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MBTA commuter rail trains delayed due to power outage

An MBTA commuter rail train stops at Wellesley Farms station earlier this week.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File

An MBTA commuter rail train stops at Wellesley Farms station earlier this week.

For regular commuter rail riders, it had been a tough week. Signal problems, crossing malfunctions, and heat-related speed restrictions brought about consecutive days of frustrating delays and unexpectedly lengthy trips.

And then Friday morning the streak of misfortune continued.

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A power outage at an Amtrak-owned facility in the South End early Friday brought every train traveling into and out of South Station to a standstill. For nearly two hours, trains were diverted to other stations, or simply idled until the problem was resolved, leaving many passengers reporting delays that averaged from 30 to 40 minutes, and in some cases, stretched to 90 minutes.

For commuters whose feelings of frustration always simmer just below the surface, the delays were enough to garner outright fury.

“Terrible, just terrible,” said Mansfield resident Dina Platsidakis as she disembarked from a train that rolled into South Station more than one hour after her scheduled arrival. “I’m so tired of arriving at work late every day. It’s not fair to my employer.”

Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said the problem was caused by the company’s interlocking tower power inverter in the South End. Schulz said Friday afternoon that mechanics remained unsure why the equipment failed. Work crews made a temporary fix that lasted through most of Friday, Schulz said, and they planned to attempt a more permanent fix Friday night after the bulk of trains had completed their runs for the day, because it would require cutting more power.

The first outage came at 5:48 a.m., and for the next few minutes, power flickered on and off sporadically, said Mac Daniel, spokesman for Keolis Commuter Services, the company that operates the commuter rail. By 6:30 a.m., the power had shut down entirely, putting every one of the station’s railroad switches out of commission.

The power stayed off until 7:30 a.m. But the delays lasted long after that, as trains backed up on tracks waiting for a slot to enter the berth in South Station. In some cases, train conductors asked passengers to exit at stations along the route — Back Bay, Forest Hills, Ruggles, JFK/UMass, Quincy Center, and Braintree — and advised them to use the subway system to continue their journey into the heart of the city.

For Amtrak, the malfunction affected four trains, most of which ended up arriving 10 to 20 minutes late.

But for the commuter rail, more than 40 trains scheduled to arrive and depart Friday morning ran late, officials said. By 10 a.m., droves of commuters poured out of trains with frustrated looks, rushing to taxis and subway trains as they tried to make the best of their long-delayed journey to the city.

Platsidakis and others described packed commuter rail station platforms where increasingly skeptical passengers began to make alternate arrangements, deciding to drive to work or attempting to negotiate carpools with strangers.

“People were walking away in droves, just giving up,” Platsidakis said. She sympathized with their decision, saying that significant delays have become increasingly common. “I’m fed up. I’m at the end of my rope.”

On social media, T and Keolis officials were quick to point out that Amtrak was responsible for the problems that caused the widespread delays, but some passengers cared little about which agency was at fault, aiming their ire at Keolis, which took over operations for the commuter rail last week.

“I’m not sure what this French company is doing,” Platsidakis said, “but they’re not doing a good job.”

Another commuter from Mansfield, Margaret O’Connell, said the trip was “very, very delayed.” When she arrived at the station to catch the 8:45 a.m. train, she said, there were people on the platform who were still waiting for the 7:45 a.m. train.

“One guy on the platform said, ‘That’s it — I’m leaving, I’m driving in, want to carpool?’ ” O’Connell said. “But since I didn’t know him, I didn’t take him up on the offer.”

A Westwood resident who picked up the Forge Park train in Dedham said he, too, had considered abandoning the train and driving into work, but decided against it when he thought about the $36 price tag for parking in the city.

“It was horrible,” said the commuter, Ken, who asked not to share his surname because he works for the state. “I could hear the groans and comments coming from all the people waiting.”

“The thing that pushed me over the edge this morning was when we were already 30 minutes late,” Ken continued, “and as the train is approaching Ruggles, the conductor is punching people’s tickets. I’m saying, ‘Are you kidding me? You make me wait an extra 30 minutes in the station, now you think it’s OK to punch my ticket?’ ”

Ken has been taking the commuter rail for 15 years, and he said reliability has never been worse.

“If it’s this bad during the current weather, what’s it going to be in the wintertime?”

Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Kiera Blessing can be reached at kiera.blessing@globe.com.
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