The MBTA’s commuter rail service was “not acceptable” the day after last week’s snowstorm, the MBTA’s general manager said Monday, while noting that extreme cold can create unpredictable failures.
“Some of the things that occurred on Friday could have been avoided,” MBTA General Manager Luis Ramírez told reporters after a control board meeting.
The core T service seems to have improved this winter, according to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, although he and Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler both cast a critical eye towards the railway that services suburbs and outlying cities.
“It seemed like that unlike two years ago we had a really different situation in terms of the operation and it seemed to – although with some snags – operate fairly well. Relative to the commuter rail, I don’t think I can give them as good a grade, shall we say, in terms of their operation,” DeLeo told reporters after meeting with Chandler and Gov. Charlie Baker. The Winthrop Democrat said, “I think the commuter rail still has some homework to do.”
“For my people, that’s very important,” Chandler chimed in. She said, “They weren’t happy.”
Asked whether she would do anything about that now that she presides over the Senate, the Worcester Democrat said, “We’ll see.”
In contrast to subway service that was on time 73 percent and buses that showed up on time 64 percent, commuter rail trains were only on time 37 percent of the time Friday, the day after the so-called bombogenesis storm.
Asked if that was acceptable, Ramírez said, “Absolutely not.” However the former business executive hired to take over the T in September opined that the nasty winter weather can have unpredictable effects on all kinds of infrastructure.
“I can’t predict when my pipes are going to burst in my own house when we get this kind of weather,” Ramírez said. “So it really is something that all the infrastructures have a lot of stress during these times, and we do our best to keep them running and we make investments to make them more resilient.”
In addition to the wind and snow, coastal areas were pounded with seawater breaching beaches, and Keolis Commuter Services – the T’s commuter rail vendor – said flooding caused problems for North Shore commuters that will continue into Tuesday.
“The storm was certainly very challenging, with the combination of the historically low temperatures, sustained high winds, heavy snow and tidal surges. Our team worked tirelessly both before and throughout the storm to battle these conditions and keep passengers moving. We deployed the plans we had prepared in advance, however, we’re reviewing with the MBTA where we can improve to deliver a better response to severe weather,” Keolis spokesman Tory Mazzola said in a statement. “Equipment levels are strong, and we are working quickly to resolve extensive damage to signaling systems and switches caused during the storm. Specifically, the historic tidal surge caused track circuit failures on the Newburyport and Rockport lines, which is likely to continue impacting service on this route for approximately the next 24 hours. We expect to operate an increasingly resilient and punctual service over the coming days.”
MBTA officials spent much of Monday’s meeting explaining how they had employed new approaches to handle the biggest winter weather challenge since unrelenting snow and cold knocked out train service three years ago. Keolis did not make a presentation to the board Monday about its recent performance.
Asked to grade the T’s performance, Transportation Secretary Pollack gave it an “uncomplete” because the winter isn’t over, while also drawing a contrast between the recent reliability of the subway and the commuter rail – which traverses much longer distances to more remote corners of eastern and central Massachusetts.
“The next day people should be able to commute. We were able to do that on the Red and the Orange and the Blue and the Green lines. The commuter rail was not, so next time we have to do better on that,” Pollack said.
T workers responded swiftly to rails cracked by the cold, and Orange Line trains that had been sidelined by the elements were fixed in time for service Monday morning, Pollack said.
“This morning for the morning rush every single one of those Orange Line trains got fixed over the weekend. That’s what I grade based on,” Pollack told reporters.
In a Sunday night update, the MBTA advised customers to allow for an extra 15 to 20 minutes for their Monday morning commutes.
“In extremely frigid conditions, hundreds of MBTA employees and contractors have been working non-stop to keep the system functioning,” the T said in the email.
Jay Gonzalez, a Democrat who is running for governor, criticized T service, telling the transit system’s control board that it appeared to be “in a state of chaos” on Monday morning.
With warmer weather expected later this week, roads and transit systems will need to handle snow melt, Pollack told reporters.
“We need to anticipate a foot of snow melting as the temperatures rise, and get ahead of that,” Pollack said.