Just how slow has the T become? At eight points along the Green Line, it would be faster to run than take the T, according to new MBTA data obtained by the Globe. In at least one spot, it would probably be faster to walk.
After months of obfuscation, the MBTA on Thursday released a complete list of the current slow zones on its subway system in response to a public records request from the Globe, providing the first full up-to-date picture of the condition of its tracks. The data show that despite years of diversions, the T has not been able to eliminate many longstanding slow zones, making commutes painfully slow and unreliable.
The T previously provided the Globe lists that reflected only a portion of the slow zones, often excluding many on the Green Line and Mattapan Trolley.
The full list illustrates just how often trains have to slow down across the entire system, where 70 speed restrictions were in place as of Feb. 1. The vast majority of those speed restrictions cite degraded track components, from bad ties and broken rails to switch defects and in one case, “unknown rail stress.”
Green Line trains are crawling at 6 miles per hour or slower at eight spots along the line stretching more than 1,500 feet long in total, according to the T’s internal list of speed restrictions. And for 100 feet near Fenway Station, Green Line trains have been moving at only 3 miles per hour since December 2020, the data show. It’s one of 13 speed restrictions that have been in place for more than a year.
T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said that the Fenway speed restriction is due to an issue with the power wires overhead and that the T “is working to develop a long-term, permanent engineering solution that will allow trains to increase their speeds.”
“To improve track conditions, rail replacement and other track maintenance work continues during overnight hours and on weekends to give crews more access to the right of way,” he added. “The MBTA appreciates its customers’ patience while crews work to make the improvements necessary to allow trains to travel at faster speeds.”
Slow zones are a widely used measure of a transit system’s performance and are meant to be temporary until infrastructure repairs can be made. Last summer, inspectors from the Federal Transit Administration demanded the T come up with a plan to lift its longstanding slow zones, including a stretch of the Orange Line between Tufts Medical Center and Back Bay stations that they found had a speed restriction in place since 2019.
Inspectors noted that the overnight window while the T is closed is not enough time for the agency to make the necessary fixes. The T subsequently shut down the Orange Line in an attempt to begin to address its track problems more aggressively.
Still, there are 11 speed restrictions — covering almost a mile and a half — on the Orange Line, because of track problems, recent data show, including between Tufts and Back Bay in both directions. Speed restrictions covered another 5.8 miles of track on the T’s other lines.
The MBTA has made progress in lifting slow zones in some areas. The Blue Line, for example, had five speed restrictions in place until at least Aug. 23, according to a partial list of restrictions obtained by the Globe. As of Feb. 1, there were no slow zones on the Blue Line, the new data show.
But in many cases, trains are slowing down in more places. The Orange Line had eight speed restrictions and the Red Line had 20 on Aug. 23. As of Feb. 1, the Orange Line has 23 and the Red Line has 27.
The MBTA has recently announced a series of shutdowns of parts of its subway system to make track fixes. Next weekend, the T plans to replace rail near Harvard Station that will remove a speed restriction on the southbound tracks, the agency previously announced. And next month, crews will do track work on the Orange and Red lines.
The Globe began asking for current lists of speed restrictions in July as data from TransitMatters, a transportation advocacy organization, showed that travel times were worsening. Estimates from TransitMatters, which flags slow zones after several consecutive days of increased travel time, have provided the only public glimpse of the system’s struggles.
The T’s release of the recent speed restrictions comes after the agency announced it would also make such information routinely available to riders by this spring.