SITE UPDATE: Wasn’t expecting to see that…

March 24th, 2009

I was rather surprised today when I went into Boston to pick up work for next week from CTPS to find Boeing LRV 3448, the track geometry car, parked on the siding on the outbound platform at Boylston.  Usually 3448 buried in the yard at Riverside, making it difficult to get shots of it.  I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of its unusual location by getting plenty of close-up shots; it’ll probably be gone by tomorrow.  A few of those shots can be found here.  Interestingly, the interior of the car is mostly intact from its days in regular service, with most of the seats still in place.  Only in the A end did they remove some seats to install the systems for scanning the track. 

I did some more railfanning last Saturday with my friend Bernie, mostly on the Blue Line.  I’ve added some shots from Airport and Suffolk Downs to my Blue Line pages.  While we were at Suffolk Downs, we came across a much younger railfan out taking videos of the trains with his dad.  Hopefully he’ll stay interested in trains.  Later on we headed to South Station, where I caught coach 762, which was one of the cars to get shrink-wrapped with the T’s “No.  Brainer.” ad from last summer when gas prices hit $4 a gallon.  I have some photos of that, but due to the backlog of commuter rail photos I need to put up, I haven’t uploaded them.

SITE UPDATE: Valley Road in the snow

December 19th, 2008

Today I boldly ventured out into the blizzard we’re having to take some photos of the trolleys at Valley Road.  Those photos can be found here.

Last Sunday I went up to Seashore again to help out with the last day of Christmas Prelude. It turned out that, due to the ice storm a few days previously, operations were canceled all weekend (Seashore was without power until Saturday night), and no one had bothered to send out an email about that. I did take a few photos of the ice-encrusted trees while I was there. This is the only shot that really came out well.

SITE UPDATE: Ashmont photos

October 15th, 2008

I’ve uploaded some new photos of the Red Line and Mattapan trolley at Ashmont.  The Red Line photos are on the second half of this page, and the trolley ones start with the last six on this page.

Transit Day 2008 was fun

October 12th, 2008

Yesterday was Transit Day up at Seashore Trolley Museum. As you’d expect, I went up there with Bernie to help out. Unlike Members’ Day, which I’ve been told was a letdown compared to previous years, Transit day really was a success. Lots of equipment that is rarely seen or used was brought out, and there were a lot of activities that weren’t part of the normal routine at Seashore. Photos of the day’s events can be found here.

Although I didn’t take any pictures of them, a lot of buses were on display and in operation. Many are part of the museum’s collection, and a few privately-owned ones showed up as well. Several of the buses provided shuttle trips from the visitor’s center over to Highwood.

On the trolley side of things, we arguably had too many cars in service yesterday. 1267, 631, 1700, 303, and 38 (finally back in service) were all running. Of course, the visitor’s center loop is only able to hold three or four cars (depending on whether the first car loads from the front or back), so we had fun all day repositioning cars to keep the track in front of Arundel clear when it was needed by subway cars. I got to run 38 a bit on one such repositioning move. Both controllers on it suck. It’s pretty much impossible to put either one into the first point - I kept skipping over it right into the second point.

The big events of the day were three photo runbys, the first the museum has done in years. Each one featured a different set of subway cars. Each runby followed the same procedure. One of the trolleys (303 for the first two runbys, 631 for the third) would bring photographers out to Messerve’s Crossing, where the runby would occur. After unloading, the trolley proceeded up to Tower 4 (the overhead along part of the line is supported by towers instead of lineside poles) to change ends and wait for the conclusion of the runby. Once everyone was in position at Messerve’s (most people stood on the platform there, while a few adventurous souls went a short ways up or down the line), the dispatcher was informed that the subway cars could be sent from the museum. The cars would make one pass by the photo line heading north, change ends at Tower 2, and then make another pass heading south back to the museum. Then the trolley would return from Tower 4 and bring everyone back to the museum. After the first two runbys, people could then ride the subway cars they had just photographed out to Biddeford Switch (at the entrance to the loop at Talbott Park) and back. The third time, because of time constraints the subway cars only made one trip, so people could either ride the cars or be in the photo line at Messerve’s.

The first runby was at noon and featured Boston El cars 0210 and 01000. This runby was quite successful, with the cars flying by Messerve’s. The next one, at 2:00 wasn’t quite as good. The R-22/R-33 set (aka “Redbirds”) came up from the museum quite slowly, and almost stopped at Messerve’s after pulling down the power station, which they did a second time before getting up to Tower 2 to change ends. The return trip was much better, and I got a video of that. It was later determined that the reverser on one car was broken, so it was actually trying to go in the opposite direction. The third runby, which was at 4:00, featured the museum’s R-9 set from New York City, which is often called the “A train” after the destination sign on the front. This one I opted to ride instead of photograph, figuring that I have a better chance of getting photos of it in the future than I do of riding it.

