October 1, 2023


A brand new dwelling in Maine for some, “massive shears” for others.

A retired Blue Line prepare on the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine. Courtesy Seashore Trolley Museum

In a quiet, wooded space simply outdoors of city, a Boston streetcar chugs alongside its tracks. Its cheery orange exterior is unblemished by rot or rust; its inside lit by the nice and cozy glow of overhead lamps. Passengers perch on rows of pink wood benches, watching the surroundings go by. The operator checks her watch: She’s working proper on time.

If this vignette strikes you as uncharacteristically serene for Boston, with its myriad public transit snafus, it’s as a result of it’s. Way back, this streetcar, semi-convertible No. 5821, shuttled passengers from Boston to Everett and again alongside the Boston Elevated Railway, or BERy. But it surely was decommissioned in 1954 after working for 30 years. Lately it lives in Kennebunkport, Maine, and the one journeys it makes are across the 1.5-mile observe on the Seashore Trolley Museum.

  • A postwar all-electric streetcar destined for Watertown in 1946.

    Why doesn’t the Inexperienced Line have an ‘A’ department?

The Metropolitan Transit Authority — which might later turn into the MBTA — absorbed BERy in 1947. Progressively, the MTA phased out older streetcars like No. 5821 in favor of newer fashions, buses, and trackless trolleys. And the modernization didn’t cease there: Within the coming a long time, the T often changed getting old trains with up to date variations as new improvements in design and accessibility rendered the older fashions out of date.

Workhorse T trains typically stay lengthy lives — too lengthy, cynical commuters may say. (Right this moment, the oldest operational trains within the MBTA system are the 78-year-old PCC trolleys that serve the Mattapan line, put into service in 1945.) However even the cash-strapped MBTA has to let the outdated fashions die ultimately.

The query then turns into, what of the discarded trains? What’s one to do with 30,000 kilos of aluminum and metal (and typically lead paint and asbestos) as soon as it’s reached the top of its purposeful life?

Boston streetcar No. 5821 on the Seashore Trolley Museum. (Courtesy Seashore Trolley Museum)

Restoration: A ‘labor of affection and endurance’

For streetcar No. 5821, the reply to that query may be discovered on the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport.

The museum was based in 1939 because the New England Electrical Railway Historic Society. Since then, it has amassed a group of over 250 transit autos from across the nation and world, plus a bunch of transit-related artifacts — together with some 80 trains, trolleys, and miscellaneous transit heirlooms from Boston. 

Powered by a small workers and a small military of volunteers, the trolley museum painstakingly restores outdated trains to their unique glory. Guests to the museum get to view refurbished trains on show, watch others endure repairs within the restoration store, and climb aboard historic vehicles for a experience by way of the Maine countryside alongside the 1.5-mile “interpretive railway.”

Restoration doesn’t contain merely matching paint colours. It could possibly take 20 or 30 years of analysis, fundraising, supplies sourcing, and labor to totally restore a classic prepare. That’s “a number of generations” of volunteers engaged on a single automotive, defined Katie Orlando, the museum’s government director.

Typically the museum receives trains which have been stripped of their “vans,” the brakes, motors, and tools beneath the automotive itself. Volunteer researchers go to nice lengths to trace down (pun meant) substitute elements, typically discovering them in sudden locations. Orlando remembers listening to a rumor that an outdated trolley firm in Paris, Maine, had gone belly-up and ditched a bunch of outdated vans and wheel units in a close-by swamp — a possible treasure trove for the museum.

“There was this rumor for many years that the swamp was actual, and that there have been trolleys, vans hanging out in there, all of the issues that you simply’ve ever wished,” Orlando laughed. “It simply so occurred that one among our trolleys from Lexington, Massachusetts, wanted that kind of truck, so our volunteers went up there, discovered the swamp, and certain sufficient, the vans have been actual.”

Throughout restoration, there are compromises to be made between whole historic accuracy and trendy requirements for security and well being. The museum’s set of circa-1963 Purple Line trains, for example, have been constructed with asbestos flooring tiling and lead paint. Volunteers are trying to find a option to refurbish them in a manner that’s protected, however “nonetheless considerably traditionally correct,” Orlando mentioned. “We do the analysis, have the conversations, the moral dilemmas.”

