Old museum parts keep the MBTA’s WWII-era trolleys running

Ten Ashmont-Mattapan light rail trolleys, which first started transporting passengers in 1945, sometimes receive old repair parts from the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine.

–The Boston Globe

Old museum parts are sometimes called back to the future to keep Boston’s small fleet of World War II-era T trolleys running.

The 10 Ashmont-Mattapan light rail trolleys, which first started transporting passengers in 1945, occasionally receive old repair parts from the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine. The museum preserves hundreds of old trains, trolleys and buses as a living tribute to mass transit history.

“At times we actually need to reach out to trolley museums to get components and parts to be able to keep these vehicles in revenue service,’’ the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s chief operating officer, Jeff Gonneville, said earlier this week.

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The Maine museum helps out “a couple times a year,’’ according to Jim Schantz, the museum’s chairman. The museum has donated various parts, including braking and motor equipment and couplers, which connect adjoining trolley cars.

“When they’ve had a need that they can’t satisfy themselves,’’ Schantz said. “Obviously, the parts are not being manufactured on a regular basis for these cars.’’

The T is able to make or repair “the vast majority’’ of the vintage streetcars’ parts at its maintenance facility in Everett, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

The museum displays hundreds of vehicles collected over time from across the country, and collects old tools and parts from transit agencies that are used to maintain the vehicles.

Other agencies that operate historic vehicles, such as in San Francisco, have also come to the museum for help. The museum charges most agencies when they need parts, which generates “a few thousand dollars coming in a year, here and there,’’ Schantz said.

But it doesn’t charge the nearby MBTA, with whom it has worked closely for years. The transit agency has provided about 50 vehicles on display at the museum, Schantz said.

“When the MBTA is disposing of an antiquated vehicle, it is rare to get a bid from any place other than the trolley museum,’’ Pesaturo said in an email. “$1 selling price.’’

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The Mattapan line’s old streetcar fleet is considered by many to be a charming blast from the past, Schantz said. But because of high maintenance costs, the T is considering getting rid of them.

At Monday’s meeting, Gonneville said the agency will soon need to decide whether to replace the existing vehicles on the Mattapan line. Possibilities include refurbishing Green Line trolleys or replacing the cars with electric buses, Gonneville said.

If that were to happen, what are the odds the old trolleys wind up living out their days at the museum in Kennebunkport?

“Probably not very good,’’ Schantz said. “We have enough of that type.’’

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