So for the past few weeks I’ve been riding the Providence to Boston MBTA commuter. And I find myself searching out a car that has WiFi every time I ride.
Apparently MBTA is the first transit company to install WiFi on its commuter rail. I think it serves a dual purpose though since this has also happened at about the same time they rolled out the Charlie Card. I was trying to think how they could use a stored value Charlie Card on a commuter rail and then it hit me, just use a wireless device that the MBCR (Mass Bay Commuter Rail) employees can swipe the card against. The side benefit is we commuting schlubs get WiFi out of the deal.
Then from Boston I take the Red Line down to Braintree. Yes it’s a long commute but well worth it.
Anyhow here’s what I noticed. They tend to treat the older Red Line cars more gently. Those are the ones that are white with the red stripe. The newer cars are stainless steel with a red stripe at the bottom. The newer cars also have the LCD destination signs and for stop announcements there are the red LED signs and the automated voice. Interestingly that picture is taken at the station where I get off, Braintree. Both sides are used for inbound so that lower part that says “Next Train” lights red. When a train is about to leave a loud bell is rung and you’ve got about 30 or 40 seconds to get on the train before it starts for Boston.
As I was saying, the older cars are treated more gently. They’re rattle traps so they tend to keep the speeds under 40MPH, while they push the newer cars up past 50MPH.
I also found out an interesting fact. They only have a three hour window to do track repairs on that line. The service starts off at about 5AM and ends at roughly 1AM. So you’d think they have four hours but they have to make sure all the cars are in the barn and then power off the track, then roll the repair car out and then do their work.
Part of the reason is because the subway system in Boston is the oldest in the nation.
But it makes me wonder, how did Boston end up with such a great transit system and Providence got the shit end of the stick? Up until about 1950 we had trolleys that ran on power supplied by overhead catenary and the train station in Providence was a hopping place right up until then. Here’s a photo of one of the tracked trolleys and then one of the trackless trolleys in 1946. By 1950 they were all gone.
But then that’s when the highway projects started, and GM and Standard Oil started National City Lines to get transit companies to use buses that burned diesel and went through tires like crazy. And of course it’s why RI’s transit authority RIPTA is in such dire straits today.
I’d like to see the MBTA absorb RIPTA, along with GATRA and SEPTA. Make it one humongous regional system. The MBTA commuter already runs into Providence and soon it will run to TF Green airport in Warwick. Plans are also on the board for stations in Wickford and Westerly. That will be nice.
But it’s going to take a while for that to happen.