When Boston made tracks

Old tracks

The folks at the Boston City Archives wonder if you can figure out when and where this photo was taken. See it larger.



Free tagging: 



    Entering Park St, heading westbound (well, south, in this spot). Somewhere from 1900-1910, I'd guess.

    EDIT: there's third rail. So this is between 1901 and 1908, when the Maine Line (Orange Line) ran via Tremont St Subway.


    Boylston St

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    Could it be Boylston St coming from Arlington? Is that the old tunnel going down in the top left?

    Park Street Station

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    Outer tracks. There was a third rail on the outer tracks at Park St (visible on that photo) between 1901 and 1908 to accommodate the Sullivan to Dudley elevated cars that temporarily passed through there prior to the construction of the Washington St Tunnel (today's Orange Line).

    Sure that you want to know?

    I actually have a materials engineering degree. I can tell you. But it doesn't take an engineering degree to understand it.

    The rails themselves are made of rather ductile steel that bends fairly easily, the segments are relatively long, and the overall curvature of a bend for a moving train isn't very much at all. Rails are long and soft enough that they may need to be straightened if they are picked up and carried in an unsupported fashion.

    These were bent back in the day, likely using guys with crowbars at the site. Perhaps a sledge and an anvil. They don't need to be heated for this, usually.

    Now the railroads use special hydraulic equipment, also on-site because it really doesn't take a lot of force.

    In fact, preventing rails from bending is actually a bigger issue:
    (this was after an earthquake)


    Not so much...

    I've written software for back-o-the-textbook Materials Engineering courses; think MIT or CalTech or Purdue or Carnegie Mellon. Learning which metal alloys will respond how to temperature/force/chemical exposure requires more than a two-year HVAC course.

    If you have cable, you can see a lot of this stuff on Science Channel (or anywhere in the Discovery Networks) on How It's Made, Build it Bigger, How Do They Do That, etc.



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    It looks like maybe the train swerved to avoid a couple of pedestrians.

    Wicked Curves

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    So sharp in fact that the original rails wore out in barely a month. Also, some of the 46' El cars took out chunks of the tunnel wall. Oops...


    "Shortest radius is 82 ft. (Entering Park St. Station southbound.) Ordinary commercial steel rail wore out on above named Park St. curve in 44 days. Manganese steel has been used on this and other sharp curves [i.e. Dudley Loop, Beach Street] to the amount of 475 ft. with good results. On the average 3000 ft. of rail is renewed each month. About 50 per cent. of rail renewels [sic] are occasioned by wavy rail."

    - A Description of the Elevated Division, Compliments of Superintendent H. A. Pasho, 1905



    Are those chunks still visible? I recently noticed some very gnarly scars on the walls at this curve. Don't know if they're from that, or more recent events.

    White Walls

    They were painted that way so as not to wig people out that they were underground and help defuse the light better in the tunnels.


    They do, to an extent

    They recently white washed parts of DTX, State, and Haymarket on the Orange Line. Mostly just State. The residue from brakes, third rail and third rail shoes, and general dirtyness of the subway just cake the walls in a slimy, black soot.



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    I remember when DTX was repainted, in only a few short months it was back to its grey-black tones.

    Really makes me wonder what I'm breathing in down there.



    Really makes me wonder what I'm breathing in down there.

    Absolutely nothing good. As much as I'd like to work in the tunnels... I'd really hate to work in those tunnels at the same time. Maybe if I had full-face gas-mask.

    State Had Gleaming White Porcelain Ceiling Tiles, Until ...

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    I was heartbroken when they removed the spectacular white porcelain tiles from ceiling of State Street station a few years ago. The hundred-year-old tiles had been meticulously crafted and were still in beautiful condition. The horrible textured coating now on the ceiling catches all the dirt.

    The fabulous, bright and gleaming ceiling made State Street the most beautiful station on the Blue Line, if not the entire system. Now, the dark and dirty ceiling, combined with the hideous "decorative accents" added at the last renovation make it the ugliest and most claustrophobic station of all.