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Boston Globe story on Commuter Rail locomotives

Posted on March 23, 2011

By Eric Moskowitz, Globe Staff

Dingy-looking but functional, one of the T's new "pre-owned" locomotives backed into North Station for the first time today, where MBTA General Manager Richard A. Davey applied a T decal and officially placed the engine in service, hailing it as needed help for the beleaguered commuter rail.

The locomotive is one of three formerly owned by Maryland's MARC commuter rail that will go into service on MBTA lines over the next two weeks, leased by the T at $300 apiece per day. The T is leasing them from an Idaho locomotive maker that recently built new engines for MARC and is also slated to build 20 for the T, at $115 million.

Although cast off by MARC, the 16-year-old engines are newer than all but two of the MBTA's 82 engines, more than half of which date to the 1970s and nearly all of which are at or past the manufacturer's recommended lifespan of 25 years.

"We're excited," Davey said, before applying the decal this morning on a locomotive that would make its maiden MBTA run pulling a five-coach train on the 11:20 a.m. to Newburyport. "While not new, these are much newer than what we have."

The locomotives will help bridge the gap until the 20 new ones begin arriving in 2013, Davey said. The T began searching for temporary engines this winter during a particularly poor season for the commuter rail, with more than one out of every four trains delayed in January and February.

About half of all commuter rail delays are caused by mechanical failure, with nearly all the problems coming from the engines, not the coaches. And more than half of those come from the most decrepit 18 engines in the fleet, known as F40PH-2s, which the T is trying to retire.

The leased engines are GP40WH-2s built in 1995 by a corporate predecessor to MotivePower Inc., the Idaho company that the T is paying to build its new locomotives. (The T is paying another $8.7 million atop that sum to a team of consultants, including Parsons Brinckerhoff, to serve as its representative and provide quality assurance on the deal.)

When five of the old Maryland engines arrived in Worcester earlier this month, the T was not quite sure what it would get. After the T had a chance to "kick the tires," three were deemed fit for service, Davey said; of the other two, one was sent back to MotivePower at no charge and another is being kept for spare parts, at a price to be negotiated.

The engine was admittedly not much to look at, speckled with grime and rust. The T stripped off the MARC logo, but faint hints of it could still be seen, including the ghosted slogan "Maryland With Pride," near where Davey placed the T logo. The red stripes of MARC were still in place, against a blotchy gray background. But the important thing is that it works, he said.

"I said, 'Don't worry about the paint. Just take MARC off and get it in service,'" Davey said. "We need it right away."

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