A big test is on its way Tuesday for the MBTA.
With the Boston area expected to get hit with blizzard conditions and at least a foot of snow, the agency is pulling out all the stops — and all the plows — to keep the tracks clear. In addition to running a reduced schedule Tuesday, the MBTA is preparing its eccentric-looking lineup of snow-fighting equipment.
Call it the Return of Snowzilla.
Seriously though that’s one of the agency’s oldest defenses against inclement winter weather. But it’s not the only one. Here’s a look at the crew of specialized snow blasters, snow plows, and other vehicles the MBTA plans to deploy Tuesday.
The retrofitted ballast regulator
Ballast regulators are normally used during the summer months, but the MBTA has purchased two 6-and-a-half foot auger (or plow) attachments to pair with existing pieces of equipment. According to the agency, the machines can throw snow up to 45 feet in any direction, have the ability to change direction on the mainline, and can be deployed at different junctures on both heavy and light rail lines.
Keolis, the MBTA’s rail operator, tweeted footage of one of the machines in action earlier this winter.
Normally used in construction season, this ballast regulator was modified by Keolis crews to scrape salt-contaminated snow from the track bed. Multiple @MBTA_CR teams are working 24/7 to clean & repair signal & track on Nport/Rport lines impacted by historic tidal surge. pic.twitter.com/qhfsRU2PYm
— Keolis Boston (@KeolisBoston) January 10, 2018
OK, so Snowzilla isn’t its real name.
The MBTA recently overhauled two of its giant, jet-powered snowblowers. The decades-old machines have the capability of generating up to 3,000 pounds of thrust to clear the tracks. The Boston Globe got an up close look at one of them on the Mattapan Line in 2011.
The snow removal auger locomotive
For use in extreme conditions, the 50-ton, shaft-driven locomotive and auger can clear a nearly 6-and-a-half-foot-wide path, according to the MBTA. The co-piloted one is reserved for the biggest snowstorms and could come in use Tuesday.
“It’s the strongest of them,” Erik Stoothoff, the agency’s deputy chief operating officer for infrastructure told The Boston Globe.
The skid-steer loader-turned-train-track snowblower
Following the record-breaking winter of 2015, an MBTA machinist came up with the idea of mounting a John Deere skid-steer loader onto railcar wheels to create a snow-blowing vehicle to clear the train tracks. It turned out that agency officials liked his invention so much that they hired a company to build eight more based on the prototype.
According to the MBTA, the vehicles are now “the most versatile of the newly purchased winter resiliency equipment” and can be affixed with differently sized auger attachments.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo noted that the agency, which has invested more than $100 million in winter resiliency since 2015, has readied a number of snow blowers, plow blades, and buckets to be rapidly deployed when the snow hits. The agency also has snow blowers and auger attachments for its fleet of Swingmaster loaders, he said.
According to Pesaturo, the MBTA has already installed plows on 40 Orange Line trains and 40 Red Line trains to keep the tracks clear during service before they send out the heavy-duty equipment.
All that’s left now is to wait for the first flakes to fall to see how all the equipment fares.