BOSTON — For Boston subway riders, it seems like every week brings a new story of transit woe.
Runaway trains. Subway cars belching smoke and fire. Fatal accidents. Defective station escalators. Rush-hour trains running at weekends. Brand new subway cars removed from service. Derailed construction vehicles.
The repeated chaos of the nation’s oldest subway system has strained riders’ nerves, sparked a Federal Transit Administration investigation and worried political leaders.
“It’s enraged. Anything we do to build more affordable housing or empower our schools, create jobs in Boston — it all depends on people’s ability to move around,” said Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, a Democrat who has pledged to “Free the T,” said during a radio appearance on GBH News, referring to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
Wu’s comments came less than a month before a 43-year-old Orange Line subway train caught fire as it crossed a bridge north of Boston on July 21, prompting a passenger to jump into the Mystic River and others to rush out of the windows.
And on Aug. 3, transit officials announced what they called an “unprecedented” step of completely closing the Orange Line for 30 days to allow for extensive track and signaling work.
Two days later, MBTA officials unveiled another four-week shutdown – this time for a recently opened section of the Green Line to allow for additional construction work.
Governor Charlie Baker, whose legacy is tied to the performance of the T, called the Orange Line fire “a colossal failure” and hailed the FTA’s investigation.
But Baker said it wasn’t all bad. Republican said more than 85% of daily rapid transit rides are on time, with a slightly lower rate for bus rides and a slightly higher rate for commuter trains.
“That’s the experience most runners have every day,” he said. “That’s no excuse for the mistakes and mishaps we’re talking about, there’s no excuse for that, but there are 600,000 trips a day that for the most part are going as they’re supposed to. TO DO.”
For beleaguered runners, however, each new mishap seems to add insult to injury.
Paulina Casasola, 24, relies on buses and the Red Line to get to work in Boston. One time the bus was so late that she took an Uber that was over $20. Another time, a late bus forced her to borrow a car, sealing her off with a $90 parking ticket.
“There are a lot of neighbors who are upset and have started knocking on doors to see how we can stop the service cuts,” she said, also lamenting the high fares.
“I can’t afford the monthly pass,” she says. “I just put some money in my account and hope it lasts.”
One of the most infuriating failures came in June when MBTA temporarily shelved all of its new Orange and Red Line cars, made by Chinese company CRRC, after one car suffered a battery compartment failure. .
The new cars – which were returned to service 10 days later – were built at a factory in Springfield, about 90 miles west of Boston.
New metro cars are supposed to be part of the solution.
So far, 78 new Orange Line cars have been delivered, about half of the 152 ordered. Twelve Red Line cars were delivered out of the 252 ordered.
“We’ve had delays due to COVID and supply chain issues, but we’ve made it through this,” said CRRC MA spokesperson Lydia Rivera, adding that the rest of the Orange Line cars are expected to be delivered by 2023 with the remaining red line. cars coming in 2025.
At times, transit issues — some of which even resulted in injury or death — seemed unrelenting.
In September, a 40-year-old Boston University professor dove to his death down a rusty subway stairway, and nine people were injured when a station escalator malfunctioned later that month. the. In April, a 39-year-old man died when his arm got caught in a faulty subway car door. More than two dozen people went to hospital last July when a Green Line train overturned another carriage.
In June, a collision involving two trains sent four employees to hospital. And in May, the MBTA recorded three construction vehicle derailments in three separate incidents on the system’s Blue Line. No injuries were reported.
The FTA has also documented reports of runaway trains in yards or during maintenance. No injuries were reported, but the agency ordered a “safety shutdown” in late July requiring safety briefings for employees who operate out-of-service trains.
To further annoy passengers, the MBTA has started running trains on a similar Saturday schedule on at least three of its four main subway lines during the summer.
The MBTA blamed staffing issues and said it was exploring “an aggressive recruiting drive”. The move came after the FTA issued a series of guidelines regarding the system’s “overall security program and security culture”.
Among the problems were subway dispatchers working excessively long hours – including 20-hour shifts.
A more complete report is expected by the end of the summer.
The region’s commuter rail service, run by French company Keolis Commuter Services, has also had its share of problems. In one incident, smoke billowed from a commuter train near Boston’s South Station, rising to an elevated section of Interstate 93. Keolis blamed a mechanical failure.
More recently, a commuter train stalled for two hours without air conditioning, forcing some passengers to open the train doors and climb a chain-link fence to escape.
The area’s relationship with the T dates back to the early morning hours of September 1, 1897, when Bostonians lined up to take the first subway ride in US history, beating New York City.
“People were still uncomfortable and nervous about hiding. The only reason you go underground is when you’re dead,” said Doug Most, author of “The Race Underground,” a story of Boston’s and New York’s subway rivalry. “They considered it a place where the devil lived, where the rats lived.”
For long-time commuters, today’s public transit issues are reminiscent of the unofficial MBTA anthem, informally known as “Charlie on the MTA” and popularized by the Kingston Trio, which recounts the story of an unlucky passenger sentenced to “ride forever” on the streets of Boston. .”
“There’s always going to be a love-hate relationship with the T because it’s an old system that’s really hard to modernize,” Most said. “For a city that’s so advanced in so many ways, it’s ironic that we have this system that feels like it’s from another century.”