The MBTA commuter rail system can perform better than it has in the last ten years. Since 2003, when private rail firm Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. began running the trains under a contract with the T, passengers have suffered through long weather delays in the winter and broken air conditioning in the summer. During bad stretches, frequent cancellations often left riders fuming.
These woes weren’t all MBCR’s fault. The company rightfully points to big on-time improvements over the last few years. But as the contract expires and the T mulls what to do next, the agency owes it to riders to demand more reliable performance in the next contract. That should include stiffer penalties if performance lags, but it should also involve extra incentives for the winning contractor to invest in locomotives and coaches. Under the current contract, the MBTA provides that equipment, but the perennially cash-strapped agency has failed to supply promised new locomotives that would have increased reliability. A private contractor could upgrade the system’s rolling stock more quickly and allow the sprawling MBTA to focus on its myriad other troubles.