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A Ride On The Mattapan Trolley Line

The debate over the long-awaited Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford has been making headlines for months. But there’s another mass-transit battle brewing to the south, over a part of the MBTA that many people don’t even know exists.

For most T riders, the Mattapan Trolley is an afterthought—an odd little appendage to the Red Line that runs from Mattapan to Ashmont and back again. The trolley cars never leave their little circuit. They travel solo. And they are ancient—dating to the mid-1940s, and looking and sounding their age.

For the 2000-some people who take it every day, though, the Mattapan Trolley is a workhorse: not flashy, by any stretch, but dependable.

“It runs pretty good,” Milton resident William Cleveland told WGBH News. “It runs fairly good. It doesn’t get broke down a whole lot, as old as it is.”

“It’s amazingly efficient,” said another rider. “It’s not luxurious travel, but it’s really quick.”

In roughly eight and a half minutes, the trolley’s cars traverse two and a half miles of track.

 Despite its retro charms, though, the Mattapan Trolley may not be long for this world. T management says maintenance is costly and difficult—sometimes, parts actually need to be purchased from museumsand that a shift to electric buses might be prudent.

That idea has sparked sharp pushback, from local politicians and trolley loyalists. But among the riders WGBH News spoke with, reaction to that scenario was mixed.

“If you paved it over, made it a smooth ride, you might get more stops in,” said Grant Marshall, an electrician who takes the trolley to work.

“What I think they should do, they should take those trolley from the Green Line, bring the Green Line up here, and bring this junk back up!” said Fitzroy Beaumont of Mattapan, guffawing loudly.

“They’re going to raise the fare again,” he added. “So why don’t we ride in style?

Right now, the T is conducting what it calls a “thorough engineering analysis”  of the Mattapan Trolley line, looking at how the equipment works and laying out possible options. When that study is finally released, sometime late this summer or early in the fall, a final debate over the trolley’s fate will begin in earnest.

Among the scenarios that might be considered: purchasing new trolleys for the Mattapan line, making it a dedicated bus route, or launching a new bus line that runs on local streets.

Whatever happens, if you want to experience the Mattapan Trolley the way it’s been for decades, now is the time to ride.

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