The Boston Globe reported today that the T canceled its purchase of 28 new locomotives! Bittersweet news. Bitter because the T’s contractor, MBCR, can’t seem to run its trains on time. Outdated locomotives are part of the problem. Sweet because the order shouldn’t have been for an all-diesel fleet in the first place. A big part of the T’s rail network is electric, and the locomotives that run on on the electrified section should be electric too. Electrics are faster, more reliable, quieter, cleaner, more efficient and — important for short-line commuter service — they have excellent acceleration characteristics. Electrics are good neighbors and good transit!
So why wouldn’t the T want to buy electric locomotives? One reason: electric locomotives would be different from what it is doing, and different is more expensive. The electrics would cut the bulk discount that the T received on the canceled diesel locomotive order. They would complicate rail operations because equipment would not necessarily be interchangeable. And they might create pressure to electrify other lines, which is cost-prohibitive.
It’s sad that the bailout bonanza raining on automakers hasn’t reached public transit. But this cancelled contract is a golden opportunity — maybe someday soon we might see electric locomotives pulling 120 mph commuter service to Providence after all! Something to shoot for, anyway.