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Orange Line shutdown begins

Saturday is the first full day of the 30-day subway shutdown to accommodate repairs

Crews worked on the tracks at the Wellington MBTA station in Medford on Saturday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Greater Boston woke up Saturday to a closed Orange Line, the first full day of the 30-day subway shutdown for a high-stakes repair blitz that is expected to cause delays and inconvenience while coinciding with the return to school, and for some workers, to the office.

The subway, which runs from Malden to Jamaica Plain, closed at 9 p.m. Friday and shuttle buses moved in, with 160 buses operating by midday Saturday, the T said.

“It’s not fair,” said Roslindale resident James Johnson, 57, as he waited for a commuter rail train Saturday at Roslindale Village Station. “We’re paying for them to bring us from point A to point B.”

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The bigger test will happen Monday, the first weekday of the shutdown.

“It’s going to be a disaster,” Johnson said.

Crews were mobilized Saturday and equipment, supplies, and materials were staged at Wellington Yard and three stations, according to MBTA officials. Work began on signal systems at Oak Grove and Malden Center stations. At Sullivan Station, materials and equipment are in place to repair the roof and construct a new canopy, the MBTA said.

The T is aiming to eliminate six “slow zones,” areas along the Orange Line where trains must now slow to a crawl, by upgrading thousands of feet of track, T General Manager Steve Poftak said Friday at a news conference. Within 5 to 10 days after service is scheduled to return on Sept. 19, the Orange Line should be significantly faster, he said.

On Saturday afternoon, Mayor Michelle Wu, a regular Orange Line commuter, spoke with reporters before taking a commuter rail train from Roslindale Village Station to Back Bay Station.

The MBTA has an opportunity to accomplish a lot during the 30-day shutdown, she said, but the agency must use the time wisely.

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“They have to get it done, and we are going to be pushing every step of the way to make sure that what’s happening below ground matches the amount of effort, heroic effort, that our teams have been putting in above ground,” said Wu.

Commuter rail will be “one of the best ways to get around” while the Orange Line is closed, she said. The service is free during the subway closure at stops within city limits for passengers with CharlieCards or CharlieTickets.

“It’s probably the best alternative for getting where you need to go as fast as possible,” she said.

On Monday, Wu said she plans to commute by shuttle bus, and try other options later in the week, including biking, commuter rail, and the Route 39 bus.

Monday also marks a mixed bag for Green Line commuters. On the E Branch between Copley and Heath Street stations, service is scheduled to resume after a 16-day shutdown to install safety system technology.

But the same day, the T plans to suspend Green Line service between Government Center Station and the newly opened Union Square Station in Somerville as it finalizes work to open the Medford branch of the extension project in November.

The Green Line will also reopen on Sept. 19.

In Medford, which is serviced by the Orange Line, Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn said Saturday that the city is bracing for road congestion.

“We are expecting gridlock,” Lungo-Koehn said.

Medford is home to Wellington Station, a busy commuter hub. Lungo-Koehn said she’s concerned about the possibility that commuters will fill shuttle buses at Oak Grove Station in Malden, the northern-most stop, and then head to Wellington Station with no available seats.

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The city is anxious about Monday, she said.

“We have to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best,” Lungo-Koehn said.

Melrose Mayor Paul Brodeur said Saturday that there are many unknowns heading into the work week and beyond. Melrose has three commuter rail stations and it borders Malden, where the Orange Line starts north of Boston at Oak Grove Station.

“We literally just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

On Monday, Brodeur said he plans to visit Oak Grove and some commuter rail stations.

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne on Saturday went to Government Center, where she posted a photograph on Twitter of herself and others standing near a sign directing commuters to shuttle buses.

Irene Wolf, 30, was one of those shuttle bus passengers Saturday, traveling to Forest Hills Station after shopping on Newbury Street.

The buses, she said, will likely inconvenience commuters on weekdays, but they may offer a more comfortable ride.

“Honestly, it might be nicer,” she said.

Hassan Halty, 61, who runs a honey roasted nuts stand at the Forest Hills station, had more concerns than inconvenience. He worries that he will have to temporarily close as a result of the shutdown.

In three hours, he only had five customers, about half the usual volume on a Saturday, he said.

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Halty said he is glad the MBTA is not asking him to pay rent for the month, but if he does not get more customers, he will have to shut down. ”I will suffer, that’s all,” he said.

In Jamaica Plain, which has four Orange Line stations, City Councilor Kendra Lara said she spent part of the day talking to residents about the closure. Her office created a travel guide for commuters to use during the shutdown.

Lara said she spoke with many commuters who said they knew service was being suspended, but hadn’t made alternative travel plans.

“My concern is that information gap,” she said. “Obviously we weren’t given enough time to plan for this.”

MBTA officials are urging Orange Line riders to take the commuter rail, which will be free to board at Zone 1A, 1, and 2 stations for people with CharlieCards or CharlieTickets.

The MBTA has provided more than 20,000 CharlieCards to municipalities along the Orange Line and will be reimbursing those communities for police details during the shutdown, Poftak said. He urged those who can work remotely to do so during the closure.

Shuttle buses will be available near each Orange Line stop from Forest Hills to Back Baystations, as well at Copley Station, and from Oak Grove to Haymarket and Government Center stations. Green Line service will connect north and south shuttle bus routes through downtown Boston between Copley and Government Center stations.

A separate shuttle will run between Chinatown and Tufts Medical Center T stations and Government Center Station every half hour between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. and between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.

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Wah Mui, 78, who went Saturday to Tufts Medical Center Station hoping to take the Orange Line, said he’s been out of town and didn’t know about the closure. A 30-day shutdown, he said, is too long.

“It’s not good,” he said.

Boston is providing free 30-day Bluebikes passes on the bike-share program’s website and app. As of Friday afternoon, more than 2,130 passes had been claimed, according to Wu’s office.

On Sunday, the Boston Cyclists Union is hosting a practice ride from Forest Hills Station to downtown Boston for commuters who are considering using a bike during the Orange Line shutdown. The event begins at 10 a.m. at Forest Hills Station, where basic bike repairs will be offered for free. The ride downtown is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., according to organizers.

State officials have warned people to avoid driving, if possible, and to take public transit, citing “major traffic impacts” expected in and around Boston.

Getting the word out about the alternative routes has been a challenge.

The MBTA has created 277 A-frame signs in English/Spanish and English/Chinese, at least 149 advisory signs posted on Orange Line station doors in English, and digital signs on 452 in-station screens in 10 languages, according to the MBTA. The T’s Rider’s Guide for service alternatives is available in six non-English languages.

The shutdown inspired some humor at the MBTA’s expense. Posters imitating MBTA signage appeared on structures with mocking messages, including one that urged commuters to “stay at your beach house” during the closure.

Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, said the MBTA didn’t create or post the signs, and staff have been instructed to remove the posters from agency property.





Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Camille Caldera was a Globe intern in 2022.Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera. Kate Selig was a Globe intern in 2022. Follow her on Twitter @kate_selig.