Goodbye, shuttle buses. Hello, trains.
The Orange Line reopened Monday morning just after 5 a.m., marking the end of the unprecedented 30-day shutdown of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s second most popular subway line.
Passengers returned to shiny, newly cleaned stations and all-new Orange Line cars, but experienced 15-minute waits for trains during the morning rush hour, leaving people relieved trains had returned but hoping for better service.
“So glad to be back,” said Wayne Haley, a 59-year-old construction worker from Mattapan, while taking the first northbound Orange Line train out of Forest Hills Station at 5:15 a.m. “I was getting killed with my car for parking.”
For the past month, MBTA employees and contractors have been working to replace track and signal infrastructure along the 11-mile line in part to allow trains to operate safely at full speed, an improvement that won’t come for about another week, once the new parts settle in and are inspected.
During the shutdown, shuttle buses replaced Orange Line service from Malden to Jamaica Plain, with the Green Line serving as a connection through downtown Boston. The diversion doubled and tripled commute times for riders, even though the shuttle buses were available at most stops every few minutes.
Despite some delays and complaints about trains moving slowly over recently replaced tracks, most riders welcomed the Orange Line’s return Monday.
For Haley, it has cost $25 a day to park on Huntington Avenue near his job site, plus gas, he said. On Monday, he took the train 15 minutes to Massachusetts Avenue Station. Now he can wake up later, grab a seat on the train, and relax, Haley said, his lunch box on the seat next to him.
“I missed it. A lot of people missed it,” he said. “I was heartbroken when they closed it.”
The highly anticipated return of subway service comes as the MBTA works to comply with dozens of required actions from the Federal Transit Administration, which began inspecting safety at the T after a long series of incidents, including the dragging death of a Red Line passenger in April.
Earlier this summer, before it was finished with a final report, the FTA ordered the T to address long-deferred maintenance on the Orange Line, especially in an area near Tufts Medical Center Station that had a speed restriction in place for years. The T’s general manager, Steve Poftak, has said the agency is planning more limited shutdowns of parts of the Green and Red Lines to get similar work done. The Green Line D Branch, which runs from Riverside and Kenmore stations, will close for three nine-day periods starting Saturday.
“At this time, no final decisions have been made on future diversions other than those already announced,” said MBTA spokesperson Lisa Battiston in a statement.
Several Orange Line riders Monday said they were willing to go through the month-long shutdown to allow for much-needed repairs.
“I would rather let them fix it,” said Karen Thibault at Oak Grove Station. “Rather than me being on the train and it catches fire or something.”
Thibault, 73, arrived at the platform more than two hours before her 8 a.m. appointment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to make sure there was time to change plans in case there was a problem.
She said the Orange Line appeared to be in better shape but she had no idea what improvements are being made behind the scenes. To her, the shutdown was an indication of what could come next.
“I think this is the first shutdown to come, because as they look deeper into other areas that they’re responsible for, they’re going to say, ‘Oh my God, we need to do this now, we’ve got to do that now,’ ” Thibault said. “Well, do it. Just do it and get it fixed.”
Not everyone was happy to see the shuttle buses go. Some riders complained the subway ride was bumpy and slow, and the seats were uncomfortable, compared to the plush shuttle bus seats. A trip along the entire length of the Orange Line from Oak Grove to Forest Hills Monday morning took one hour and three minutes, up from around 40 minutes before the shutdown, according to the TransitMatters trip time data tracker.
Poftak was among those returning to his normal commute on Monday morning. Around 7:20 a.m. he stepped onto an Orange Line train at Forest Hills, chatting with other passengers.
“Yes, I’m the general manager,” he told one man. “Nice to be back,” the man said. “We’re glad to be back too,” Poftak responded with a smile behind his face mask.
All along his commute from Forest Hills to Tufts Medical Center, Poftak pointed out improvements the T made during the month-long shutdown.
“Subjectively,” he said upon arriving at Tufts Medical Center station, “it does feel smoother.”
Before departing Forest Hills, Poftak told reporters everything was “going fine” on the Orange Line’s first day back in service.
“We opened up after 30 days like we said we would, which we’re thrilled to deliver on that for our customers,” he said.
There were some kinks to be worked out for Orange Line passengers Monday morning, with wait times as long as 15 minutes and as short as three minutes in some cases.
“As our dispatchers get back in the groove, we’ll get better at spacing,” Poftak said. “This morning there are some growing pains here, but this is something we’ll work through.”
Mayor Michelle Wu and Boston’s chief of streets, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, commuted on the Orange Line from Forest Hills Station to City Hall Monday morning. The pair praised the shiny, new-looking grips on the stairs and the station’s general cleanliness as they made their way down to the platform.
“New train, yes!” Wu exclaimed as the train pulled up around 8:25 a.m. All 10 trains running on the Orange Line Monday morning were shiny new models, according to an online tracker by TransitMatters. The more high-tech trains replace rusty, outdated trains destined for the scrapyard.
The train felt like it was gliding more smoothly along the tracks than before the shutdown, Franklin-Hodge said, although still moving slowly in various zones.
“We’ve got a way to go,” Wu said about train frequency.
Franklin-Hodge said the city will be watching to see how the track improvements the MBTA made during the shutdown affect delays, and whether or not those who switched to biking or commuter rail will stick with those modes.
Nearly 59,000 free 30-day Bluebikes passes were claimed during the shutdown, Franklin-Hodge said. The city is determining which of the temporary bus and bike lanes it put in place for the shutdown will remain.
“Ultimately, the last 30 days, it showed us what is possible when we reconfigure streets to support transit,” he said. “You don’t want to just have that all disappear.”
With as many as 200 shuttle buses off of city streets and the Orange Line back in action, Wu said, “We’re headed in the right direction.”
For the past month, Danielle Mandosa-Gori, a nurse at Mass. Eye and Ear, said she took the commuter rail to North Station to get to work. That was less disruptive than shuttles, she said, but came with its own challenges.
“Other people had it worse than I did,” she said. “But having to be held down to a specific time with the commuter rail is a pain. You know if you miss a train you’re going to wait 45 minutes for the next one.”
She said she was cautiously optimistic that service would be better than before the shutdown, but said it was a coin flip.
A 20-year veteran rider of the T, Mandosa-Gori said that “it wasn’t always so awful,” but service has been worsening for years.
“Before this shutdown was even announced, I was ready to throw in the towel and figure out another way to work,” Mandosa-Gori said. “I mean, there aren’t many options when you work in Boston. It’s either pay $50 a day to park or take the train.”
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