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MBTA to riders: Add 20 minutes to your commute each way

Agency implements system-wide slowdowns of unknown duration as a precautionary measure

Passengers entered and left the Forest Hills station on Monday in Boston.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Local officials, transportation advocates, and commuters expressed frustration Monday after a fifth consecutive day of widespread slowdowns on subway lines into Boston — just the latest disruption to slow and snarl commutes in recent months.

“I could have a whole briefing every single day on the T,” Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said at an unrelated press conference. “It’s a feeling of ‘no end in sight.’”

As of the beginning of the week, the slowdowns — which cap speeds at 25 miles per hour, down from a 40 miles per hour top speed — affected approximately a third of the Red, Orange, and Blue lines and 100 percent of the Green line and Mattapan trolley.


Adding to the sense of outrage: The MBTA’s top executive, interim general manager Jeff Gonneville, said Monday he could not predict when the lowered speed limits would be lifted.

Rather, Gonneville advised riders to “give themselves an extra 20 minutes for their commute,” in each direction.

The reduced speed limits, which were implemented last Thursday after officials discovered they could not verify which parts of the system were safe for full-speed travel, significantly add to two other issues that had already slowed down service: widespread slow zones related to maintenance issues and reduced train frequency caused by a shortage of dispatchers.

As of February, the slow zones, some of which have been in place for years, affected 7.5 percent of the subway and trolley system. The reduced frequency of trains dates back to early last summer when the MBTA said it could not hire enough dispatchers to maintain its usual service level.

But the ongoing issues, persisting even after a monthlong shutdown of the Orange Line last summer, have riders and policymakers alike wondering if the system will ever again be dependable.

“We have been living in a state of emergency on the MBTA for years now, and it just seems like it continues to get worse and worse,” said state Representative Mike Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat who has been critical of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.


Jarred Johnson, executive director of Transit Matters, an advocacy group, said service disruptions have practical consequences for workers and families. Delays cause people to miss doctor’s appointments, face consequences at work, or pay fees for showing up late to pick up their children from day care, he said.

He also worried about eroding ridership. “There are people who are going to see the news and hop in the car and say ‘screw the T,’” he said.

The MBTA implemented the slowdowns last week following an inspection by the Department of Public Utilities, the T’s oversight agency.

On Monday, March 6, DPU inspectors found problems on a stretch of Red Line track between Ashmont and Savin Hill stations, according to MBTA and DPU officials. The “concerning conditions and violations of track standards ... required immediate corrective action,” a DPU spokesperson said.

The next day, DPU demanded the T turn over a corrective action plan for the inspected section of track and asked for reports documenting repairs to other problem areas, according to letters sent to the MBTA and shared with the Globe. But the MBTA could not produce documentation verifying that its tracks were in good working order, Gonneville said on Friday.

“There are some documentation inconsistencies and areas where documentation does not exist,” Gonneville said at a Friday press conference.


When the documentation oversight was discovered, he said, slowing down the system’s trains was the only choice. “The risks that we would run is that there could potentially be some form of incident with our trains,” he said.

At first, the 25 miles per hour speed limit applied to every inch of track on the Red, Orange, Blue, and Green lines, as well as the Mattapan trolley. (In some areas, including pre-existing slow zones, the trains were already running significantly slower than that limit.)

Then as the MBTA reviewed documentation Friday and over the weekend, the agency selectively lifted the speed limit on stretches of track deemed safe for full-speed travel.

How long the rest of the review will take is anyone’s guess. “I cannot project at this point when we will be lifting all of the speed restrictions,” Gonneville said Monday.

“The MBTA is performing a full and complete review of the circumstances that led to this situation,” the MBTA said in a press release Sunday.

The speed restrictions follow other missteps and calamities. In early March, a 25-pound tile fell from a ceiling at the Harvard MBTA station, missing a rider’s head by inches. Last April, a man was dragged to his death after his arm got stuck in a subway door.

Last year, the Federal Transit Administration directed the MBTA to come up with a plan to repair its tracks and lift its slow zones more efficiently, noting that some had been in place for years.


A spokesperson for Governor Maura Healey, Karissa Hand, said Healey had spoken with Gonneville and Transportation Secretary Gina Fiandaca about the speed restrictions. The governor instructed them to conduct track inspections “as quickly and safely as possible.”

Hand said the administration is in the final stages of a months-long search for a new MBTA general manager as well as a transportation safety chief, a new position Healey promised to create during her campaign.

Chris Dempsey, a former assistant transportation secretary under former governor Deval Patrick, said the MBTA “has lost focus” and that the systemwide slowdowns are especially disruptive.

“Imagine if the highway director came out next week and said the speed limit on the highway was 35 miles per hour and anyone driving faster than that would receive a ticket,” he said. “That is the scale of the change here.”

Even commuters who have become wearily familiar with delays expressed aggravation over the slow-running trains.

“We need to get to work on time. Twenty minutes is a lot,” said one commuter, named Marcella, who takes the Ashmont train to work. “There’s been a lot of mismanagement, unfortunately, with the MBTA. The service is really poor.”

As they waited for the Red Line to head to Kendall Square, Aurora Lavin, 23, and Hayden Sandt, 24, said they hadn’t known about the delays beforehand.

”There should be some signage or something coming into the T station,” Lavin said. “I’m surprised there are still delays at all based on the fact that we had the month-long Orange Line shutdown last year.”


At Government Center, one woman, who asked to only be identified as Karen, sat waiting for the Green Line on her way home to Somerville.

”The T is just a forever disaster for a major city,” she said.

At Massachusetts Avenue station, one man, who asked to only be identified as Mike, paced back and forth waiting for the Orange Line. He had just missed the last train and didn’t trust the display times to be accurate.

”They’re supposed to have done all of these repairs, it’s still a disaster,” he said. “I can’t get anywhere anymore.”

Samantha J. Gross, Danny McDonald, and Taylor Dolven of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him @JREbosglobe. Kate Armanini can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @KateArmanini. Mike Damiano can be reached at