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Starts & Stops

Self-propelled rail cars are blast from MBTA’s past

A restored Buddliner parked near a recreational trail in Bedford is a bit of history the MBTA wants to repeat. John Blanding/Globe staff

What’s old is new again for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

When I reported last week that the MBTA is soliciting bids for self-propelled diesel trains that would run on existing commuter rail tracks, some readers reached out with memories of the T’s old Budd cars, which were essentially the same.

Richard Danca of Newton said he remembers riding one of the trains on a Boy Scout trip to learn about rail cars and jumping off a trestle to avoid getting run over by one in West Roxbury in the 1950s.

Bradley Clarke, a member of the Boston Street Railway Association, said history and economics forced the MBTA to transition from the self-propelled diesel trains to the coach-pulling locomotives that we now see.


The Buddliners, named for the Philadelphia-based Budd Co. that manufactured them, were first built in the 1950s and were operated by the private companies that provided commuter rail service.

Most private railroad companies eventually shifted from passenger to freight service, leaving government agencies to take over commuter trains. In Boston, the MBTA was created in 1964 and eventually took on the task.

By then, local trains had fallen out of vogue amid the rise of highway commuting, and the manufacturer largely stopped making the Budd cars. The MBTA began investing in locomotives capable of pulling multiple coaches, even though they were more expensive.

In the late 1970s, the remaining Budd cars were being hauled by locomotives, instead of running on their own, and by 1993 all of the T’s Budd equipment was out of service.

Clarke said self-propelled trains are now coming back into style because transit officials are looking into inexpensive ways to expand service. In Boston, for example, the T is asking for 30 of the cars for the Fairmount Line, a commuter rail system that runs within the city.


Instead of running a locomotive towing six cars for the low-ridership Fairmount Line, the transit agency could save money by using the smaller diesel units, he said.

“I see agencies all over the country eventually using them,” Clarke said, “and they may become as common as they once were a long, long time ago.”

Alta Bike Share gets Motivated

Say goodbye to Alta Bicycle Share, and hello to Motivate.

The parent company of Boston’s Hubway bike-sharing operation has a new name and a new chief executive officer, after being acquired by a private investor group.

The name and leadership change won’t necessarily mean big changes for the Boston-area network, according to Benjy Kantor, a local spokesman for Hubway, which is still run by its member communities and operates fairly independently.

But new leadership and capital could be helpful: “What we’re hoping is we get support for being able to market, promote, and have partnerships with other cities,” Kantor said.

Jay H. Walder, the former chairman of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority who now heads Motivate, said the new name reflects “the energy, action, and movement” of the company.

Walder said he wants to use his new position to explore how bike-share systems can become bigger and better. Bike-shares have proliferated in recent years, and he expects more expansion in the Boston area, where Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville also are Hubway members. Walder said he wants to further engage the many colleges and universities here as part of the growth effort.


Walder has toured nearly every city with a Motivate bike-share program, including Boston. He has been struck by the enthusiasm for Hubway in the area.

He said he invited his wife to take a ride with him, and they cycled on Newbury Street and made their way across the river into Cambridge.

“It was a kind of cold day, and yet being on the bike was fun,” Walder reported.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at