Patriot Ledger: Officials upset as delays plague Milton, Mattapan trolley line overhaul

MILTON, OCT. 10, 2021 – At least one of the 1940s-era trolleys that roll through Milton on the Mattapan Line was supposed to be back on the tracks this fall, retrofitted with modern propulsion systems and brakes. The MBTA has pushed that timeline back, and now says it hopes to get two refurbished trolleys on the track by the end of the year.


The MBTA project to overhaul the Mattapan Line, upgrading the old trolley cars to make them last about 10 more years is more than two years behind schedule. The trains were originally supposed to hit the tracks in 2019.


The second phase of the project, which would upgrade stations along the line and make them all wheelchair accessible, is also behind schedule.


"It's disappointing overall, the lack of action up until recently," said Milton state Rep. Bill Driscoll, a Democrat.


Last week, the first rebuilt trolley made its way from a facility in Everett to Mattapan, where workers will finish installing its interior components. It was discovered in May that the $8 million project to fix the trolley cars was so far behind schedule, as first reported by NBC 10.


The more than $100 million second phase of the project, updating the stations, is also delayed said Driscoll.


"It also surfaced that no design work had been done to date on the stations and the rest of the line. I was pretty frustrated and frankly angry about that, in particular," Driscoll said. "COVID restrictions and effects of COVID slowed any number of projects down, but this delay began pre-COVID, right? And so it's really unexplained."


State Sen. Walter Timilty, a Milton Democrat, said the service is a cultural and economic lifeline for the area and said the MBTA communication with residents and legislators has been "horrific."


"I'm extremely frustrated and the lack of progress is unacceptable," Timilty said.


Timilty said he's particularly concerned about a set of stairs at the Milton Village stop that has been closed for years. The stairs once connected Adams Street to the stop.


"It needs to be fixed. It's out of order in a way that's hazardous," Timilty said.


In September, a Boston University professor from Milton was killed when he fell through a blocked-off set of faulty stairs at the JFK/UMass Red Line stop.


MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said that unforeseen issues and the pandemic has slowed the trolley car rehabilitation.


"The technical complexities of retrofitting a 75-year old vehicle with modern technologies cannot be overstated," Pesaturo said. "The MBTA is well aware that there is much anticipation in the communities along the Mattapan Line, and the T looks forward to putting two rebuilt cars in service this year, and returning the remaining cars to service before ridership rebounds to pre-pandemic levels."


Lead paint was found while the cars were being repaired and required remediation, pushing the project back by one year. Significant structural damage and COVID-19 cases at the Everett warehouse pushed the project back further. About 80 percent of the cars' underframes had to be replaced, according to the T. The other cars are expected to be in better shape, and the T said the delay has had little to no impact on service.


The trolleys, called Pullman-Standard Presidential Conference Committee cars, entered service just after World War II. The cars are so old that MBTA mechanics have had to borrow parts from museums or fabricate new pieces. The transit authority has 10 vintage cars, using four of them on a daily basis.


Driscoll said with two of the T's fleet of trolleys being out so long, he's concerned about the strain being put on the cars in use.


The T's plan is to eventually replace the refurbished trolleys with newer cars borrowed from the Green Line, but given a host of recent safety issues at the MBTA, Driscoll said he's worried that maybe that idea should be scrapped, and the line should get completely new cars. He's hoping money


from a pending federal infrastructure deal could be used to pay for new cars.


Despite the delays, Milton Town Administrator Michael Dennehy said he's heard no complaints about the issue.


Joe Difazio can be reached at jdifazio@patriotledger.com. Follow him on Twitter @jldifazio.

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