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Starts & Stops

Take the E-train? MBTA mulling electric locomotives

An Amtrak ACS-64 electric locomotive pulled into a station in New Jersey in 2014. David Boe/Associated Press/File/Associated Press

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority apparently wants to test some electric commuter rail trains.

The agency has been in touch with Amtrak about leasing some electric locomotives for some of the trips between Boston and Providence, according to Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the agency’s board.

Amtrak already runs electric service on that stretch of its Northeast Corridor route. But the T uses diesel locomotives on its commuter rail network, even on rail lines that have electric service.

Aiello disclosed the Amtrak discussions at a recent event in Lynn. Such an arrangement would allow the T to test electric commuter rail on a line that is already equipped for the service, while freeing up existing locomotives for service on other lines. He had previously urged the T to consider testing electric service on the Providence line, following a similar request from the activist group Transit Matters.


But this does not appear to be an express trip to electrification. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo described the talks as early.

“The Authority has had preliminary discussions with Amtrak about leasing electric locomotives,” Pesaturo said. “The scope of such a pilot and the equipment needed to operate it is yet to be determined.”

Amtrak, which operated the commuter rail under a contract with the MBTA for many years, would not even confirm whether it’s chatting with the T.

Officials are reviewing whether the T could convert more of its lines to electric service — perhaps even all of them — as part of a broader study of the future of commuter rail.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, however, has noted that the state would need to ensure it has enough electrical capacity for such a large expansion. She also has worried that major weather events could cripple electric service, because it would most likely be powered by overhead wires that are vulnerable in blizzards or other extreme conditions.


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.