Much More on the Yellow Multipurpose Machine

Keep away, trainophiles!

One week ago, I made note of an email from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) about nearby railroad construction, taking particular notice of their reference to a “yellow Multipurpose Machine”. This machine wasn’t shown or described further, and I found it very intriguing. Since that post, I’ve received several relevant emails.

First up, it appears Bill K. managed to track down the actual MPM in question:

As best I can figure, they may be describing [the Herzog] Multi-purpose Machine. Here’s a promo video of what this machine is/does. The rail equipment would very certainly stop and start frequently.

The promo video1 says “Herzog’s MPM is a must-have for any railroad engineering department”, but after just 60 seconds of marketing, I kind of want one for myself. As I’m sure you’re aware, I, too, am serious about safety, efficiency, and cost control.

I also noticed something strange written on the front of the MPM in the video:

Emphasis (visually) added

If you’re wondering what the heck that could mean, as I was, this Straight Dope post has you covered. Sadly, it’s nowhere near as salacious as it sounds.

In last week’s post, I emphasized the fact that the MPM is “required to sound its horn when it stops and starts.” This led reader Michael I. to email some experts for a recommendation on perhaps lessening the overwhelming awfulness of this. I was CC’ed on that email, and while I doubt we’ll be receiving any sort of answer at all, it did allow me to learn of the existence of the Noise Abatement Society. They “raise awareness and educate about measured, considered, and responsible use of sound”. In a world overrun with far too much unnecessary noise, I’ll give a very soft cheer for that. Hip, hip, hooray.

MassDOT also sent its list a follow-up email, which included some additional explanation of the yellow Multipurpose Machine:

During all phases of construction taking place around-the-clock in the Lowell Line rail corridor, the yellow multi-purpose machine MPM (a long piece of heavy construction machinery on rail cars) will be staging work. Federal railroad regulations require the vehicle to sound its horn during stops and starts.

You might notice they’ve typed the machine’s name in a completely different way, and doubled it up to boot, rather like writing about an “automated teller machine ATM”. You should definitely notice that they’re now passing the buck on the mandatory honking, calling out federal regulations for that. I’m sure the nearby residents will be comforted to know they can blame Washington, rather than local officials, while being annoyed in the wee hours.

Finally, friend-of-the-site Don H. shared a tangential story of his own time dealing with MBTA construction, many moons ago.

Having spent my formative years in a quasi-Animal House triple-decker on College Ave many decades ago, this whole project also reminds me of the Red Line extension in the 80s. (That really dates me.) Harvard Square itself was that era’s Big Dig ground zero. Not a month went by without the construction company either chopping it up or subsequently repaving it, all while routing traffic through every available back street, alley, and store lobby to make room. At one point they literally applied the jack hammers to still-warm *week old* asphalt. We could only conclude that the construction crew didn’t like hacking through tough old road surface so they instead kept it fresh, with the smooth feel of cutting through brownies fresh out of the oven.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this bonus yellow Multipurpose Machine content. If you’ll excuse me, I’m suddenly craving a warm baked good.


  1. As always, the video is archived here. ↩︎