Although they seriously impacted the regular trolley schedule and presented some additional though minor organizational problems, the runbys went off quite successfully. I feel it would be a good idea to make runbys a semi-regular part of the museum’s normal operating schedule, as well as do them at other places on the line (the curve near the end of the line would be a good place). Not only could they bring more visitor’s to the museum, they would also be a good excuse to pull out rarely used equipment.

The only other things of note yesterday were that the Gibbs car made some runs back and forth on the Butler Grove lead, and there was a line car demonstration.

wow, I’m way behind on updating this

September 20th, 2008

Wow, I’ve fallen way behind on updating the blog.  First up, I have a few photo updates.  I’ve added a ton of new photos of Seashore Trolley Museum, starting halfway down this page.  I also have some new photos from Greensboro, starting with the last six on this page

I’ve been quite busy this summer up at Seashore, going up every 2-3 weeks on average.  I’m now qualified on cars 1267, 631, 303, and 1700, and I’m familiar with how to operate the Type 3 snowplows and Eastern Mass snow sweeper P-601. The only things I don’t have are the formal pink license card and a name badge. Otherwise I’m a fully qualified motorman/conductor.

Last Saturday was Members’ Day at the museum, so naturally my friend Bernie and I went up. 631, 1267, and 303 were in service as usual, and mail car 108 was also put into service, though for members only as there are no seats on it. Although 1700 is back in service, it was blocked inside Riverside Carhouse by Boston El cars 0210 and 01000, which were placed on Riverside track 2 (the same track 1700 is kept on) so other cars could be retrieved from Central. One of those cars was Eastern Mass snow sweeper P-601, which was placed on South Boston track 1 for the day. Double-decker 144 from Blackpool, England, which normally sits in the back of South Boston Carhouse on track 2 was pulled out into the sun for the day. Its exterior has been repainted recently so it looks pretty nice, but the interior and electrical systems still need to be restored before it can operate.

Interborough Rapid Transit “Gibbs” car 3352 was pulled out from Central, and made several runs up and down the Butler Grove Lead. This was the first time it had run in many years, so there was lots of dust and rust flying off its trucks during the first trip it made. Around 3PM the museum’s Smee cars (the R-22/R-33 “Subway Series” cars from NYC) made a trip up the main line as the members-only Banana Split Express, with banana split sundaes being served on board. Yum! With the number of people on board, of course, many didn’t get served until after the train returned to the visitor’s center, but a good time was had by all nonetheless. I opted to get a vanilla and chocolate sundae without the banana.

Later on 108 developed a hotbox just after leaving Talbott Park. There was some discussion as to whether one of the Type 3 plows should be sent out to rescue it.  Fortunately, it was able to coast back to the visitor’s center.  To save time, the crew was ordered to pass non-stop by Morrison Hill, so I was sent out to flag the crossing there, and pick up the paddles from their conductor on the fly.  Now I know what it must have been like to pick up train orders on the fly when railroads still did that.  When 108 was being put away in South Boston I noticed that one of the resistor grids was glowing red hot.  Clearly whoever was running it left it in a point below full series for too long.  

Near the end of the day we tried to do a trip with North Shore Line interurban car 420. First, we had to move the MBTA side-dump car from Highwood track 2 to track 1 so that 420 could get out. Although 420 was blue-tagged with a bad motor, the dispatcher decided to ignore that and we started getting the car ready. We had to spend several minutes playing with the emergency brake valve before the air tank started to charge up. Alas, all that work proved to be for nothing, as it turned out a Brill Bullet on track 3 was sticking too far out for 420 to get by, and we had to put it back in the carhouse after moving it only 150 feet or so.

The last thing we did was take P-601 on a trip to Talbott Park. The car runs fine, but as we discovered, at least one of the controllers has suffered some internal damage and the points are virtually impossible to distinguish. That trip was also interesting because some fairly dense fog had rolled in, so visibility in places was down to only two line poles. After that we left to go home.

I’m now enrolled at Massasoit Community College in their Electronic Technology program. So far the coursework has been utterly unchallenging. Hopefully, though, I’ll be able to graduate and get a real job.

I got a 2G iPod touch back on the 10th. I would’ve gotten one the day earlier when they were announced, but the Braintree Apple Store didn’t have them yet. And when I did get mine, they hadn’t even put any on the display floor - they were still flashing their memory in the back. It’s quite a nice model. The front of course is the same as its predecessor, as is the power button on the top. The polished metal back has a nice curved shape. The cutout for the Wi-Fi antenna is now a black plastic oval, much nicer looking than the rectangular cutout on the previous model. A welcome addition over the old model are the volume up/down buttons on the left side. I’m conflicted on the addition of an internal speaker. While there are times when it’s good to have, there are also times when I wish it wasn’t there.

