Four weeks after the MBTA’s subway system nearly ground to a halt when the agency couldn’t account for some safety problems, slow zones still cover about 25 percent of its tracks, the T’s dashboard shows. And the agency has provided little information about why.
The T took the unprecedented step to slow the entire subway system to a top speed of 25 miles per hour — down from 40 miles per hour — on March 9 when it could not account for track defects found by its state oversight agency, the Department of Public Utilities. Since then, the T has said that six private companies and its own crews are working to account for all of the defects.
As parts of track are reviewed and the locations of defects are verified, speed restrictions are lifted except in areas with problems. The percentage of Red, Orange, Green, and Blue Line tracks with slow zones has hovered around 25 percent for most of the last month, according to the T’s dashboard, up from around 8 percent on Feb. 28.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail that the T is “currently undertaking rigorous validation work,” and has hired Charles O’Reilly to “conduct a comprehensive review of the MBTA’s track safety inspection procedures, record keeping practices, and documentation of planning and implementation of corrective activities.”
O’Reilly’s LinkedIn profile shows he worked at the T from 2005 to 2007, and was most recently the president and chief operating officer at one of the six firms the T recently hired to do the validation work. Pesaturo said the six firms have not billed the T for their services yet.
Pesaturo did not provide information about how many defects the T has found that it didn’t know about before or about why the track defects weren’t properly verified before the DPU’s inspection in early March.
Maria Hardiman, a spokeswoman for the DPU, said her agency “continues to receive updates from the MBTA on its progress in identifying and rectifying safety issues, and DPU Rail Transit Safety staff continue to observe the processes in the field used by the MBTA to conduct track inspections.”
A round trip on the Red Line was around 75 minutes slower on Friday than it would be if trains were traveling at full speed, up from around 40 minutes slower before the announcement. A round trip on the Orange Line was about 20 minutes slower, according to an analysis of MBTA travel time data by public transportation advocacy group TransitMatters.
The T’s efforts to repair its tracks and eliminate speed restrictions in recent weeks appear to have been unsuccessful.
On March 11 and 12, the T shut down the Orange Line for track work between Back Bay and Ruggles Station. Before the work, on March 10, there were six speed restrictions in place between those stations. As of Friday, there were seven. A shutdown of the Orange Line between Wellington and North stations for track work in the evenings from March 27 to 30 didn’t improve the number of restrictions there either; there were 11 before the work and there were 14 as of Friday, the T’s dashboard shows.
Work on the Red Line also appears to have been unsuccessful. There were three separate shutdowns on parts of the Red Line between JFK/UMass and Braintree stations between March 20 and April 6. There were 34 speed restrictions in that area before the work was done, and there were 38 as of Friday, the T’s tracker shows.
Last summer, the MBTA shut down the entire Orange Line for 30 days for track repairs that it said would eliminate slow zones in six areas. The MBTA’s dashboard shows all of those areas had slow zones as of Friday.
Pesaturo said speed restrictions are lifted about one week after track work is completed, but did not clarify why restrictions are still in place in areas that were worked on more than a week ago. The MBTA has more shutdowns planned on the Red and Blue Lines this month that it said will alleviate speed restrictions.
The MBTA has not given a public update on the slow zone situation since interim general manager Jeff Gonneville presented to the board of directors on March 23. The T’s new permanent general manager, Phillip Eng, begins his job on Monday.