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MBTA general manager says Orange Line delays will continue into December in letter to Markey

On Wednesday, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, pictured at a news conference in August after viewing completed track work and construction on the Orange Line, said reduced speeds on the Orange Line could remain until December.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Slowdowns on parts of the MBTA Orange Line could stay in place until December, more than two months after the line was shut down for 30 days for track repairs.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak disclosed the information as he responded in a letter to questions from Senator Edward J. Markey about delays that have persisted despite the recent repairs.

Markey had requested information about the work necessary to eliminate the slow zones, where trains travel at reduced speed, that have persisted since the line reopened on Sept. 19.

Poftak responded with a detailed list of the steps still incomplete — and acknowledgments that work on some sections could continue into November or December and that there is no timeline for other projects.


“As riders continue to return to the system, I understand the frustration many of them feel,” Poftak said in the letter. “On behalf of the more than 6,400 hardworking men and women of the MBTA, we acknowledge that safety incidents have occurred and that our service levels aren’t where we want them, in part due to staffing challenges, that have forced us to make hard decisions that represent prioritizing safety above all else.”

T officials had promised riders the line would run faster after the 30-day closure in August and September, but MBTA travel time data analyzed by TransitMatters, a public transportation advocacy group, found trips are now taking longer.

In response to a request from Markey that the T publish its data about average trip times, Poftak said the agency is developing a travel time dashboard for its website that it hopes to release this winter.

Poftak’s four-page letter followed sharp questioning by Markey and Warren at a hearing inside the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in Boston 11 days earlier.

On Wednesday Markey and Senator Elizabeth Warren issued a joint statement in response to Poftak’s letter.


“As we emphasized during the hearing, clear and transparent communication must be a top MBTA priority in the months and years ahead,” the statement said. “The public must be able to reliably plan their lives around their commute, and not knowing how long their trip may take—or how long until their commute speeds up—can have real-world consequences for hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents. As a result of the commitments we obtained from Mr. Poftak, T riders will now have additional critical information they need to make informed decisions about where and how they live, work, and travel.”

“Riders will soon have a Travel Time dashboard to readily access how long a typical trip on their subway lines will take, and the MBTA must ensure that this dashboard is easy to locate and understand. In the same way that we check the weather forecast to plan our days, riders should be able to use the dashboard to more reliably plan their commutes. We also expect that the MBTA will meet its winter deadline for providing this information.”

In their joint statement, Markey and Warren called it a “small step forward” by the MBTA while acknowledging the agency “still has a long journey ahead.”

“It is frustrating that some Orange Line speed restrictions will remain in place more than two months after the conclusion of the month-long shutdown, despite earlier promises that the shutdown would quickly yield faster service,” the statement said. “The MBTA also still must work to implement the 53 safety actions identified by the Federal Transit Administration.”


Warren scheduled the hearing after the Federal Transit Administration released a scathing report in August that ordered the MBTA and its state regulator, the Department of Public Utilities, to implement dozens of measures to increase staffing, improve training and maintenance, and strengthen safeguards.

The FTA’s safety review was prompted by a series of incidents, including train derailments, injuries to T workers and riders, a collision on the Green Line, and the death of a Red Line passenger who was dragged by a train in April.

Poftak said in the letter that the T has made “significant progress in lifting speed restrictions on the Orange Line and expects to lift most others in November and December.”

During the Orange Line closure, the agency replaced 14,000 feet of rail and more than 2,800 rail ties, and it laid 48,000 feet of new signal cable, Poftak said. Afterward, workers continued making improvements, which have caused speed restrictions to remain in place longer than planned, he said.

Poftak’s letter included a detailed list of work still to be done.

On the Orange Line’s northbound side, track work at the Jackson Square crossover is expected to last another 60 days before the speed limit can be increased to 40 miles per hour, though the speed has already been increased from 10 miles per hour before the track work to 25 miles per hour.


At North Station heading toward the Community College stop, the speed has dropped from 25 miles per hour to 10, but the old restriction is expected to return by the end of the month, Poftak said.

Work is expected to continue through November between Community College and the Sullivan Square flyover, where the restriction will then be increased from 25 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour, he said.

The Orange Line has resumed posted speeds at Forest Hills, Ruggles, Back Bay, Downtown Crossing to State, the Sullivan Square flyover, between Sullivan and Assembly, and between Wellington and Oak Grove, he said.

On the southbound side of the Orange Line, speeds near the Sullivan flyover will gradually increase from 10 to 25 to 40 miles per hour as the work continues through November, according to Poftak.

Work will also continue through November in a narrow portion of the tunnel approaching North Station, where the speed will then be increased to 25 miles per hour, he said.

The MBTA is still developing plans for work necessary on curves near Tufts Medical Center, where the speed will eventually be raised from 18 miles per hour to 25, Poftak said.

Southbound trains have resumed posted speeds from Oak Grove to Sullivan Square, at Ruggles, and at Forest Hills, he said.

Emily Sweeney of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him @jeremycfox.