The MBTA has returned its new Orange Line trains to service after quietly taking them off the tracks in December, nearly doubling wait times for riders, because of wiring problems on several cars.
During a routine weekly inspection on Dec. 26, the T discovered wiring on one of the cars was disconnected and hanging beneath the train, chief of safety engineering Steven Culp told a subcommittee of the agency’s board of directors Thursday. On some trains, the wiring pieces were coming into contact with the axles, prompting the T to remove those cars from service and replace their axles.
As of last week, all new Orange Line vehicles had been repaired and returned to service, Culp said. The agency is still working to find the root cause of the problem on the new cars but has determined they are safe. The wiring connectors and routing of the cables are being investigated.
“The vehicles are being inspected weekly to identify any further issues,” Culp said.
This is not the first time the MBTA has had to pull its new Orange Line cars from service. A battery explosion, derailment, and loose brake bolts, among other issues, have caused similar disruptions.
Even though the T said all of its new Orange Line trains are back in service, the agency continues to operate fewer trains than the 10 needed to meet its reduced service schedule on the line during peak hours, creating longer wait times for riders. MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said the number of available Orange Line cars can change daily.
“The MBTA is using all of the cars that are not out of service for routine maintenance and inspection activities,” Pesaturo said via e-mail.
The Orange, Red, and Blue lines have been operating with fewer trains and longer wait times since June 20, when the MBTA cut service by more than 20 percent in response to a finding from the Federal Transit Administration that it did not have enough dispatchers. Initially, the MBTA said the cuts would be in place for the summer, but the reduced schedule remains in effect.
The MBTA now has 27 dispatchers, the T’s chief human resource officer Tom Waye told workforce subcommittee members, up from 17 last summer. Pesaturo, the agency’s spokesperson, said the T is still finalizing the appropriate staffing level for the operations control center and “has been increasing service levels when the number of available cars and motor person staffing allows.”
Similarly, the MBTA has cut bus service repeatedly over the past year, lengthening wait times for riders, as it struggles to hire and retain enough drivers.
At Thursday’s meeting of the workforce subcommittee, chair of the panel, Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, asked T officials about progress toward hiring more drivers. But the agency could not provide the number of open positions. Pesaturo said via e-mail the T has 1,512 bus drivers and 350 vacancies.
“We’re holding steady, we’re making some progress, we’re not making the kind of progress we want to see,” chief administrative officer David Panagore told subcommittee members.
The MBTA started offering $4,500 sign-on bonuses and commercial drivers license permits for drivers last year, but its starting wage of $22.21 per hour lags behind other regional transit authorities.
Also at Thursday’s safety subcommittee meeting, the MBTA said that its Green Line train protection system — designed to prevent speeding and collisions — will not be implemented until June 2025, eighteen months behind schedule, because the company contracted for the project, German company BBR Verkehrstechnik GmbH has been purchased by another company, Swiss company Stradler.
Last year, the board of directors approved the T’s request to transfer around $45 million from its day-to-day operations budget to its capital budget to implement the Green Line train protection system by December 2023, a year ahead of the then-schedule.
Pesaturo said $6 million of those funds have been spent so far.
Taylor Dolven can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @taydolven.