On the software side, not much has changed since I reviewed the original iPod touch. The major changes include the addition of all the apps the iPhone comes with (phone excluded, of course), plus access to the App Store, which didn’t exist when I did that review. I have discovered a few oddball things that can’t really be discovered by playing with the display units at the stores. First, if music is paused and you unplug the headphones or anything else plugged into the headphone port, it resumes playing the music using the internal speaker. While the last few iPod models (this one included) will pause music when you unplug the headphones, this is the first one I’ve seen that does the opposite. I have no idea if the original iPod touch or the iPhone models do this as well. Regardless, it’s not desirable behavior.

Next, it seems I was wrong about the iPhone firmware displaying every video on the device in a single big list. While it remains true that there are no submenus for the various video types and no support for video playlists (except as a way for choosing what videos to sync to the device, but more on that in a bit), there are in fact submenus for any TV show, artist, or podcast for which there are three or more videos. These submenus sort videos either by newest first, or in alphabetical order if the season/episode tags haven’t been set. I’d prefer the option to sort by oldest first, which is a more natural sorting order.

I had some minor problems getting it to work with our wireless network, mostly due to the router being a bitch and not adding the iPod touch’s MAC address to the list of allowed devices. Once that was resolved, I had some more problems getting the Remote app to work properly. It would allow me to select songs, albums, artists, and music videos to play, but nothing else. After posting a question on Apple’s discussion boards, someone pointed out an oddball setting in iTunes that had to be changed. Remote now works fine.

I’ve purchased a bunch of apps from the App Store. iMatrix takes photos stored on the device and overlays the “raining code” effect from The Matrix on top of them. It looks pretty cool (here’s the original image). A Free Level is essentially the Level demo app available to iPhone developers with some added (and very annoying) sound effects. I have a pair of unit converters, which in fact have different capabilities. Strangely, the one with a thousand different units is missing Kelvin, which the other one does have. FileMagnet replicates the disc mode from other iPods, although it depends on a Mac-only app for moving files onto the device. This doesn’t pose a problem for me at the moment. It also can open a number of file types that the iPhone OS doesn’t handle at all. iResist is a resistor color code calculator - quite useful for my electronics classes. Bubble Snap is one of the several bubblewrap popping games available. iCounter is a basic tally counter - it might be useful for my work at CTPS at some point. Constitution is an annotated copy of the US Constitution - you never know when that might be handy. Flashlight simply turns the entire display to a single color - white is the default when you open it, but there’s half a dozen other colors. Mondo Top 5 is a set of five different versions of Solitaire. After having Solitaire on my last few iPods, I’d miss not having it around. Cannon Challenge is a game that’s little more than a demonstration of projectile motion - you set the angle and speed of a cannon shell and try to hit some targets. I have a pair of calculators, one which includes the programming mode that the built-in calculator lacks (if I ever need to convert between decimal, hexadecimal and binary), and one which is a graphing calculator. Finally, I have the official AIM client. Now if only someone would make an IRC client.

SITE UPDATE: Seashore Trolley Museum photos

August 11th, 2008

I’ve added another page worth of photos of Seashore Trolley Museum, starting with the last row on this page. I’ve been going up there regularly the last two summers, trying to get qualified as a Level 1 operator. So far I’ve gotten qualified on 1267, 631, and 303. I still need to get qualified on 2709 to get my actual license, but that car is out of service more often than not, making it difficult to even get practice time on it. I recently purchased my own radio to use up there, since Seashore’s radios often have flaky performance (when I can get one at all - a few times I’ve been stuck with no radio).

SITE UPDATE: more Mattapan Line photos (again)

July 22nd, 2008

Yep, I’m still going out and getting more shots of the Mattapan Line.  I also keep finding new locations to shoot from.  Enjoy.

SITE UPDATE: more Mattapan Line photos

June 25th, 2008

I’ve added a bunch of new photos to my Mattapan Line pages, starting on the top of this page.  In the process, I removed a pair of photos from my previous update and replaced them with better shots of the same areas.  I also added an oddball shot to my Interesting Railroad Photos page.

SITE UPDATE: new photos, and me yakking

June 1st, 2008

First things first: I have two photo updates from the last few days. First are some photos of Copley Square. I went there on Thursday to photograph a Peter Witt-type streetcar (originally from Toronto) that the Canadian Tourist Commission had borrowed from the Shore Line Trolley Museum in Connecticut. They trucked it up and parked it in front of the Trinity Church from Wednesday through Friday to promote tourism in Canada. While I was there I also photographed some of the other things in Copley Square.

Next, I have some new photos of the Mattapan High Speed Trolley Line, starting halfway down the page. I finally brought my bike down from Vermont last weekend, so I was able to ride along the rail trail that parallels the line. I’ll be getting more photos of the line over the summer.

