dollar projects. I single out the E Line projects because I grew up in the Missio Hill neighborhood and have a vested interest in what goes on there.
So let me start from the beginning of this project. Sometime early in Septemer, the what's-left-of-it portion of the South Huntington E Line from Brigham Circle to Heath Street, was shut down in order to be repaved. For, even with the less-than-honest abandoning of the Heath Street-Aborway portion in the late 1980's, and subsequent pushing-under-the-rug of any efforts to rebuild it, the E Line may be the shortest of the Green Line Branches, yet it has the longest section of true-streetcar track: track built right into, and shared by, the roadway as opposed to only at grade crossings, like the entire B and C Lines, or a completely separate right-of-way like the entire D Line. And let's face it--running on rails amongst tar does do a number on the street after awhile. Meanwhile between above-ground stations Northeastern and Brigham Circle, a separate project involved platform work being done to allow the Breda Type 8 trolleys to run over this stretch. The reality was that the raised platforms would allow the Kinki-Sharyo Type 7's to run in tandem with the low-floor Type 8's and not feel guilty because you have to step in higher to get into the Type 7's--the Type 8's could've been running on the E Line alone or in tandem with each other. The T used to cite traction problems with the Type 8's, namely a derailment that occurred within days after testing them on the E Line. Mind you, this is the same line which, after writing the T to question why the venerable Boeing Type 6's, rebuilt by Amerail, couldn't run on it, got back to me that it was also because of traction issues. That's funny because the E Line was the first to convert entirely to Type 6's from the PCC's in the mid 1980's and, as an avid rider growing up, I remember a lot of things about them, like their pre-rebuild lack of A/C units on top and the old sliding doors, which I loved-- but no derailments. Let me digress to say that I also remember outbound fares from Northeastern-on well into the early 1990's--fares which Bostonian newbloods, especially on the B Line, swear haven't been charged since the beginning of time. But that's another story...
The bottom line is that both projects have been complete as of last Friday, December 29th. And it's not like the T doesn't care--I mean being able to "officially" spread the Type 8's over the entire Green Line network (sans Mattapan High Speed Line) has been, apparently, no small feat. It's just that, if the T is happy about it, it makes no mention of it here. In other words, these apparently weren't "T Projects"--at least not since the website was rebuilt. To be fair, I clicked on "T Projects and Accessibility " as well just in case the T would consider the platform raising to be specifially an "accessibility "project. What I found was a list of just the projects marked on the main "T Projects" Page with "Accessibility" under the heading "Positive Impact for Accessibility." So basically there's no mention of either project. So before I tell you how I found out that it was complete, besides visiting my old neighborhood to visit my parents for New Year's, let me gripe about the column "Positive Impact for Accessibility." What the heck does "Accessibility" or "Planning" mean if it says it for a project?! What about *blank*--what does that mean--"we don't know"?! A simple yes or no would suffice! Either that or make a new headline titled "Type of Project."And put the "Project Status" last--it shouldn't read, for example," Bus Maintenance T-Project in the Facilities Stage of Being Complete and Whose Positive Impact for Accessbility is Still in the Planning Stage." What the heck is a "Facilities" status anyway?! I could go on and on, I think you get the point....
Back off my digression, the news of the completion of the MBTA E Line Projects can be found in the Starts & Stops section of The Sunday Boston Globe. So there it is--if you want to know what's really going on as far as all those projects that impact your commute but that the MBTA has conveniently forgot about, go to Starts & Stops in the Metro Region Section of The Sunday Globe--not the MBTA website!
To be fair, I did a search on the T website to see if there was any lingering informatino about either project. Typing in "Brigham Circle project" or "E Line project" will bring up, second and third on the list, this page about opening the project for bidding for the rebuilding project and this page about the contract being awarded, but at least it's something. The search didn't turn up anything about the platform raising. Oh, but wait, if I wanted to know the status of multi-million dollar contracts which the T can't even bother to list on its website I can always "contact the Customer Support, or join us [the T] at a public meeting to share your [my] input, insights and advice." After all, as the Customer Support page says, "We [the T] promise to provide you with the highest level of customer service everyday—at every stop and station, and on every bus, train, and boat you ride with us." Somebody left out website.

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