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‘I just hope that everybody just stays safe out there.’ Orange Line travel plan will be tested during morning commute

Orange Line trains parked in the yard at Wellington Station as work to fix the rail was underway Sunday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Crashes, derailments, the occasional fire. These are trying times for MBTA subway riders.

But for already beleaguered commuters, the Monday morning trip to work or school may mean embarking into a new circle of hell, as state and local leaders warn that an unprecedented, month-long Orange Line shutdown for repairs will likely snarl traffic and cause gridlock across the region.

That work, which coincides with the closure of the Green Line between Government Center and Somerville’s Union Square also starting Monday, comes amid ongoing safety reviews by federal transportation officials.

The Orange Line closure prompted officials to roll out a travel plan to keep Greater Boston moving until the lines reopen Sept. 19.

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That plan calls for hundreds of shuttle buses, free commuter rail and rental bicycle rides, plus pleas for people to work from home if they can and to stay off the roads as much as possible.

For some commuters Sunday, those efforts were met with a mix of annoyance and resignation, as people girded themselves for a longer commute Monday.

“I have plans to carpool with someone else at the workplace, so it’s going to be pretty big, major impact on my commute,” said Sean Janneck, a junior at Northeastern University. “The Orange Line is not in a great state right now.”

The radical changes for commuting across Greater Boston also have local leaders concerned.

In Medford, Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn said she expects heavy traffic in her city, which is home to the busy Wellington Station transit hub, along with Boston, Malden, Somerville, Melrose, and other surrounding communities.

Medford will open an emergency operation center at police headquarters at 7 a.m. and deploy additional police details to direct traffic, she said in a phone interview.

“You are going to have a lot of people biking, a lot of people on scooters, a lot more cars on the road, buses, shuttle buses,” Lungo-Koehn said. “I just hope that everybody just stays safe out there.”

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The Orange Line stretches from the Oak Grove Station in Malden to Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain and passes through Medford and Somerville. Hundreds of thousands of people travel on the line every week — the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority reported there were 104,000 average weekday trips in October.

Following the April death of a man dragged by a Red Line train, the Federal Transit Administration launched a review of the subway system.

That federal probe also came after a Boston University professor fell to his death on a rusted staircase near the JFK/UMass Station in September and the death of a Wilmington woman whose car was struck by a commuter rail train when a crossing signal malfunctioned in January.

There have also been other serious incidents involving the MBTA over the past 14 months, including the collision of two Green Line trains along Commonwealth Avenue in July 2021; an escalator at the Back Bay Station that suddenly reversed at high speed and sent people tumbling backward in September; and a fire that broke out on an Orange Line train while it traveled across a Mystic River bridge last month.

In June, the FTA found that the MBTA did not have enough dispatchers to operate safely, and it reduced the number of train trips on the Orange, Red, and Blue lines.

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The MBTA, which closed down the Orange Line Friday evening, is encouraging riders to make use of the commuter rail, which will be free to people who have a CharlieCard or CharlieTicket within the service’s zones 1A, 1, and 2.

The MBTA is also providing free shuttle bus service between Oak Grove and Government Center stations and between Forest Hills and Copley. Riders can pick up the Green Line at Government Center and Copley to switch between the shuttles.

In Chinatown, a shuttle will circulate among stops near the Chinatown, Tufts Medical Center, and Government Center stations every half-hour from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Twenty vans will be available along the Orange Line route for those who have accessibility needs.

For bicyclists, free 30-day passes will be available for the Bluebikes bike share network.

US Representative Stephen Lynch expressed concern about the transit shutdown’s impact on Monday’s commute during an appearance on WCVB-TV’s OTR Sunday morning show.

Lynch said he has advocated that federal officials increase their oversight of the MBTA, though he also said Sunday that the FTA prefers to work with local officials.

“I would say that I’m nervous. I’m nervous ... about Monday, about what might happen there,” Lynch said.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who regularly rides the Orange Line to work, will take the shuttle Monday, she told reporters during a Saturday press conference at the Roslindale Village Station.

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She asked people to take their time and pay attention to changes on local roads due to the new shuttle bus lanes.

“For everyone who is trying to get to work, or school, or get around, just please be patient with each other,” Wu said.

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne said she and her team rode shuttle buses Saturday, and she was encouraged by “friendly and attentive” drivers who ensured that riders reached their destinations.

She called for the transit system to be free for the entire month.

That would be, she said, an “acknowledgement of the disruption this will have on people’s lives.”

When asked what his biggest concern for Monday was, Malden Mayor Gary Christenson said, “The unknown!”

“We are doing all we can to help mitigate that by focusing in on getting people in and out of Malden as quickly and safely as possible,” he said in an e-mail.

MBTA crews used the first weekend of the Orange Line shutdown to begin work at several locations, said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo on Sunday.

The projects included lighting upgrades at stations such as Forest Hills, Stony Brook, and Assembly; making roof repairs at Sullivan and Wellington stations; and demolition of old track near Wellington Yard. Nearly 1,300 feet of new rail was installed along the southbound tracks between Downtown Crossing and State Street by Sunday late afternoon, Pesaturo said.

“The MBTA asks for customers’ patience and understanding during this period of critical work on the Orange Line,” Pesaturo said. “At the end of the 30-day closure, the T looks forward to providing riders with a safer and more reliable travel experience.”

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Some commuters riding the subway system Sunday appeared to take the impending shutdown in stride.

For Carol Grau, who works at a call center in downtown Boston, the Orange Line closures mean a significant increase in her commute.

Grau, 55, lives in Jamaica Plain and usually takes the train from the Forest Hill Station almost directly to her job. With work starting at 8 a.m., she said she expects her commute to now begin around 6 a.m., an hour earlier than usual.

“I’m going to try to do some work from home, see if they’ll let me, but we’ll see,” Grau said. “But today wasn’t that bad. So we’ll see how it works out tomorrow.”

Bill Wasserman, 82, who exited a shuttle bus at Back Bay Station, praised the service.

The buses were clean and neat, he said: “They looked like they just bought them.”

He hopes that officials will improve posted messaging about alternative shuttle routes but wished people would give the new service a try.

“There are gonna be people complaining all over the place before tomorrow, but you got to give it a chance, and you got to get to work early.”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com. Anjali Huynh was a Globe intern in 2022.Follow her on Twitter @anjalihuynh.