The trolley museum has a longstanding relationship with the MBTA, because it did with the company’s predecessors the MTA and BERy. Volunteers have made the journey from Kennebunkport to Boston and again to gather its acquisitions — often trains, however sometimes a bit of observe or different artifact — many instances. Maybe essentially the most memorable journey got here after the MBTA determined within the Nineteen Eighties to demolish the elevated Orange Line and substitute it with underground tracks, when the company donated the Northampton Station constructing that had beforehand sat on the elevated line to the trolley museum. Shifting the 97-ton construction to Maine took a full 12 months (1989 to 1990) and required the commandeering of an oil rig. Volunteer crews needed to take away the roof and transport the station in two items for the final 5 miles, as a result of it was too tall to suit beneath the city’s utility wires.

The Northampton Station constructing needed to be transported from Boston to Kennebunkport on an oil rig. (Courtesy Seashore Trolley Museum)
For the final leg of the journey, volunteers indifferent the station’s roof so it could match underneath utility wires. (Courtesy Seashore Trolley Museum)

“It takes such labor of affection and endurance,” Orlando mentioned of the preservation course of. “There are not any phrases to place into perspective how onerous our individuals work.” 

Generally, members of the trolley museum’s assortment will seem as extras in interval items. Such was the case for BERy No. 396, a streetcar that was in use in Boston from 1900 to 1950 and appeared within the movie “The Cardinal” (1963) and the miniseries “The Better of Households” (1977).

BERy streetcar No. 396 throughout filming for “The Cardinal” (1963). (Courtesy Seashore Trolley Museum)
BERy streetcar No. 396 is “The Better of Households” (1977). (Courtesy Seashore Trolley Museum)

There’s one thing about public transit that retains guests and volunteers coming again to the trolley museum, Orlando mentioned. The preserved trains evoke a way of historical past, of nostalgia, of interconnectedness. Individuals who come can simply inform that the Seashore Trolley Museum is a particular place.

“Individuals actually have a respect for what we’ve been in a position to do,” Orlando mentioned. In 1947, a forest fireplace within the woods on the periphery of the museum’s campus threatened to destroy its assortment. “Our neighbors actually sacrificed their very own farmlands to return and pour water on our land.”

However not each MBTA prepare will get a soft retirement bundle with such devoted stewards.

‘It may come again as something’

If, like me, you had a sure fondness for the blocky profile and imitation-wood paneling of the somewhat-dilapidated (retro?) Orange Line trains the MBTA decommissioned final fall, then I’m sorry to say: These vehicles are getting chopped up into little items. 

After the asbestos abatement, that’s.

As a result of the vast majority of outdated T trains don’t get to retire to greener pastures in Maine. As a substitute, they’re offered to the best bidder, often a dismantling firm, and damaged down for scrap steel.

Dan Costello runs Costello Dismantling in Wareham, Massachusetts, which in 2022 gained the bid to scrap 120 Orange Line trains put into service between 1979 and 1981. It’s not the primary time Costello has labored with the MBTA, and he’s well-versed in prepare deconstruction.

As soon as the trains are asbestos-free, “we use massive shears and heavy tools to dismantle and reduce that materials after which type it and store it,” Costello defined.

The trains get reduce down into two- to five-foot items of scrap, sorted by materials, and shipped to the top person who recycles them into new steel merchandise. 

“I couldn’t let you know precisely what it could be,” Costello mentioned. “It may come again as something.”

Costello had dangerous information for prepare lovers hoping there is likely to be a transformed MBTA prepare on the market they may name dwelling for the night time — within the vein of AirBnB choices like this classic “caboose cottage” in Waynesville, North Carolina, or this lovingly restored 1941 railcar-turned-summer rental in Lockhaven, Pennsylvania.

He’s had non-public consumers attain out to him about shopping for outdated T trains prior to now, he mentioned, however their half-baked concepts for changing them into low-cost novelty housing did not account for the “prohibitive” price of transporting the hulking trains, which is a “extremely regulated and permitted course of.”

Simply transferring the outdated Orange Line trains from Boston to Wareham includes a sequence of engineering surveys by the Division of Transportation to ensure the roads they journey are structurally sound sufficient to help the trains, plus a police escort, Costello mentioned. A bit extra sophisticated than the common transit buff can deal with.

Precisely what these outdated Orange Strains are reincarnated as could also be a thriller, even to Costello, however one factor is definite. Lovingly preserved or unceremoniously recycled, MBTA trains by no means actually die.