The cars of the Mattapan-Ashmont high-speed line — named not for blazing speed, but for the dedicated right-of-way intersected only twice by city streets — have a history that dates back even further than their seven decades of service, says transportation historian Bradley H. Clarke. They were designed early in the Great Depression by the Electric Railway Presidents Conference Committee, a group formed to create trolleys that would serve cities across the nation. Of the 346 PCC cars originally purchased for various Boston lines, 10 are left, all of them plying this route. “They are the oldest cars in the entire MBTA system,” Clarke says.
Earlier this year, passengers and fans feared the MBTA would replace the expensive-to-maintain trolleys with buses, but a $3.7 million line item approved in June will keep them running. A 1990s refurbishment brought new seats and updated control and fare-collection systems. The cars are heated and air conditioned now as well. But there’s no mistaking their prewar design aesthetic — passengers snapping souvenir photos are a common sight — or their antique feel.
“They’re all individual,” says one driver, patting the controls of car number 3260. “Some of them can hit 40 miles an hour, but this one can only go 25. And you feel every little bump.”Lane Turner is a member of the Globe staff. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.