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MBTA crews volunteer holiday weekend to clean defaced streetcar

by Staff

Local News

The old-school orange trolleys are some of the most iconic symbols of Boylston Station (aside from the Boylston Squeal, of course).

A recent effort to clean up a historic PCC streetcar at Boylston Station removed not only graffiti, but also several years of carbon dust, according to MBTA streetcar operator and Carmen’s Union Local 589 delegate Scott Page. Scott Page/Courtesy Photo

A few days after vandals targeted a historic streetcar at the MBTA’s Boylston Station last November, Scott Page’s inbox started pinging.

The messages from fellow T workers had a common theme: “How can we fix this?” 

“I kept getting messages from streetcar operators who were saying, you know, ‘This doesn’t look good. This is our history; this is something that we take pride in,’” said Page, the Green Line delegate for the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589. “And when you roll into Boylston and there’s graffiti on the side of the car, that’s disheartening.” 

So Page reached out to Ryan Coholan, the T’s chief operating officer, and together they made a plan to clear away the graffiti. It took about a dozen volunteers from the MBTA and Keolis four hours, and “a lot of elbow grease,” according to Page, but the crew managed to get the streetcar cleaned up on Dec. 30. 

“I could not have asked for a better end of 2023,” Page said. “I think what sometimes people don’t realize is just how many people there are who work here and care about not only what we do, but care about how this place looks and how it runs. And to have people give up their own time to come out and try to clean up something that’s really valuable to not only us, but the riders we serve — I think that was great.”

MBTA Transit Police previously asked for the public’s help identifying three people of interest in the Nov. 12 vandalism, sharing photos of the individuals on social media. Transit Police Supt. Richard Sullivan told last week that the department has no update in the case. 

According to Page, the orange PCC streetcar — one of two historic streetcars that sit on a side track at Boylston — was built in 1951 and predates the MBTA itself by more than a decade. A group of Local 589 volunteers fully restored the streetcar in the late 1970s, and it was used for novelty trips throughout the 80s and 90s before it was retired around 1998. 

“It has a history of sort of being preserved to celebrate the work that we do,” Page said. 

Graffiti artists have targeted the historic Boylston streetcars before, with T employees notably launching a similar cleanup effort in 2014 after the PCC streetcar and an older Type 5 car were tagged. 

A group of volunteers met up on Dec. 30 to clean graffiti off a historic streetcar at Boylston Station. Left to right: Bryan Snow (MBTA), Ronnie Mosley Jr. (MBTA), Brandon Barlow (Keolis), Scott Page (MBTA), MBTA General Manager Phil Eng, Nick Tomkavage (MBTA), Richie Phipps (MBTA), and Alicia Gomes (MBTA). – Scott Page/Courtesy Photo

There were some logistical challenges to the cleanup this time around (Boylston notably lacks running water), but the volunteers were ultimately able to remove both the graffiti and several years of carbon dust.

Among the volunteers was MBTA General Manager Phil Eng, who “took a particular interest” in some well-preserved 1990s-era advertisements inside the streetcar, according to Page.

“I want to express my sincere gratitude to the employees who volunteered their time during the holidays to remove the graffiti and make the trolley shine again,” Eng said in a statement. “We should be proud of the MBTA’s history as we look forward to a bright future.”

In addition to highlighting the T’s history, Page believes the cleanup effort could also be seen as one way for T and union leaders to feed workplace morale.

“The fact that I got phone calls from people saying, ‘I want to come and help and clean this thing,’ that to me was kind of heartwarming,” he said.

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