You can’t blame wary T commuters for wondering if they’d be better off investing in cross-country skis instead of a Charlie Card this winter.
On Monday, the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board heard that the Red Line is already seeing some “performance issues” from so-called “residual dew” that froze up tracks between JFK and Braintree last week. The dip in performance is related to the dip in temps, despite an aggressive and expensive “resiliency” initiative that is now in its second full year — and will go into overdrive this weekend.
The T plans to shut down the rail service on the Red Line on Saturday and Sunday to finish installing a new third rail on the Dorchester leg of the line. (Shuttle buses will replace rail service.
“We actually have two shutdowns this weekend to try to accelerate the work,” Todd Johnson, the deputy chief of operations for service performance, told the Control Board, according to the State House News Service.
The T is hoping other measures will help keep the Red and Orange lines more viable: Johnson says the agency has doubled the number of plows affixed to Red and Orange line cars from 20 per line last year to 40 per line this year. Heaters have been installed at intervals to keep equipment from freezing up.
And more snow removal contracts have been ordered to be ready as needed. The Baker administration earmarked $83.7 million — most of it federal dollars— to make the upgrades over five years.
So far, T contractors are pretty much hitting their time-line targets in this second season of winter resiliency work. According to a presentation given to the Control Board, the work to replace the third rail on the Ashmont branch is actually ahead of schedule. And a smaller effort to replace rails at the Clayton Street curve between Fields Corner and Savin Hill— a tricky stretch that prompts slow-downs for trains— is on track. State officials hope to have this phase of the work completed by Christmas.
Anyone who lived through the winter of 2014 in this town knows that large parts of the MBTA system can be crippled by snow— and even cold temperatures. They also know that even in moderate weather, the aging subway fleet can be maddeningly unreliable, as evidenced by October’s incident when smoke began filling an Orange line train prompting a near-panic.
The T has hired a Chinese manufacturer to start building new Red and Orange Line cars— a total of 284. They’ll be assembled at a new plant in Springfield, Mass. But that facility itself is not even operational now. The cars aren’t expected to start rolling in Boston until 2019 at the earliest.
Hopes are high that the new fleet— combined with the winter resiliency investment— will eventually pay dividends. But it’s of little solace to the bulk of mass transit commuters who are confronted with the fact that a morning frost in mid-October can cause massive gridlock on outdoor lines.
Here’s hoping that the snow doesn’t fly until the T can finish its current phase of preparations.