When you could take a trolley under the harbor

Trolley at Devonshire Street in Boston

A.P. Blake reminds us that on this day in 1924, the predecessor of the MBTA shut the trolley line between downtown and East Boston for 50 hours to convert it into what we now know as the Blue Line.

The Boston Street Railway Association posted this photo of one of the old trolleys at Devonshire (late renamed State).



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50 hours

In 50 hours, approximately 1500 workers in total would work continuously to strip the tunnel of trolley wire, install third rails, replace switches, and raise platforms at Bowdoin, Scollay Under, Devonshire, and Atlantic. Maverick had a direct trolley-train transfer station already constructed. The work was finished early, and rapid transit operators were trained on their new vehicles from about 1am to 5am or so on Monday, April 21, 1924 -- and then it was back to business.

Ah, I know. The good ol'

Ah, I know. The good ol' days! Back when deaths from construction accidents were A LOT more common, because there was much less focus on occupational health and safety, just the bottom line and getting it done fast!

Yes, but now we have power

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Yes, but now we have power tools, sophisticated communication and planning equipment and so on. Yet nowadays projects of similar scale take years. Seems like those things should even out, but they don't.

We need to stop safety, human rights and other bullshit and get back to getting things done.


We need to stop safety, human rights and other bullshit and get back to getting things done.

No, it just takes smart people. Look at the replacement of I-93 Bridge decks in Medford. That took one weekend per bridge because they pre-fabricated everything, pre-planned everything, and had a ton of people working in unison.

The replacement of the collapsed bridge in St. Paul and California (both huge projects) were the same way. The GC put two people in every supply truck so that one could sleep while the other one drove and they could bring parts from anywhere in the country almost overnight. Safely.

You need to have smart people on the job so that 100s of people can be working at once instead of 10. You need to have inspectors lined up so projects don't grind to a halt waiting for paperwork to be processed and a inspector to come to work.

Certainly there must be some

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Certainly there must be some middle ground. I don't think safety standards are what delay work generally...

I know they were probably

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I know they were probably terribly underpaid and treated like absolute shit, but... 1500 workers finishing a project in two days? Goddamn. Can we get a contract like that for Government Center?

And I bet you those were 1500

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And I bet you those were 1500 guys which didn't speak English, let alone a common language among the majority of them, yet were somehow able to coordinate and follow paper plans to get everything done right in just 50 hours. These days with radios, lasers, phonebook thick plans, CAD tablets, fuggedaboutit.

And for Science Park, and the

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And for Science Park, and the Harvard-Alewife floating slabs, and the Longfellow, and the Callahan, and the Green Line Extension, ...

Notice The Gleaming, White Ceramic Tile Ceiling In The Old Photo

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It was still in lovely condition until just a few years ago when the Ⓣ thoughtlessly stripped all the tiles off the ceiling in conjunction with a hideous renovation project.

I wish I had some pictures from before the beautiful ceiling was destroyed; I never dreamed they'd do this to it:

Because of this tragic loss, the preservation of other historic tilework in the system; such as that at Scollay Under; becomes even more important. Wall tiles with the "Devonshire" station name are also visible in the old photo. They might have been still there, hiding beneath other layers, but since the work in 2008 stripped the walls back to bare concrete, it would have destroyed them too.

History is an important part of what makes Boston an interesting place to visit. It would be nice if more historic artifacts within the Ⓣ system could be rediscovered and preserved for future generations to appreciate. Once they're gone, they're gone forever!