The MBTA will shut down part of the Orange Line this weekend to work toward eliminating slow zones that were supposed to be eliminated during the month-long shut down of the entire line last year.
In a tweet Tuesday, the MBTA said it will shut down the Orange Line in both directions between Ruggles Station and North Station and the Green Line between Government Center Station and North Station “for work on the Government Center Garage” on Jan. 28 and 29. In response to questions from the Globe about why the Orange Line will be shutdown outside of the immediate area where the garage is located, T spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said crews will perform “additional track work, including the replacement of rail fasteners, between Back Bay and Ruggles Stations” unrelated to the private garage.
Orange Line: Service suspended between North Station and Ruggles this weekend, Jan 28 - 29, for work on the Government Center Garage. Passengers can use Green Line service between Government Center and Copley, and shuttle buses between Copley and Ruggles. pic.twitter.com/d7bSWpcalM— MBTA (@MBTA) January 24, 2023
“The work this weekend will be an important step in achieving our goal of significantly improving track conditions to allow trains to increase speeds,” said Pesaturo via e-mail.
This weekend’s track work comes just over four months after the MBTA reopened the Orange Line following an unprecedented 30-day closure of the entire line to repair the tracks and improve travel times.
At least three of the six slow zones that the MBTA said it eliminated after the shutdown still had speed restrictions in place as of Jan. 4, according to an internal log obtained by the Globe: between Back Bay and Tufts Medical Stations and between Stony Brook and Jackson Square stations in both directions, and northbound between Assembly and Wellington stations.
Travel times along the line are about the same today as they were before the shutdown, according to MBTA data analyzed by TransitMatters, a public transportation advocacy group. The group’s tracker shows the median travel time for a trip from Oak Grove Station to Forest Hills Station on Monday was around 40 minutes, the same as the Monday before the shutdown in August. The median travel time in the other direction was about 39 minutes Monday, down from around 43 minutes before the shutdown.
New slow zones have cropped up along the line since it reopened, according to the T’s internal speed restriction tracker. And travel times are further hampered by the MBTA’s cuts to subway service — more than 20 percent — put in place in June when federal safety inspectors found the agency was dangerously short on dispatchers. The cuts were meant to last only through the summer, but have remained in place since then. Recently, the MBTA has not been operating enough Orange Line trains to meet even its reduced schedule, meaning rush hour wait times for trains can stretch longer than 20 minutes, TransitMatters’ tracker shows.
It’s not just the Orange Line that’s painfully slow. There are even more speed restrictions in place on the Red Line, according to the T’s internal log. In 13 zones across the line, trains have to slow down to 10 miles per hour, the internal log shows. TransitMatters estimates that a round trip on the Red Line is more than 21 minutes slower this week than it would be if trains were traveling at full speed, more than twice as slow as it was just six months ago.
This summer, federal inspectors issued a scathing report about widespread defects on the MBTA’s subway tracks and urged the agency to fix longstanding infrastructure issues.
A spokesperson for the T said the agency will soon provide information about shutdowns scheduled for next month.