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Orange Line delays at shortest since 2019, says train-tracking group

Commuters wait to board an Orange Line train inbound into Boston from Oak Grove on the first day of its reopening. For the first time since the shutdown, roundtrips on the line are delayed less than 1 minute, according to advocacy group TransitMatters.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Delay times on the Orange Line have hit a new low — in a good way.

A round trip on the line, which underwent a monthlong shutdown and renovation this summer, is the fastest it has been since 2019, according to data analyzed by TransitMatters, a transportation advocacy group that tracks MBTA ride data.

Since Thursday, round trips on the line have been delayed 0.28 minutes, or about 17 seconds. Before the shutdown, commuters could expect a delay of just under six minutes. Total delays peaked around 27 minutes when the line first reopened, and it took more than a month before the trains accelerated, just barely, past pre-shutdown speeds.

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Seth Kaplan, a software engineer and volunteer on TransitMatters’ lab team, called the data “great news.”

“Based on our data, this is almost the fastest it’s ever been,” Kaplan said. “It’s promising.”

Kaplan said the group has used data collected since 2016 to calculate the average time it takes to travel between any two stations. It then compared this average to current trip times to calculate the length of delays.

TransitMatters lists only one slow-zone, a 17-second delay between stops at North Station and Community College, as still in effect. In a letter sent last month to Senator Ed Markey, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak wrote speed limits on that portion of the line were reduced from 25 to 15 miles per hour until “excess rail currently being stored along the right of way is removed” and said restrictions would be lifted by the end of October.

Poftak also wrote that additional work is necessary to bring the curving track between Tufts Medical Center and Back Bay Station, where portions of rail have been capped at 18 miles per hour, up to the line’s standard 25 mile-per-hour limit.

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The letter outlined additional speed restrictions at Jackson Crossover, between Community College and Sullivan Square, and on the Dana Bridge, which connects Assembly to Wellington. Poftak wrote that these remaining slow-zones were temporary but did not provide specific dates for when they would be brought up to speed.

The MBTA did not respond to multiple request for details on where slow-zones still exist or how long they would last.

Kaplan said TransitMatters’ current readings imply that there are currently no slow-zones in effect along the Orange Line, but said those figures are based on measurements that go back only about six years.

“It is possible that there has just been an indefinite slow-zone since 2016, that we haven’t caught, but we think we have a pretty good understanding of how long it should take on a normal day,” Kaplan said. “Trains can be going slow, and that can still, for us, be the average.”

But faster train trips do not necessarily translate to better service, and the Orange Line — plus the Red and Blue Lines and much of the bus network — still faces service cuts imposed in June.

Even as the Orange Line experiences unfamiliarly quick service, total delays on the Red Line approach 20 minutes for a roundtrip — the worst since 2019, when a derailment destroyed track infrastructure and prompted slowdowns and shuttle-busses.

“The Red Line has just been slowly creeping up,” Kaplan said. “The MBTA’s going to have to start answering some questions soon.”

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Kaplan said delays on that line seem to stem from ongoing issues of maintenance, noting that delays grew longer even before the Orange Line was shutdown, but it is difficult to pin down specifics with little transparency from the MBTA.

“It’s scary to see. We squash one bug and another one is creeping up in the meantime,” Kaplan said.


Daniel Kool can be reached at daniel.kool@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dekool01.