MEDFORD, MASS. (WHDH) – T riders expressed exasperation after news broke that the Orange Line would shut down for repairs for a month, with shuttle buses taking its place.
“It’s stupid,” said T rider Steven Yee who told 7NEWS he plans to quit his job in the North End instead of taking the shuttle bus. “I mean, the point of taking the train is to dodge traffic. The bus is going to be sitting in traffic. What’s the point?”
MBTA officials ordered the shutdown amid several Orange Line incidents, including a smoking train that hundreds of passengers evacuated out of the car’s window. The MBTA blamed the incident on a loose piece of metal.
The MBTA will shut down the entire Orange Line for 30 days starting in less than three weeks, a historic and disruptive undertaking that punctuates months of injurious and deadly incidents, simmering rider frustration, federal scrutiny and plenty of finger-pointing.
The MBTA plans to have 200 shuttle buses run the route, but riders will not need to pay fares for the shuttles. Currently, 160 buses are ready to roll, with the T announcing a $37 million contract for the service.
Tens of thousands of riders will have to choose between shuttle buses, commuter rail or other means of transportation.
“Happily, I have someone I love who will drive me into work because it takes an hour I learned today to walk from North Station,” said T rider Marie Botte.
The shutdown is expected to last from about 9 p.m. on August 19 through September 18, with service resuming on Monday, September 19.
“It’s unfortunate because I know it’s a terrible inconvenience for commuters, but I would say it’s better inconvenienced for 30 days than dead,” said Transportation Safety Expert Keith Millhouse.
Gov. Charlie Baker and his top deputies said Wednesday they believe the “unprecedented” step will allow crews to complete as much overdue maintenance work as they would in five years of weekend- and evening-only closures.
“None of this stuff that’s happened is acceptable, and that’s part of the reason why we’re going the distance we’re going to here,” Baker said, addressing a sea of reporters and cameras near the maintenance yard at Wellington Station. “I do believe this will be a major, positive and significant decision for the Orange Line and for the riders over time, but it’s going to be a complicated exercise and we accept that.”
During the shutdown, workers will replace more than 3,500 feet of track that dates back 38 years, install upgraded signals at Oak Grove and Malden stations, replace two crossovers that manage train movement, and fix concrete, tracks and ties along the Southwest Corridor.
Officials will also steer riders toward commuter rail routes that connect to the Orange Line, where anyone will be able to pay for a Zone 1, Zone 1A or Zone 2 fare simply by displaying a CharlieCard or MBTA pass. The Haverhill Line will pick up and drop off passengers at Oak Grove, Malden Center and North Station, and on the south side, the Needham and Providence Line trains will also stop at Forest Hills, Ruggles, Back Bay and South Station.
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak additionally suggested riders with flexibility opt to work from home when possible.
The project will also take aim at one of the pressing issues the Federal Transit Administration flagged amid its ongoing safety probe into the T, which Poftak described as the “impetus” for the new steps. Federal inspectors slammed the T for a backlog of delayed maintenance projects, several of which have left stretches of Orange Line track in such poor condition that the MBTA needed to lower the allowable speed limit in those areas.
“Decades of deferred maintenance — compounded by a lack of urgency even in recent years — has left us at a crisis point for the MBTA and the hundreds of thousands of commuters who rely on public transportation every day,” Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement. “A shutdown of this scale will be tremendously stressful for the region, but I’m hopeful that doing this necessary work now will save us years of disruption down the line.”
Once the work is done and the T completes a subsequent inspection period, Baker administration officials said they should be able to lift speed restrictions, which will cut down travel times.
“Rather than just a few hours on the overnight, we will have 30 days of completely unencumbered access to the Orange Line’s 121,000 feet of track, our 20 stations and the entire right of way,” Poftak said. “When Orange Line riders return to the line on Sept. 19, they will arrive at deep-cleaned stations and experience a ride that is significantly better than the one that they left.”
The T isn’t ruling out any other full-service shutdowns in the future.
“We don’t currently have a plan to do any other full line closure, however, we reserve the right,” said Poftak.
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