“This is an unprecedented service diversion for the MBTA,” said T General Manager Steve Poftak during the briefing with Baker. “We have never shut down an entire line in this way in order to make sweeping improvements. But we’re doing this because it’s the fastest, most efficient way to deliver benefits to our customers. Rather than just a few hours on the overnight, we will have 30 days of 24-hour, completely unencumbered access to the Orange Line.”
Poftak also laid out some of the work that’ll be done during the shutdown.
“Over the next 30 days, we’re going to replace tracking ties across the entire Orange Line in specific locations, which will mean fewer delays and fewer unplanned service interruptions for our riders,” Poftak said. “We’re going to replace track in areas where we have existing speed restrictions and slow zones” at multiple stations.
Poftak also said that when service resumes, the “vast majority of trains that will be out there will be new trains.”
During the shutdown, Poftak added, “one of the options I really want to promote for people is the use of the Commuter Rail. We will be allowing all Zone 1A, Zone 1, and Zone 2 fares to be paid simply by displaying a Charlie Card or an MBTA pass on the Commuter Rail lines that connect to the Orange Line.”
The T also released a statement that said the work during the shutdown will include replacing over 3,500 feet of 38-year-old Orange Line track and tie replacement work that will allow for the removal of speed restrictions, improving travel time for riders; replacing two crossovers that facilitate the movement of Orange Line trains, allowing for improved reliability and future capacity improvements; additional track repair, tie replacement, concrete work, and more along the Southwest Corridor of the Orange Line; and installing upgraded signals and related systems at the Oak Grove and Malden stations to allow for better safety and reliability.
The statement said the T also plans a number of upgrades and maintenance construction work on additional lines this month and later in the fall of 2022.
On the Green Line, the statement said, track and Green Line Train Protection System work on the E Branch will occur from Aug. 6 through Aug. 21 and on the D Branch from Sept. 24 through Oct. 30. Officials said the work will speed up the completion of the protection system installation and track upgrades. New Green Line tracks, ties, and ballast, the statement continued, also reduce the risk of derailments and increase the overall safety and reliability of each branch.
“We’ve listened to our riders, and we’ve heard them loud and clear – bold action needs to happen in order to improve the MBTA at the pace that riders deserve. This 30-day surge will allow the MBTA to accomplish major and expansive progress on a number of priorities at the same time,” Poftak said in the statement.
Poftak had earlier indicated the agency planned to shut down the entire subway line to do track work and urged the T’s oversight board Wednesday morning to approve a big contract for shuttle buses.
The board meeting came a day after the Globe reported that the MBTA was considering a 30-day Orange Line shutdown.
“Obviously it’s already been well covered in the press, the idea here is that by shutting down a line in its entirety, it allows us to do multiple projects,” said Poftak. “It allows us around-the-clock access.”
The focus of the diversions, which Poftak said would take place on the Orange Line and the Green Line, will be track maintenance. The board approved a $37 million contract with A Yankee Line for “Orange Line Diversion” shuttle buses from Aug. 19 to Sept. 18.
The T plans to use 200 total shuttle buses, including 160 on the Orange Line at peak hours, Poftak said. “We’re also efficient working with our municipal partners to find the most ways to route those buses,” he said.
Poftak told board members that “buses will be free and the commuter rail is going to be an important component of the diversion service.” He said the T is working on trying to increase service on the commuter rail, and will allow those with a CharlieCard or MBTA pass to ride the commuter rail at stations in Zone 1, 1A, and 2.
The Orange Line runs from Malden to Jamaica Plain, transporting hundreds of thousands of people each week. The shutdown is expected to happen just as students return to class and many workers consider fuller returns to the office.
The average number of weekday trips as of October 2021 was 104,000, according to MBTA data. By comparison, average weekday trips on the Blue Line were 41,000, the Green Line, 94,000, and the Red Line, 125,000.
The focus of the shutdown will be track maintenance, which has become a focus of federal safety inspectors who have been investigating the T’s subway operations for several months after a long series of safety problems.
Since a Green Line collision in July 2021, the T has been beset by troubles: An escalator malfunctioned at Back Bay Station causing a bloody pileup and injuring nine people, a commuter rail train killed a woman in her car after a crossing signal in Wilmington malfunctioned , another two Green Line trains crashed and derailed injuring four people, and a man was dragged to his death by a Red Line train at Broadway Station after his arm got caught in a subway door.
The Federal Transit Administration began an intense safety inspection in mid-April and is expected to release its final report about the T this month.
In June, the FTA said it found that the MBTA didn’t have enough dispatchers to safely operate its subway, so the agency cut service on the Orange, Blue, and Red lines by more than 20 percent. Federal inspectors also said the T needed to fix and upgrade large swaths of its subway tracks.
The FTA found that around 10 percent of the MBTA’s subway tracks are under speed restrictions due to defects, including a years-long slow zone on the Orange Line tracks between the Tufts Medical Center and Back Bay stations.
The Orange Line is also facing safety issues with its train cars, which were put into service between 1979 to 1981. One of those cars caught fire July 21 when a side panel fell off and touched the electrified third rail, causing 200 passengers to flee the car.
In 2014, the MBTA selected CRRC MA, a Chinese company, that far underbid competitors to build an assembly factory in Springfield and deliver hundreds of new Orange and Red Line cars.
As of last month, the T had received 78 of 152 new Orange Line cars and just 12 of 252 new Red Line cars, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said on July 22. The company has said the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues are causing the delays.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has called for a more aggressive approach to fixing the T’s aging infrastructure.
“We’re at the point with the T that we can’t keep kicking the can down the road anymore,” she said to reporters at an unrelated event Tuesday. “We would work very closely with the agency to make sure that Boston is prepared to help support any additional alternatives and to make sure that the work actually happens during this period to have a real impact so that we would see that service improvement.”
This is a developing story and will be updated. Travis Andersen, John R. Ellement, and Emily Sweeney of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.
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