Talking to Red Line riders

Claude Leonidas continues to make his weekday trek from Mattapan to South Station on the MBTA, undeterred by a critical report last week highlighting a huge backlog -- $500 million worth -- of maintenance projects needed to keep the system safe.

Other than the annoyance of delays and a lack of communication about what caused them, Leonidas said he hasn’t experienced anything where he felt his safety was threatened. “I still feel safe riding the T,” said Leonidas, who takes the Mattapan trolley and the Red Line to work.

State officials agree with Leonidas, stressing that the line remains safe. Gov. Deval Patrick took the Red Line on his way to the airport last week after the report was released.

While some MBTA commuters interviewed in Dorchester this week said they were concerned by the findings, many others hadn’t heard about the report or said they were more concerned about the possibility of train operator error or unsafe antics by fellow passengers than by the possibility of failing infrastructure.

“I still feel pretty safe,” said Dorchester resident Sean Gervais, who commutes from Ashmont to Downtown Crossing. “I don’t feel like it is the trains endangering me.” Gervais did cite signal problems that cause delays, but he said they are more of an annoyance than a safety concern for him.

Samantha Bachrach, who lives in Dorchester and rides the train to work in Brookline and classes at Simmons College, said she was surprised and concerned by the report’s findings but that it hasn’t made a difference in her commuting habits. “I don’t really have a choice,” she said. “There’s no other way for me to get places. Maybe if I had a car, it would have.”

Many T riders, like Dorchester resident Karin Rose, said they were unaware of the critical report and the backlog of safety-related maintenance projects it highlighted. Rose, who moved from Atlanta a year ago, rides the Red Line every day to her job near the JFK station. “I feel safer on the T than driving here,” Rose said, noting the prevalence of potholes and aggressive drivers in Boston.

Rose said that although she has never been in a situation on the train where she has felt unsafe, she now wants to do more research into the report’s findings. ““I don’t think they would purposely put people’s lives in jeopardy,” she said.

Tina Schaar of Dorchester, who takes the train from Ashmont to Park Street, also had not heard about the report but seemed unconcerned about it. “Nothing has happened to me yet.”

Schaar’s reaction echoed the thoughts of several others, who said they felt safe because they hadn’t experienced any major problems.

“You don’t want to think of these things,” said Rosemarie Barker, who commutes from her Cambridge home to the UMass-Boston, where she is a doctoral student, on Monday. Barker, who said she’d rather take transit than drive, said she was shocked by the reports’ findings.
Chris Stanley, co-chairman of the Ashmont Advisory Committee, said maintenance projects aren’t glamorous and he hoped it wouldn’t take some kind of an incident to get the work done. “Looking at the T is like looking at a sick relative – you just want them to get better,” he said.