The work on the Orange Line continues on schedule and is 37 percent complete, MBTA officials said Sunday afternoon as Governor Charlie Baker toured the State Street station.
After lacing up a pair of hiking boots and surveying the rails from the platform, the governor said the 900 feet of track between State Street and Downtown Crossing that have been replaced during the shutdown offer a perfect example of why it was necessary.
“We appreciate the difficulty this creates for everyone, but the chance to get five years worth of work done in a very short period of time was a significant opportunity to improve the quality of service for Orange Line riders,” he told reporters on the platform.
The governor has taken heat over his management of the MBTA in recent months as a series of incidents — from a Green Line crash that injured 27, to a man being dragged to death on the Red Line, an Orange Line train catching fire, and a federal safety investigation — have culminated in an unprecedented shutdown of an entire line of the city’s subway system.
On Sunday, as he asked employees questions about the types of new track they were laying and peered over the platform, Baker seemed keen to show the riding public that he’s taking a direct role in making sure the work gets done, reminiscent of his hands-on approach to the system’s management during the so-called “snowmageddon” of 2015.
Baker said there are few access points to the section of the line between State Street and Downtown Crossing, which made doing track replacements during nights and weekends difficult.
The MBTA’s general manager, Steve Poftak, who was also along for the tour, told reporters he’s confident that his agency and its contractors will finish the work in 30 days as planned.
“We’re happy with the way it’s going,” Poftak said standing with a dozen MBTA workers in hard hats and yellow vests. “This may not look like a ballet ensemble behind me, but the amount of choreography that has gone into managing and planning a number of projects with a limited number of access points has really been extraordinary.”
Baker also said he’s confident that the work will conclude on schedule.
The track replacement between State Street and Downtown Crossing fixes one of the six slow zones on the line that the agency is focused on during the shutdown.
A poster that MBTA officials showed the governor broke down the agency’s progress into specific categories. For instance, the MBTA has completed 25 percent of its goal to replace 3,500 feet of track, 37 percent of 14,000 feet of rail replacement, and 28 percent of the signal upgrades at Oak Grove and Malden.
One area where progress lags is the replacement of rail fasteners that reduce vibration known as “Cologne Eggs,” which is only 14 percent complete. Meanwhile replacement of special track is 65 percent complete.
On the station tour Baker asked employees about the multilingual outreach the MBTA is doing, the progress of testing newly installed signals, and about how exactly the new track was installed and then connected with older tracks.
Baker was especially interested in whether the work is truly 24/7. Poftak said that there is a 12-hour day shift and a 10-hour night shift, so work goes on for about 22 hours every day.
Touting the advantages of the shutdown, both Baker and Poftak alluded to the possibility of shutting down other sections of the system in the future.
“We will be looking at other strategies to remove speed restrictions on other lines, but obviously, more to come on that,” Poftak said.
The general manager said that one of the major lessons the agency has learned from this shutdown is “communicate, communicate, communicate,” with riders and local government officials.
Several local mayors complained they received little information from the MBTA in the lead up to the shutdown earlier this month.
Above ground, riders said they’ve grown accustomed to the shuttle buses replacing the Orange Line but hope the train will soon be pulling in and out of the stations from Jamaica Plain to Malden.
Stepping off an Orange Line shuttle bus Sunday afternoon at Government Center after doing some shopping in Assembly Square, Shrijay Kudale, 25, called the ride “smooth” and “acceptable.”
“I just hope it ends on Sept. 19, and it doesn’t go after that,” he said.
Kervin Emile, who in his late 20s, took the Orange Line from his home near Forest Hills to Assembly, where he works in hospitality five times a week. On Sunday afternoon, he was on his way home from work and said the closure has doubled his commute time.
However, the buses are on time and run frequently. “I mean, it’s the best they’ve got,” he said.
Emile said would not be surprised if the closure was extended.
“Just getting to this point means there are big problems,” he said.