The Boeing-Vertol Era

By the mid 1960's only a handful of cities in the United States had streetcar service. With the exception of New Orleans which ran their historical trolleys the other cities employed PCC cars. The PCC cars were a result in the early to mid 1930's of an effort to revive the industry with what would then be a radical change not only in design but in engineering over the traditional street cars. PCC stood for "President's Conference Cars". The top traction experts from different transit properties met and designed the PCC. Early experimental units were tried both in Chicago and Brooklyn.

Boston, along with Chicago and Brooklyn were early pioneers in using the PCC car with the earliest examples running in 1936. The cars were faster and quieter than their predecessors. They were wildly excepted both by the transit properties and the riding public. There were two builders of the PCC cars: St. Louis Car Company in St. Louis, Missouri and Pullman whose plant in Worcester, Massachusetts built all but one of the new cars for Boston. The single non-Pullman was a St. Louis car, number 3000 which remained an orphan until its last days of service. Only the former Dallas double ended PCC cars bought second hand by the Authority would be made by St. Louis Car Company. The Pullman PCC cars on the then Boston Elevated had doors on the left side to permit boarding at the subway stations.

Both Boston and San Francisco ran a fleet of PCC cars. By the late 1960's it was more than apparent that new cars would be needed to replace the aging PCC fleets of both cities. Both properties along with Cleveland's Shaker Heights Line and Philadelphia started looking for a solution to that problem. The choice was whether to buy the new cars from outside the United States or within. The Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) was created to design a new and standardized light rail car. That, coupled with then President Nixon's "Buy American" program that made buying vehicles manufactured in the United States mandatory resulted in the contract going to Boeing-Vertol, a company heretofore primarily involved in military equipment for the Vietnam Conflict.

By 1973, with the war effort winding down Boeing-Vertol was awarded the contract to build a standardized light rail vehicle at a cost of $300,000 per car. San Francisco (MUNI) and the MBTA ordered 80 cars and 150 cars respectively. The orders were later expanded to 100 and 175 respectively. The Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority came close to ordering the cars from Boeing but backed out at the last moment and bought their new cars elsewhere. So it was that the first revenue service on the MBTA was on the "D" Branch on 30 December 1976. Muni did not have their first LRV run until 1979 leading to the opening of their Muni Metro. There are pictures showing the early days of the MUNI LRV's with trolley poles.

The Honeymoon that wasn't:

The new LRV's were problematic from their very first days. They suffered from derailments on tight curves (and Boston's subway has some very tight turns including the one at Boylston and Tremont) which also damaged the articulation section. There were electrical shorts, failure of the car's motors and all kinds of issues with the complicated door system. As a result the Boeing cars had a very poor mean time between failures. The MBTA typically had less than 50% of the fleet available for the first few years of service. As a result MBTA instituted a PCC rebuilding program to augment the LRV fleet to keep the Green Line running. MUNI's problems did not have their full original fleet running until 1982.

In Boston the situation became a political and public relations nightmare with the "T" finding that their new cars were falling out of service faster than they could fix them. The matter became worse when the "T" had so many cars out of service that they were cannibalizing some to use their parts to keep other cars running. The "T" tried to keep this issue a secret by hiding the cannibalized cars in some unused sections of the subway so the public would not know what was going on. Sad to say that stunt did not work due to the fact that a reporter for one of the newspapers discovered the hidden cars which resulted in a public furor. It seems like the "T" was dragging the out of service cars through their system late at night so that nobody would see them. Once the story broke the out of service LRV's started to be stored in yards where the public could see them.

By 1979 MBTA had enough and successfully sued Boeing-Vertol for financial damages, the cost of repairs and modifications to several cars as well as the ability to reject the last 40 cars of their order. MUNI ended up buying 30 of the Boston cars and modified them for service on their lines. The only visible differences were in the operator's cab and articulated section in the interior decor. But even though the two properties had the virtually the same there were differences between the two systems that created additional problems. MUNI needed stairways for ground level boarding on the surface parts of their trips but their stairways had to be converted to high platform operation in the subway under Market. This became a major problem for MUNI because of the curved ends of the cars to conform to the MBTA subway's tight curves. Likewise, MUNI's subway required the need for the trouble prone plug doors which were difficult for MBTA to maintain. Finally, by the 1990's all of the Boeing fleet had been retrofitted with the bi-fold doors.

By prevailing in their law suit MBTA was able to make modifications to the LRV's. Those cars that had been cannibalized were brought back into service. Cars that had serious damage on one half had their good half joined in the shops and returned to service. Another example of poor design were the air conditioning units which were originally placed under the LRV's. MBTA modified 76 LRV's with roof-mounted air conditioning units.

With all the problems both properties had with the Boeing LRV's it was more than apparent that there was no solid future for them. In the mid-1980's MBTA contracted with Kinki Sharyo of Japan for their new Type 7 car. The first of that order came in 1986. As soon as it was possible the Type 7 car took over most of the base service on the Green Line. The first LRV's to be scrapped were in 1988. Most of those cars had been dead and stored since the late 1970's. By 1995 MUNI was starting to retire their Boeing fleet as the replacements from Breda started to arrive. The new Breda cars for MUNI were more like what they originally wanted in the early 1970's. By the end of 2001 MUNI retired its last Boeing LRV. It took MBTA until 16 March, 2007 to have the last revenue run of the Boeing fleet.

MBTA had expected to retire the entire Boeing fleet earlier but the Type 8 LRV's from Breda also had a lot of problems that were in some ways similar to that of the Boeings. That included derailments on the tight curves. As with Boeing, MBTA and Breda had some serious litigation problems that ended up being resolved. Because of the problems and litigation the order for 100 cars that started in 2001 are finally being completed in 2008. As a side note Breda lost the bid for the new Blue Line cars now being placed in service even though they were the low bidder in 2004.

As for Boeing-Vertol, only one additional order was made for equipment and that was from the Chicago Transit Authority for their 2400 series L cars. These cars are still in active service with retirement planned most likely around 2010. Unlike the LRV's the CTA cars have been somewhat trouble free. The reason was that the design and construction of the cars were closely monitored by the Authority before delivery. The first four cars were delivered in 1976 and tested before the rest of the order was accepted. They were the first cars to have sliding doors making them wheel chair accessible.

All though the "made in America" still stands the law stipulates that final construction must be in the United States while components can be from other countries. Thus the new Metro Transit Hiawatha LRV's are by Bombardier which is Canadian but they're assembled in New York State as were the Red Line 1800 series cars.


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Unless otherwise noted all pictures are by Larry Mack and are copyrighted.  These pictures may not be used for other websites and/or commercial purposes without the express approval by the webmaster.  The "T" and subway map are copyrighted and owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority and are used on this site with their approval.  This site is  not officially affiliated with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.



last updated 27 January, 2011 20:23

[c] 2011

Information in part from Wikipedia.