Q&A: Boston University Student Builds Green Line Train Out of Legos

It took three hours to build a model train that most likely runs better than the MBTA's real-life version.

Photo via Elvin Wong

Photo via Elvin Wong

Since he left school for the summer, Boston University student Elvin Wong has had a lot of time on his hands, so he decided to kick off his vacation by reminiscing about the city, and build an accurate replica of an MBTA Green Line trolley.

Wong spent hours constructing the tiny version of the train, both inside and out (including a trolley conductor), before sharing it with the Boston community online. The advertising and management student, who is home in California for the next few months, says he built the mini-train from blocks based on both memory from riding the train, and from Google images of a newer version of the vehicle.

On Monday, Wong took his project a step further and submitted an official entry to Lego’s CUOSSOO contest, where homemade projects that get enough support from users online have the potential to become part of the company’s product line. Wong said he is trying to build support from the community so that the replica becomes part of the Lego world. Based on the positive feedback he received for the Green Line toy, Wong also wants to make other trains based off of the MBTA’s red, orange, and blue lines, and turn them into products that Lego could sell to everyone.

Boston magazine caught up with Wong while he relaxed at home during his summer vacation to ask why he would want to be reminded of the Green Line, even when he doesn’t have to be anywhere near it.

How long did it take you to build a replica of a Green Line trolley?

It took about three hours to lay out the base of the train and pick out the right pieces from my old bin of Lego bricks, mixed in with older sets I own. After that, it took about another two hours to assemble the parts. All the while, I had to rebuild parts of it when I ran into, say, a shortage of a particular block.

Where did you get all the pieces, and did you have a model to look at when building it?

I had these pieces for many years, the most recent set probably about six years ago. They’ve been mostly stored away since the end of middle school. I referred to a picture of a newer (Type 8) Green Line train I found on Google Images and memories of the interior while building the model.

Why the Green Line, and say, not the Orange line?

As a BU student, I would say the main reason is because the Green Line is an everyday sight for me. Along with that, I take it a few times a week to get to and from my internship, so it’s something that always has been in my life the past few months. I also think I’ve only been on the Orange Line only once. I thought about building a Red Line train at first, also, since it’s easier to build as a shape, but I didn’t have many red blocks in my bins. Neither did I have any orange ones. I guess it all came down to the fact that I owned pieces from a Lego train set that happened to be green.

What has the reaction been from people?

Among my friends and on Facebook, [people] have been just saying that they’re dying to play with Legos again. On [Boston’s Reddit page], most of them are cracking jokes in the comments about the Green Line itself, such as how the model is at [a different location] and not at a station—just like the actual train. Anyone who regularly rides it would get that immediately.

Do you make a lot of things from Legos?

Legos used to be the only toy I played with, and [they were] a big part of my childhood. I kept a little city going and rebuilt it every once in awhile to keep things interesting. Ever since high school, however, I haven’t been building and the bricks had been kept away. I guess this [project] was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, since this summer break was literally the first time I didn’t have anything to do at home, and since SAT’s and college applications are all behind me now. With this [project] and all of this response, however, I’d love to get building again, perhaps one train for each line when I can get more blocks.

Do you think riding a Lego Green Line train is safer than an actual Green Line train?

Well, since the train isn’t on the tracks right now like the real Green Line, I would say no. But on the bright side, I haven’t had any thing randomly come off the train so I guess it isn’t as bad as the actual thing (laughs).

Was it frustrating making this model?

It definitely was. I wanted to mimic the real train as much as possible and include the two elevated ends with a low-floor center. Making that all work was a challenge because that meant some places were not built as strong as the rest, and I frequently had the model split into three while building it, just like in real life. Also, since I worked with only the bricks I had, I had to take a few creative liberties or substitute with other bricks and sacrifice accuracy.

So what now? More trains?

I want to mention Reddit user Taytay38, who told me about Lego CUUSOO, where with the right amount of support and crowdsourcing, this model, it can become an official Lego product. It would be awesome to have an official MBTA Lego series, and I’m sure that [Reddit Boston] would like it too! I’ll be looking into doing that if possible.

Photo via Elvin Wong

Photo via Elvin Wong

Photo via Elvin Wong

Photo via Elvin Wong