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New Trolley Buses

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New buses roll out

MBTA to put 28 new trolleys into service this spring

By Brock Parker / Chronicle Staff

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Trolleybus.jpg

Meet the new bus; same as the old bus, but better.

Cambridge, Watertown and Belmont make up the last bastion of electric bus lines in the Boston area, and the old bus lines are about to get new vehicles for the first time since 1976.

This spring, the MBTA will roll out 28 new electric trolley buses for the 71, 72 and 73 bus routes serving the three communities, said MBTA Director of Bus Operations Steven Epps last week.

Unlike the old electric buses, the new models will have air conditioning and will be more handicap accessible. Passengers will also have fewer steps to climb when they get on the new, low-riding buses.

But like the older models, the new electric buses will continue to run on power from the network of overhead cables across the community, which means vehicle emissions will be kept to a minimum.

Epps said the MBTA knows Cambridge wouldn't have it any other way.

"Cambridge wouldn't let us do anything different," Epps said. "This is the 'Republic,' so we have to respect the 'Republic.'"

Keeping up with the electric trolley buses, however, does come with a price. Each new electric trolley is costing the MBTA about $950,000, Epps said. The diesel fuel buses the MBTA uses cost about $350,000, Epps said.

But the benefit to keeping the electric buses, other than clean air, is their reliability, said Peter Forlizzi, the superintendent at the North Cambridge bus house on Massachusetts Avenue.

The tattered electric trolleys cruising Cambridge now date back to the days of bell bottoms and President Gerald Ford in 1976. The buses were expected to last 18 years, but with diligent maintenance, Forlizzi said 40 of the 50 buses bought in the USA's bicentennial year are still running.

But the buses are so old it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to find replacement parts when something breaks down, Forlizzi said.

"It's time to retire these antiques here," Epps said. "They've been very dependable."

Most areas served by the MBTA bus lines, including Boston, began switching over from electric trolleys to diesel buses in the 1960s, Forlizzi said.

"The Cambridge route we held because people liked them," Forlizzi said. "Harvard University liked a vehicle that was a clean, no-emissions vehicle.

"In a cramped city with traffic, the electric buses shine," Forlizzi said.

Before the days of the electric trolley buses, Forlizzi said Cambridge used streetcars that ran on one overhead electric cable.

Forlizzi said the transition from the older electric buses to the new models should be completed within the next 10 months.

From The Cambridge Chronicle

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That's quite an expensive bus, but they are environmentally friendly & practically silent. I wonder how the operating costs of the diesel buses compare with that of the electric buses.

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They are very quiet. I haven't had the pleasure of riding a new one yet. I used to ride the Route 71 Trackless frequently. Harvard Square is the hub for the T's Trolleybuses. There is an economy of scale with Trackless Trolleys and the T actually doesn't operate enough to make it cost effective. This commitment to new buses those looks good for the system. I believe there are only 4 Trackless Trolley systems left in the US (Boston, SF, Philadelphia, and Dayton, OH). Boston's Silverline will run buses that are trackless trolleys underground and deisels above.

The buses are more expensive because they require a left side door because of the way the Harvard Square busway is built.

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Seattle has them too, including some dual modes that operate under wire in a downtown tunnel and diesel on the surface. The MBTA plans to do the same thing with the South Boston Transitway.

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That is pretty neat. I would love to see Jacksonville get new electric busses!

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Seattle has them too, including some dual modes that operate under wire in a downtown tunnel and diesel on the surface. The MBTA plans to do the same thing with the South Boston Transitway.

I think with Seattle and Boston, the only other American cities with trolley buses are San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Dayton, Ohio. Lots of other cities had them at one point or another, but only these cities have kept portions of their fleets.

Seattle and (soon) Boston are the only cities in the US that I know of to have the dual mode trolley buses.

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