They’re here. They’re in service. Yes, they’re delayed by who knows how many months, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about! I took the inaugural ride on these new trains, taking photos and many pedantic notes, and now it’s time to present my findings. How do these newcomers stack up to their almost-40-year-old cousins?
Because I’m interning for the MBTA this summer, I was able to get into Wellington Carhouse for the pre-train festivities. They had a few two-car trains lined up, and the audience was mostly workers and representatives from the T, the state, and CRRC, the company making the vehicles. And as he was making his rounds, I was able to lock eyes with the governor. Wow!
But the starry-eyed delight wouldn’t last long. Not to get too much into politics here, but the fact that the governor didn’t actually ride the train was super disappointing. I also couldn’t hear anyone’s speeches – their audio was only meant for the press, so there were no speakers. I can only hope that they said good things.
Once the speeches were done, everyone started mobilizing. I headed back to the Wellington platform, which by this point was packed with railfans. The new car was waiting just before the station in the yard, and once it started moving, there was a rush to grab pictures. “Stand behind the yellow line, stand behind the yellow line!” yelled out MBTA employees in vain.
The wide doors opened, and everyone stepped in. The first thing I noticed was how spacious it felt inside. I don’t know what it was, but the wide doors combined with more space for wheelchairs combined with who knows what else made it feel like there was a ton of room. This was a super positive first impression. Then I noticed the beeping…
We need to talk about the door chimes. When they first open up (which is a long process, because unlike the older trains, they open slowly), there are a few “ding-dongs” to announce it. Then…beeping. Over and over again. And I know it’s meant for blind and visually impaired people, so the annoying beeping has a point. But that’s no excuse for the door-closing chime: the beeps get faster. That’s it. First of all, that prolongs the already incessant beeping, and second, it’s not a good enough warning that the doors are closing. I saw the doors close in several people’s faces just because they had no idea they were shutting!
It was amazing being on an Orange Line train that had automatic announcements, and they sounded really good. The T continued its trend of having no two lines’ announcements be phrased the same, such as saying “Approaching: [station]” instead of “entering” like everywhere else. Announcements also include on which side of the train the doors will be opening, and any connections (except bus connections, the existence of which is never announced). The operator speakers did seem a little faint, though.
Frankly, I’m not a fan of how the LED screens are handled. They’re nice and big, but they scroll soooooooo slowly. So slowly, in fact, that the “approaching” message often disappears before it can finish because the train has already gotten to the station! Plus, two screens on every car are cut off on the bottom, and one is always cut off on the top. It looked like the screens go beyond the frames around them, so they’ll have to make the font smaller to get everything to fit. It would be great if they could scroll faster, too, or even just not scroll at all and have static messages like on the Red Line.
A new addition to these cars, and to the MBTA in general, are the LCD screens that show connections at each station. They’re slightly squashed, but that’s such a minor complaint – it’s fantastic to see all the bus and rail connections on here. Sure, it would be nice to see the next departures for each route, but I don’t think that’s a possibility on the signs at the moment. Unfortunately, there was also a number of inconsistencies between the LCD screens, the LED screens, and the announcements, but we’ll get to those later.
So the doors closed, and we were able to pull out right away, since the breaks don’t take twelve years to release. The acceleration seems like it can be really good, because we pulled out super quickly, but it was a little more standard on the rest of the trip – maybe the operator didn’t want to screw anything up, it being the first revenue trip. The ride quality didn’t feel too different, but when I rode an old Orange Line car later on, it felt worse in comparison. Overall, it makes for a slightly more enjoyable ride.
The seats were hard plastic, but overall pretty comfortable. Each car has several fold-up seats to accommodate more wheelchair space beyond the default one – they come in sets of three, and they each fold up individually. People tended not to sit in them, but that might not be the worst thing. Folded up seats mean more standing room, and anyone who’s ridden the Orange Line at rush hour knows that it gets packed.
There was an interesting problem when we got to Forest Hills. First of all, the train had to do the “doors will close and reopen” business, which was kind of annoying in itself given that other new T trains don’t have to, but then the door up front kept beeping! “This is that problem we’ve been having,” someone said as they opened up a panel to get the door unlocked. This actually seemed to happen at Oak Grove, too, again in the front car. Hopefully this is something that can be fixed in the future.
There was one more interesting quirk as we were heading back up north. You know how the doors open on both sides at Sullivan and Wellington? On this train, they opened at the exact same time! Alas, it was probably because it had a second operator, but for that brief moment, it was magical. Less magical was the fact that the individual beeps for each door were out of sync! It was so annoying, and made it even harder to tell which one was closing (if it even was closing).
As an overall verdict, I am so happy that these trains are here. I can’t wait to see Orange Line headways get better and better as more of them enter service. However, there’s no ignoring the fact that they’re not perfect. The ride quality didn’t feel markedly better, especially when compared to the super-smooth Blue Line trains (maybe the track’s better on that line?); the door problem that happened twice felt like a real concern; and the constant beeping will haunt my nightmares. Still, consider my verdict on these trains to be an overall positive one. They have more capacity, they have the ability to accelerate a lot faster, and the accessibility improvements are fantastic. That being said, enjoy my bulleted list of every passenger information glitch I could find!
- The northbound announcements were different between Sullivan and Wellington: “The doors will open on both sides of the train” was Sullivan’s line, while Wellington got “The doors will open on both sides.”
- Super pedantic, but it would be nice if the transfer to the Green Line at Downtown Crossing mentioned the Winter Street Concourse in some form, especially since they have it come last – even after the Silver Line.
- The “approaching Tufts” announcement going southbound didn’t play until we stopped there.
- On the southbound trip, Back Bay was not announced – Mass Ave was announced twice.
- Back Bay was announced on the northbound, but the announcement and LCD screen listed the Commuter Rail lines in different orders. The announcement had it more correct (east to west), so perhaps the screen was ordered the way it was for space reasons?
- There seems to be an inconsistency with Mass Ave, with some announcements saying “Massachusetts Avenue”, and others saying “Massachusetts Ave” (which is kind of blasphemous to begin with – it’s either Massachusetts Avenue or Mass Ave, no exceptions!).
- Why is every Commuter Rail line announced except at North Station? It has the same number of lines as Back Bay! They just say “Commuter Rail lines” at North Station.
- Also regarding Commuter Rail announcements, it’s a little odd that every line with branches is considered two, with the most egregious example being “Providence Line, Stoughton Line.”
- At Forest Hills, the middle screen didn’t show anything.
- Some of the listed bus connections were for variants of routes that only happen a few times a day, and at times where you wouldn’t be connecting from the Orange Line (e.g. the 15 at Tufts), but this will probably be changed soon.