T chief, top aide tour JFK/UMass Station as Oct. shutdown looms

MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng and his chief of stations, checking out JFK/UMass Station last week.

With the shutdown of the Red Line’s Ashmont and Mattapan branches a month away, top MBTA officials last Wednesday toured the JFK/UMass transit hub, which is slated to receive a coat of paint and other upgrades during the closure, which is scheduled to start Sat., Oct. 14, and last until Sunday, Oct. 29.

The result, T officials have said, will be faster trains, at least on the Ashmont stretch of the Red Line, which includes the Shawmut, Fields Corner, and Savin Hill train stations between Ashmont and JFK/UMass. The Mattapan trolley line runs from Ashmont to Mattapan Square, with stops in Lower Mills and Milton.

Free shuttle buses will be available to customers during the shutdown.

The MBTA’s general manager, Phillip Eng, was joined on the tour by Dennis Varley, the new “chief of stations,” who started his job two weeks ago. Varley, like Eng, comes from the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), which is part of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

While the main focus of the October shutdown is “critical” replacement work on the tracks, T officials also see it as an opportunity to improve the stations, since they’ll be closed to customers, who will get herded onto free shuttle buses instead. JFK/UMass will get a fresh coat of paint, fixed stair treads and light fixtures, and better signage. The benches will be sanded down and re-sealed, and there will be a new layer added to the patchy floor to cut down on slipping.

A view of some of the rot that infects the station.

The work will focus on the Red Line platforms, which head to Ashmont and Andrew and Braintree, and not on the rest of the station, which has a busway that serves several lines and shuttles to UMass Boston and the JFK Presidential Library. There is also a separate platform for the commuter rail.

“We want it to be safe and welcoming,” Varley told reporters who joined the tour. “You come down and see peeling paint, it gives the impression that the system’s not well-maintained. If I didn’t paint the foyer of my house, people would assume I wasn’t maintaining my oil burner either,” added Varley, who, like Eng, has moved to Cambridge and rides the Green Line. “We don’t want to give that impression. It’s not what the people deserve.”
The MBTA can also step up its maintenance to get “more life out of our structures,” he said.

During the shutdown, temporary stairs will be installed at Savin Hill Station, as the MBTA works to replace them. A MBTA spokesperson said the agency’s goal is to replace at least two of the three stairwells, all three if time and materials allow.

“One stairwell has been demolished at Savin Hill that leads from the lobby to the platform. Crews are measuring, ordering materials, and fabricating the new aluminum stairway,” spokesperson Lisa Battiston said in an email. “Once this new stairway is in place, crews will work to demolish and replace a second stairway using the same process. Following the replacement of these two stairways and if time allows during the 16-day diversion, crews will also use the same process to demolish the third stairway.”

But the main goal of the 16-day shutdown of the Ashmont and Mattapan lines is to work on the tracks. The MBTA has been wracked by “slow zones,” with speed restrictions causing trains to move ever so slowly, frustrating riders and transit advocates.

MBTA officials say the half-month shutdown is preferable to the alternative of track work taking six months of nights and weekends, “if not longer,” according to Eng. “It’s just too long for everybody. There’s no really good time to be doing this.”

Ashmont and Mattapan line riders, who at times have waited on platforms for 20 minutes for a train, will “feel a difference” after the shutdown, Eng pledged.

While the trains on Ashmont and Mattapan will be running faster, they’ll still likely be running into speed restrictions elsewhere in the system. The trip between Ashmont and JFK/UMass will be quicker, MBTA officials say, but the times between JFK/UMass and their destination remain unclear.

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