Monday, March 17, 2008

Train Guru George M. Sanborn

While I was in college and graduate school, I interned at the State Transportation Library. Located in the State Transportation Building, the Transportation Library was an effort that was supported by the MBTA, Mass Pike and Massport.

I had the privilege of working with George M. Sanborn. George, a MBTA employee, was the preeminent authority on trains and transit systems for Massachusetts and beyond.

I read in today's The Boston Globe that George passed away on Saturday. The Globe wrote a lovely article about George. I was touched by this article because George did not have any immediate family beyond other train enthusiasts.

George was able to take his passion for trains and apply it to his day-to-day job. While he was cantankerous at times, it was really nice to work with someone who was so passionate about their field. He would always take the time to speak to any train enthusiast - from a 4 year old who liked "Thomas the Train" through MIT graduate students. Everyone who was interested in trains could spend time with George to learn first hand experience about trains and mass transit.

I'm sure George is riding a train somewhere.


Rhea said...

He was super-helpful to me when I was writing a paper for a class at B.U. comparing Boston's subway system (the oldest in the country) to the then-newest system, in Washington, D.C.

Anonymous said...

I worked in the Transportation building for a decade ....George was a true gentleman. Sad....

Commute-a-holic said...


George loved students. He loved that there were other people interested in trains. He was certainly the authority on the history of the T.

Thanks for sharing your memories of George. I saw on Universal Hub that people feel the State Transportation Library should be renamed for George.

I absolutely agree with this 100%. George really was the spirit of the Library. Too bad they didn't rename it for him while he was still alive to appreciate it.

I really hope the state renames the Library in George's memory. It would be a fitting tribute to a man who loved trains.


Anonymous said...

Please e-mail the guardians of George Sanborn regarding the following.,

To Mr. Jeffery Sisson and Mrs. Marie Stephenson:

Like many people, I am very sad to hear of the passing of George Sanborn. Like many of us, I will forever be grateful for the time I spent with George. I am concerned with the lack of time that the Legal Guardians of George Sanborn (Mr. Jeff Sisson and Mrs. Marie Stephenson) have given to the final services of Mr. Sanborn.
George was known NATIONALLY for his efforts as a Transit Historian, Streetcar Conservator, and his seemingly endless supply of knowledge relating to transit systems. Mr. Sanborn has interacted with at hundreds of transit and railroad professionals in the boston area, in addition to his interactions with historical society members. While his current 1 morning service and viewing may work well for the retired folks amongst us, it does not allow for the many individuals working on a Saturday (as one would find at any mid-sized transit agency and larger) who knew Mr. Sanborn well to pay their last respects. Considering George's contributions to the Boston Transit System and the transit historical movement, It is an insult and an ultimate last Dis-Respect to Mr. Sanborn to trivialize the formalized celebration and service reflecting his life to one morning, especially considering that many of the people who would like to pay their respects to George are working in bus garages, subway tunnels, commuter trains and car houses on any given Saturday morning.
I urge both Mrs. Stephenson and Mr. Sisson to extend the hours of George's viewing to include at least 1 evening and preferably 1 afternoon on the day preceeding his church service.
George Sanborn loved to socialize and bring people together. What a wonder opportunity this is to really bring together those who loved George and share a common interest in transportation. What a shame and flagrant disrespect to a man who has given so much it will be if this opportunity is allowed to pass. I strongly urge Mr. Sanborn's guardians will take this into consideration and quickly rectify this situation.

William Lindley said...

I just heard the news.

He was a great inspiration to me during my college days at Northeastern, 1983-1988. Many afternoons I would be at the Transportation Library, persuing magazines, poring old maps, or dusting off old copies of Boston Elevated employee bulletins.

It was George that led me to be a transit advocate, by showing me how Regular People can make a difference. Since 1993 I have been a director of the Arizona Rail Passenger Association ( ).

Largely as a result the Association's efforts, of which I was a small part, Phoenix's light rail system opens this December. ADOT and the counties are seriously pushing metro Phoenix Commuter Rail and a line to Tucson. Sometimes it may take thirty years to make things happen, but good ideas win in the end, if you have stick-to-it-ive-ness (I can hear George saying that).

George's influence and enthusiasm lives on...