As you know by now, the MBTA’s long running trackless trolleys are being retired at the end of service on March 12th. The Boston Street Railway Association, essentially Boston’s top railfan organization, organized a Farewell to the Trackless Trolleys fantrip on February 19th, and I attended,1 so now Meirk wants me to give a retelling of the events. Note that this post will be quite heavy on photos.
Uncooperative bus schedules, among other things, led me to arrive at North Cambridge, where the event began, at around 9:05. I had been a little worried, as they were pretty clear about promptly departing at 9, but people were just milling about when I arrived.2 I spotted the usual cast of enthusiastic young characters, along with the other side of the railfan demographic, wise, all-knowing transit historians.
They’d brought out 4104, a standard Neoplan AN440LF trackless trolley4 1105, a Neoplan AN460LF dual mode5 used on the Silver Line Waterfront services,6 and a historic 1994/95 RTS 0309. 0309 was to be used as the foamer bus, running ahead of 4104 and 1105 and stopping allow for photos of them passing by.
I chose 4104 for the first leg of the trip, so we headed down Mass Ave uneventfully, with 0309 in the lead and 1105 behind. 1105 was operating on wires for this segment, quite a sight in Cambridge! Our first sign of chaos showed when 0309 entered the Harvard busway and we dewired right by Cambridge Common. As it turned out, the T was not interested in changing the state of the trackless switches away from what the 71 and 73 use, so, as would become a theme in this trip, we were pushed past the switch and continued on our way.
Past the portal, we turned onto Garden Street, and, once we passed Waterhouse, we were traveling on wires that had not seen revenue service since 2013.
We continued up Garden Street, and then made the left onto Concord Ave. As it turned out, 0309 wasn’t supposed to have gone into the busway, so we when we turned onto Huron Ave, we pulled over with the dual mode, blocking a bike lane and half a travel lane, and waited for 0309 to catch back up. So much for 0309 being ahead of us…
Once 0309 caught up, we headed down Huron, and turned onto Aberdeen. Aberdeen Ave is a wide street with a clear former trolley median, and with it, the (former) distinction of having the only surface level left hand stop on the MBTA. Around the halfway point of Aberdeen, just outside the Collins Branch of the Cambridge Public Library, we stopped for photos, this time obstructing the entire lane of traffic.
4104 and 1105 continued down Aberdeen, making a u-turn at the intersection with Mt. Auburn to head back up. Sadly, 4104 was pushed around the u-turn, and 1105 ran on diesel around it, owing either to the MBTA not wanting to risk running on switches that hadn’t seen service in years or an unwillingness to set the switch away from the 71/73 default. People gathered for another round of photos, after which we got back on, and headed back up the 72 toward Harvard.
Our next stop was on Waterhouse, right before Mass Ave, where there was a DIESEL 71 laying over.7 We again blocked traffic, including a 73 this time.
I boarded the dual-mode departing Waterhouse, now planning to do a run on the 71. 4104 entered the tunnel, but us on 1105 took the surface route, as according to the driver, the artic could probably make it through the tunnel, but they didn’t want to risk anything.
Crossing Aberdeen, 1105 dewired in the messy intersection. From there, sadly, it continued on diesel. Next, we had a photo stop on Mt Auburn by Adams Ave, though I didn’t take any pictures.8 There were rumors going around that we would actually pull into Watertown Yard along seldom used wires across the Charles. In fact, coming into Watertown Square, we bypassed the usual loop and continued to the Yard!
We spent a long time here, taking many, many photos, involving many instances where people yelled at each other to get out of the way of their shots. Next, we were headed to Watertown Square for a few more pictures and the official group photo, though I can’t find it anywhere. 1105 left first, while I boarded 0309 to head to Watertown Square and 4104 was pushed into the yard, again due to not wanting to change switches. Here, we also saw another diesel 71 go by.
Soon after, we continued up Mt. Auburn back to Harvard, pushing 4104 around Brattle Street and into Bennett Alley, with 1105 following and 0309 remaining on Mt. Auburn by University Road. This offered a chance for photos with the famous Bennett Alley, known as the one of the last traces of the Eliot Yard complex. Then they outlined what was to happen next: 4104 would head through the upper busway, drop people off to go down to the lower busway, loop around the common, and allow for photos in the lower busway, after which we’d continue on to cover the 73. I opted to stay on 4104 around the common, thinking we had enough pictures in the busway already.9
Finally, we were onto our last route, the 73. I boarded 4104 to head up Mt. Auburn again, but upon reaching Star Market Junction, we turned onto Belmont Street. We continued up to the Benton Square Loop, where we stopped for photos. For those who don’t know, before a complete reconstruction of the route’s wires in 2019,10 there existed a short turn loop at Benton Square, outside the Oakley Country Club. The loop remains, though its wires were not restored.
Here, 4104 and 1105 lowered their poles to allow another trackless to pass, and an unsuspecting passenger boarded 4104 without knowing it was a fantrip bus. Finally, we headed up to Waverly to finish out the system. 4106 was laying over, so 0309 pulled up behind it, but there wasn’t enough space for 4 buses in the layover area, so 0309 looped around to the second stop in the square to allow 4104 and 1105 to pull up. Here, the masses swarmed the Dunkin’ Donuts for the official unofficial lunch break.
Returning to North Cambridge
We left Waverly, with word going around that we’d be taking the 72 again, for the last ever trip under wire down Aberdeen, Huron, and Concord Avenues. Stopping on Aberdeen, they made an announcement on the dual mode that if anyone wanted to take part in the last-ever-trip-under-wire fame, they should transfer to the trackless, which I and many others did. We then took our final photo stop at Reservoir Street, blocking someone’s driveway, who happened to be unlucky enough to want to leave at that exact moment.
To finish up the trip, we headed back toward Cambridge Common, pushing the trackless through the left from Waterhouse to Mass Ave. Here’s also where you should refer back the to original itinerary to see how much we had planned to do, compared to what we did do. There was an optional stop at Porter for anyone who needed to go, and from there, it was straight back to North Cambridge. We pulled in and looped around the back of the garage.
We took some more photos, and it was soon approaching 3, the end of the event, so we took pictures of the organizers and thanked them.11 Once it hit 3, they jokingly told us to get off T property, and before long, 1105 pulled out, presumably to head back to Southampton, ending this amazing experience.
More Coverage of the Trip:
- Miles’ video
- The World of Transit – Part 1 and Part 2
- Boston By Rails’ video
- Pictures from others on Twitter
Thanks to everyone who made this trip possible, including everyone at both the MBTA and the BSRA, and especially to Nick Tomkavage for organizing this fantrip. Here’s his Twitter.
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