Slow zones still a constant on MBTA lines

Lots of MBTA passengers are raving about the long-awaited cars rolling out onto the Orange and Red Lines. Even better, the MBTA says service is mostly back to normal after lengthy shutdowns of the Orange and Green lines. T officials say the service disruptions allowed workers to complete five years’ worth of maintenance in just 30 days.

For all that, many passengers were frustrated when the lines first reopened in September, because the transit agency put in place a number of temporary slowdowns to give the new tracks time to settle. MBTA officials said the slowdowns would last days, but some wound up lasting for weeks.

In addition, the T has since established some new slow zones in places where it identified additional problems during the slowdown. The agency says those new speed restrictions could remain through the end of the year, as crews work around the clock to replace aging ties and rails.

“I know that it has been inconvenient for our customers and I regret that, but I have also seen progress,” said MBTA general manager Steve Poftak at a recent MBTA board meeting.

MBTA data confirm that Orange Line service is generally back to pre-shutdown levels, according to the nonprofit Transit Matters, which collects and analyzes the information from the T.

But not everything is getting better. The data show delays on the Red Line also have reached some of the highest levels since the derailment at JFK/UMass station three years ago.

Jarred Johnson of Transit Matters said he’s frustrated the T hasn’t provided more updates about problems on the Red Line. “We’ve had no answers on what the timeline is for any repairs or for any work to resolve those slow zones,” he said.

Transit Matters said it hasn’t been able to process service data yet for the Green Line, where the T shut down five stations for a month and other stations for six briefer periods.

But many passengers have noticed the new cars. The MBTA says the shutdown gave workers time to replace many older trains, something that required training and inspections, as well as software updates. So far, the T has rolled out 78 new cars on the Orange Line.

“I love the new cars,” said Julie Johnson, who rides the Orange Line on weekdays from Ruggles to Downtown Crossing stations. “It’s so beautiful. So neat. I’m a clean freak, so these are nice.” She especially liked the new rigid plastic seats, instead of the old stained fabric seats that were harder to clean. “This is the best!” she said.

But the T still awaits more than 300 more cars for the Orange and Red Lines. Those are part of a massive order of train car shells from China, which are outfitted by a firm in Springfield before going into service in Boston.

Largely due to the pandemic, the T is a year and a half behind schedule on receiving the rest of its 152-car Orange Line order. On the Red Line, just 12 of the 252 cars ordered have been received, and only one is in service.

For all that, Johnson said the service isn’t any better now than it was before the shutdown. It takes her roughly the same time to ride downtown. “I think it was pretty much the same,” she said. “I don’t see any change whatsoever.”

Still, Johnson at Transit Matters, noting that the T’s general manager, Poftak, is stepping down in January, said he hopes the new GM can find ways to finally fix the issues without another lengthy shutdown.

A version of this article was first published by WBUR 90.9FM on Nov. 14. The Reporter and WBUR share content through a media partnership.

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