Last week was an interesting one, in the chinese curse sort of way. First, on Sunday a commuter train killed a kid on the Rockport Line up in Revere after he followed his mother and older brother across the tracks after one train had already passed through a grade crossing. I have no sympathy for the kid’s family; this was natural selection, pure and simple.

Next, on Tuesday there was an electrical fire on the Red Line between Downtown Crossing and Park Street at around 5:20PM. This actually affected me as I was in South Station at the time doing passenger counts on the outbound Silver Line platform. About 5:45 the other counters and I realized that no RL trains had gone through in a while. Ten minutes after that the inspectors there finally got word that the Red Line had been shut down between Broadway and Harvard. About quarter past 6 they finally started sending everyone upstairs to catch shuttle buses on Summer Street. However, it wasn’t until almost 7 that some Transit Police were positioned at the fare gates to direct people away from the platforms (even then they were only at the gates on one side of the lobby). About 7:10 southbound service resumed on the Red Line; I left before northbound service resumed. Naturally, of course, the chaos caused by the shutdown meant that passenger counts would be off for the rest of the night, so we had to postpone the last 6.5 hours of data collection there to a future date.

Then there was Wednesday, May 28. I didn’t hear about it until early thursday morning because I was doing passenger counts on the inbound Silver Line platform at South Station from 3PM until midnight, but there was a major crash on the Riverside Line between Waban and Woodland. One two-car train that was going at track speed (40MPH there) rear-ended another two-car train that had just begun moving after stopping for a signal. The ends of the two cars directly involved were demolished, especially that of 3667 (which was leading the second train). The motorwoman of the second train was killed as a result. Amazingly, only a handful of passengers were injured, none particularly badly. The reports that have been published so far indicate that the motorwoman went through a red signal at Waban (allowed after waiting for 60 seconds) and accelerated to track speed (the rule is that you can only do 10MPH after passing a red signal). Apparently she never saw the other train, as there is no indication the brakes were used before the crash, or that they malfunctioned. Sigh. Two Type 7s totaled, and one operator dead. :(

Oddly enough, the day after the crash I was emailed by a guy from the Boston Globe. He had come across my website while looking for pictures of that section of the Riverside Line and wanted to know if I had any unpublished ones showing that area that he could use as a reference for making a graphic of the tracks. I do, as it turns out (I never put them on my site because they were taken in winter and don’t look very interesting), so I emailed them to him. One of them ended up being published in both the print and online editions of the Globe. You can find the whole graphic and the photo here.

Napster’s new MP3 store

May 21st, 2008

Yesterday Napster began selling high-quality, DRM-free MP3s. This puts it in direct competition with Amazon MP3, and to a lesser extent with iTunes (particularly iTunes Plus). I have spent some time playing with it to see how well it works compared to its major competitors.

As one would expect, the songs are available as DRM-free MP3s, encoded at a constant 256 kbps (at least the ones I’ve purchased so far). Pricing appears to be 99 cents per track. Album prices are similar to what they are on Amazon or iTunes. Annoyingly, the prices are not visible unless you hover your mouse over the buy button.

Thanks to Napster’s several-years-old business of renting music, its MP3 store seems to have the largest catalog of songs available. Certainly, I’ve been able to find a number of songs that Amazon doesn’t have. Unfortunately, for the same reason the store also lists lots of tracks which aren’t for sale (although you can listen to the previews). Subscribers to the rental store can listen to the entire song before buying, instead of just the usual 30-second preview.

Searching and buying music is no different from any other music store, although the search bar doesn’t remember previous searches. Napster made the bizarre choice though of labeling the buy button “MP3″. The preview button has the somewhat more obvious label “:30″. When you click the buy button, a confirmation dialog box pops up, which changes to an option to download now or go to your purchase history if you confirm the purchase. Depending on your browser settings, when the song starts to download there may be an option to open it in the jukebox program of your choice.

[Note: some of the above information only applies to using the store through a web browser.]

Now for the bad news. Napster’s MP3 store only works with Firefox on Macs, and Firefox, IE, and Napster’s own application on PCs. It failed to load in Safari when I tried spoofing the user agent, so it apparently relies on some nonstandard coding that only the listed browsers support. I find this to be rather annoying, as I use Safari for almost all my web browsing, keeping Firefox around only as a backup. Worse than that, though, is that the store is based on Flash. It runs noticeably slower than Amazon or iTunes, and is often a bit wonky.

I also pulled out my old PC craptop to see how the store worked with the Napster application. It seemed to be faster, and the search bar remembers previous searches, but it still acted wonky at times. Purchased tracks download automatically into your Napster music library.

My final verdict: Unless you’re already using Napster (in which case the integration with your existing music library makes it more convenient), only visit its store if you aren’t able to find a song on Amazon MP3 or iTunes Plus. Otherwise it’s not worth the hassle.