Editorial: Red Line fix-up instills confidence

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MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng is shown during a September visit to JFK-UMass station in Dorchester before this month’s 16-day surge to fix tracks and other equipment on the Ashmont branch. Gintautas Dumcius photo

It’s been a tough week for state transit officials. First, they had to explain why new tracks to carry the Green Line into Somerville will need to be re-installed because the original work was faulty. Then, passengers elsewhere on the Green Line had to be evacuated from train cars not once, but twice, in a matter of 24 hours as overhead power lines snapped and failed.

It made the scene here on the Ashmont end of the Red Line seem somewhat functional by comparison— which is saying a lot, since at the moment, the trains aren’t even running here. It’s all part of a planned 16-day diversion to “surge” repair work along this end of the rapid-transit corridor that extends from JFK-UMass through Dorchester to Milton and Mattapan Square. (That’s right, Milton friends, you’re on the rapid-transit team with us, like it or not.)

The good news, however, is that the surge is working, according to the T’s new boss, Phillip Eng, who briefed the Reporter and the MBTA board on the project’s progress on two occasions over the last week. Most recently, he gave a presentation to the T board on Tuesday in which he praised the workers who have been toiling around the clock to hoist rails, fasten bolts, and spread ballast along the right-of-way— some of it in confined spaces in the tunnel that runs between Ashmont and Fields Corner. Thanks to them, he said, when the trains start rolling again next Monday, the riding public can expect a faster, safer experience – with no more “slow zones.” At least, not on the Ashmont branch.

It may be a few days too early to classify this diversion as a complete success. But there’s reason to be optimistic, in part because Eng and his team have done an impressive job staying on task and keeping the public informed. They were willing to call audibles early last week, like working with city officials to tinker with the shuttle bus route. When they encountered a ventilation problem inside the tunnel on the first weekend— they wisely halted work on that stretch, shifted gears, solved the problem with huge industrial-sized fans, and soldiered on. The result: Eng says the project is still on time. Meanwhile, with the stations empty, other crews are busy painting, fixing stairways, and installing new floors in the foot-worn older stops, like JFK-UMass.

Eng, a New York transplant, has been on the job for only about six months, but his command for what’s going on across the system is impressive. Like most things that are wrong, the major mishap on the GLX line is an inherited problem for Eng. But, to his credit, he has stepped up to explain what he knows and diagnose a fix— all while presiding over what seems to be a much-needed improvement here in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Milton.

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