MEDFORD — The end is in sight for the old war horses of the Orange Line, but first the MBTA needs them to make a few more runs.
With the first of more than 150 new Orange Line cars expected to enter service soon, retirement is close for the 38-year-old trains that lumber between Malden and Jamaica Plain. Some, though, will have to ease into their golden years as the transition to the new fleet will take more than three years. And like anything of a certain age, they need a bit of help getting through the workday.
“These cars will be the last ones that we retire,” Steve Hicks, the MBTA’s chief mechanical officer, said, pointing to a set of Orange Line cars getting new power systems at the T’s massive Wellington Yard. “We’re just trying to bridge the gap.”
Any Orange Line rider who has been caught in a delay due to a broken door or power issue knows these old trains are tired, worn, and far from reliable. The current fleet of 120 cars has lasted more than a decade longer than expected.
Some are in worse shape than others. Four cars — numbers 1242, 1243, 1258, and 1259 — have probably already made their last runs, Hicks said. No matter how many times they go under the knife, the four continue to suffer failures in their propulsion systems, overwhelmed by electrical surges. So they’re unofficially retired, parked outside in the Wellington yard, and unlikely to get fixed again.
“These cars, we cannot figure out the problem. Vendors have not been able to find the issue,” Hicks said. “We have to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollar.”
But most of the older cars will remain in service for a while yet — and some need a serious reboot. The T is outfitting 15 cars, for example, with new low-voltage power supplies, their existing systems no longer up to the task of daily service. And 20 are getting new HVAC systems that should hold them until retirement. The cars with new equipment will be the last ones escorted off in the sunset.
Meanwhile, the T is inspecting propulsion and electrical systems across the entire fleet of Orange Line cars to head off further issues.
The Red Line is also due for a complete fleet replacement, with the first new cars entering service in late 2019. As for the new Orange Line cars, the T has said that it expects them to begin service either in late 2018 or early 2019.
Then, over the coming years, more new cars will begin serving passengers — slowly at first and then more quickly over time. Ultimately, the T will replace the 120-vehicle fleet with 152 new ones, allowing for more frequent service.
In the near term, the agency expects to keep more older cars in service as the newer ones arrive, increasing the overall fleet to boost service. That will likely put any wide-scale retirement of cars on hold for at least several months.
But as the influx of new cars grows, the old models will start clocking out. Some may be pawned off to museums or other collectors, but most will be shredded into scrap, cast off 40 at a time.
And Hicks, for one, won’t be shedding any tears.
“I’m not very sentimental,” he said. “They served us well.”