The precarious spot in Allston where a Green Line train derailed this week hasn’t seen a major overhaul in more than two decades, even as other parts of the system have undergone significant upgrades, according to a Globe review of records and the MBTA.
Now, the T’s top leader says the agency is planning to begin construction ahead of schedule to replace tracks at and near the sharp curve on Commonwealth Avenue in both directions. The work could begin as early as next month and would represent the first major overhaul of tracks on that part of the B Branch since 2002, T spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said.
“We’re committed to getting this work done sooner,” MBTA general manager Phillip Eng said in an interview with the Globe. “We want to make sure we go in there and do it correctly and do it properly.”
The westbound train on the Green Line’s B Branch went off the rails near the Packard’s Corner stop while traveling at a low speed at about 1:40 p.m. on Monday. About 30 passengers exited the train safely, and no one was injured, the MBTA said. The B Branch passes through the heart of Boston University and ends at Boston College Station. The speed limit on both sides of the track at the derailment site has been six miles per hour since April 2022, the T said.
While the MBTA is still examining whether other factors might have contributed to the derailment, Eng said degraded ties in that area played a role. On Monday evening, crews replaced nearly 40 ties as a short-term measure, he said. Green Line service resumed there Tuesday morning.
The T is planning to set aside 12 days to replace the 800 feet of track at Packard’s Corner, Eng said. The traffic plan for the construction is still being worked out, he said. The MBTA stop is named after the section of Allston where it is located, at the intersection of Commonwealth and Brighton avenues.
T vehicles have previously derailed on tracks approaching the stop, an area known as the Naples Crossover, records show. On Aug. 7, 2017, a Green Line train derailed in the crossover near the curve, according to data reported to the Federal Transit Administration. Investigators blamed human error, and not track conditions, for the incident, concluding that a worker didn’t set the switch properly in the crossover, Pesaturo said.
Five days later, a maintenance vehicle derailed there while it was moving from one side of the track to the other, FTA data show. Investigators were unable to pinpoint what caused the derailment, Pesaturo said. No one was injured in either incident. The MBTA rebuilt the crossover in 2021, Pesaturo said.
Between 2014 and January of this year, there were 89 derailments on the Green Line, with the B Branch, which includes Packard’s Corner, accounting for about 18 percent of those incidents, according to a Globe analysis of FTA data. The T said more than half of all Green Line derailments during that period involved vehicles that weren’t carrying paying passengers and include 35 incidents that occurred in a rail yard.
Five years ago, the MBTA began implementing major upgrades to the Green Line by introducing new trolley cars, adding floodgates, opening new stations, improving others, and replacing tracks. The project is ongoing, and to accommodate the work, the T has sometimes rerouted riders onto shuttle buses so crews could have the tracks to themselves.
For riders who board at Packard’s Corner, the work sent them onto shuttle buses again and again, once for seven weeks in 2021. While the project has replaced 51 percent of the track on the B Branch, none of the service closures since 2019 have included work at the curve near where Monday’s derailment happened, Pesaturo said in e-mail.
It’s particularly difficult to replace track at the curve because it involves a special kind of bended rail and requires closing the intersection and coordinating with the city, police department, and contractors, Pesaturo said.
The service disruptions and deteriorating conditions have become the norm in the neighborhood, said Anna Leslie, director of the Allston Brighton Health Collaborative, a neighborhood nonprofit organization.
”For a lot of residents, it’s a rock and a hard place, what are you going to do?” she said. “This is your way of accessing your job, education, and required resources. It’s a public good that is failing the public.”
Boston City Councilor Liz Breadon said Packard’s Corner Station is in “dire need of repair.”
Pesaturo said the T replaced the track and ties at the station last year. This week, the stop at Packard’s Corner showed signs of neglect.
Green Line trains screeched loudly as they made the sharp curve on Commonwealth Avenue approaching the stop, traveling a little faster than a brisk walk.
The crosswalk paint is only faintly visible, and there are no countdown clocks or shaded seats like at two new stations nearby.
The cement barrier separating inbound passengers from vehicle traffic is crumbling, and the interior cabling is exposed.
”In Allston-Brighton, we have a community of service workers, students, artists, working-class folks who are using the system at all hours of the day,” Leslie said. “I would not be surprised if folks felt like they’re the last to be considered.”
The derailment was the latest in a series of setbacks for the MBTA, which Eng joined on April 10. Not long after he arrived, the FTA demanded the T improve worker safety on the tracks after several close calls and one incident during which a lineman was injured by a 2,000-pound weight on the Blue Line.
The T submitted a safety plan last month, but federal regulators rejected it as “insufficient,” and the MBTA turned in a new plan. Last week, the FTA provisionally approved the revised plan. The same day, June 9, the morning commute on the Red Line was disrupted for about 2½ hours after a mechanical problem on a train filled Central Square station in Cambridge with smoke.
On Wednesday, an FTA spokesperson said the agency was communicating with the T and its state regulator, the Department of Public Utilities, about Monday’s derailment. “Systemic track inspection and maintenance throughout the MBTA system continues to be a focus area for FTA’s oversight,” the spokesperson said.
A DPU spokesperson said the agency has assigned an investigator to monitor the T’s investigation into the derailment.
After the derailment, Eng took a shuttle bus to the scene from Kenmore Square and spoke with riders who had their commute disrupted. What he’s seen so far at the T has strengthened his resolve to implement reforms, Eng said.
“It has really just kind of made me more inspired to really dive in and roll up my sleeves with the team and rebuild this place in a manner that restores public confidence,” he said.