Anxious moments at North Station as firefighters waited for diesel engine to either explode or stop shooting flames

Firefighters rushed to North Station around 1:40 p.m. today on reports of flames shooting out of an exhaust stack on an MBCR commuter-rail engine on track 1. After initial efforts to douse the flames, MBTA engineers advised firefighters to back away in case the engine exploded. At one point, the Boston Fire Department reports:

The area of the engine and the stack rising from the engine were bright red from heat.

Around 2:20 p.m., the department declared the fire out. Firefighters continued to pour water on the diesel, however, to keep it cool.

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Well if they really need

Well if they really need them, the 3 leased engines are still sitting outside the engine terminal and were not shipped off last Saturday as reported here. I suspect a stack fire in one unit still won't be enough of a problem to change the equation for keeping the leased units. If beyond repair, the damaged unit can possibly provide the parts to return another out of service unit to service. Sometimes stack fires don't do as much damage as the smoke and heat would make you think they would.

Still sitting

The MARC units were already aged when arrived, but not as old as the MBTA units. They may need some work to keep them going. And given their age, parts are not readily available. Some may have to be fabricated. They are also only compatible to run on the North station runs due to signal systems in place.

A red-hot stack on a diesel is not unusual. Rare, yes, but not unusual. I have seen diesel generators displaying a hot exhaust pipe akin to a low burning ember... a dark red. Excessive heat is why diesel trucks have a heat shield on them where they traverse the passenger compartment.

The broader problem is that there are no compatible locomotives - anywhere - that the MBTA can obtain for sale or lease. Anyone that has similar units are in a similar bind, nationwide, and are not parting with them.

The new locomotives on order from Motive Power are still in the design phase to meet Tier-3 emissions standards and have yet to have assembly started. It should start soon, thankfully.

The order for coaches is slipping because Hyundai-Rotem has slipped their order for similar units to SEPTA (PA) and they have to fill that order before they will start the MBTA's. The SEPTA order has been delayed due to raw material shortages, compatibility failures (not built to spec), and labor problems (i.e. Korean managers expecting an oriental work ethic from USA union people. Korean managers do not get to slap US workers across the face when they talk back. Yeah... that didn't play well at all).

I understand that the MBTA shops will be installing side handles on some coaches so we can hang outside and kick the car along like a skateboard this summer.

Sarcastic yes, but a lot of this is not solely the MBTA's fault. There is a nationwide shortage of diesel locomotives that can be used for passenger service. There are plenty for freight service but without major modifications, those cannot easily be adapted for passenger service if purchased new or used. Some cannot be modified at all or can fit some track configurations.

As it stands the GP40s (MBTA locomotives with the exterior catwalk) did service as freight units in Canada before coming here for passenger service. After retirement from heavy freight duty they were rebuilt for less-stressful passenger service usage.

The sole two MP36 units (the ones with the rounded nose) were obtained semi-new (low mileage) from Utah which was only willing to part with those two. Thankfully they were nearly fully compatible on arrival.

People are quick to blame the MBTA or MBCR for all of the systems's woes but the reality is that they are sometimes a victim like the rest of us.

Disclosure... I do not work for the MBTA or MBCR. I'm a regular user like many. I just happen to follow these things in the press and in industry blogs, and that because I want to see things get better as well.

Different needs

dmk or others may be able to answer this better but here's a quick idea: freight trains change weight radically depending upon what's loaded, passenger trains not so much. Tractive effort is a huge deal for freight, slow and steady progress being more important than top speed. Passengers, on the other hand, prefer to go fast, and tend to stop in many places along the way.

Passenger locomotives are

designed for higher speeds and quicker accelleration/decelleration than freight locomotives are. Also, passenger locomotives have to have additional equipment (usually referred to as head-end power) to proivde lights and HVAC to the coaches.