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Green Line Extension was shut for four hours because of new problem on Friday

Passengers forced to walk along the tracks

About 100 people were evacuated from a train on the Green Line Extension on Friday.Diti Kohli/Globe Staff

The MBTA shut down train service on the entire Green Line Extension Friday afternoon and forced some riders to walk along the tracks after a problem with the overhead electrical system, an extraordinary disruption just one day after officials revealed widespread track problems on the newest subway line.

A train’s pantograph, the part that connects to the overhead electrical wires, failed at around 3:30 p.m., according to T spokesperson Joe Pesaturo, shutting the line for about four hours until crews repaired a “segment of the overhead catenary system where the trolley’s pantograph failed.”

At around 7:30 p.m. the agency announced that regular service had resumed and buses that had shuttled passengers were being phased out. Pesaturo added later that the extension will remain in service through the weekend.

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Earlier, at least one train was stopped between Lechmere and East Somerville stations for more than an hour before T employees evacuated all of the passengers, perhaps 100 people, and walked them along the tracks to exit, according to a Globe reporter who was on board at the time.

Friday’s shutdown was the latest headache for riders of the extension, who have endured shutdowns over several weekends and slow zones that force trains to travel at walking pace. The extension fully opened less than a year ago.

On Thursday, MBTA general manager Phillip Eng announced that around 80 percent of the Medford branch and 50 percent of the Union Square branch will have to be repaired because of problems with the project’s construction. As of now, the defects don’t require speed restrictions, but the track gauge — the distance between the rails — is outside construction specifications and needs to be fixed, Eng said.

The root of the track problem, Eng said, appears to be the ties, the wood supports that lay perpendicular to the rails, which each have two metal plates that hold the rails in place and determine the gauge between the rails. In most areas, the plates are in the wrong spot, outside what was called for in the contract, Eng said. The first warnings about incorrect gauge came to the T’s attention as far back as April 2021, Eng said.

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“That’s a situation I frankly have never see before,” said Robert Halstead, a New York-based railroad accident reconstruction expert with Ironwood Technologies. “That is far outside generally accepted industry practice.”

This widespread problem has caused inconveniences for riders in recent months.

Geometry scans, which measure the gauge, have flagged some areas of track as below the gauge required for full speed travel, including last month when the T implemented 3-mile-per-hour speed restrictions on stretches of track covering more than a mile. Scans can be imprecise, Eng said.

“When you run the geometry track car, you’re talking very minute calibrations that could on one run [show] perhaps it’s OK, another run [show] that you need to take immediate action,” he said. “I want to bring them back to what the contract requires. Because if you leave them at borderline, we can be continuing to do this on a regular basis. And that’s not what I want as an owner. And that’s not what the public deserves.”

The revelations about the tracks stunned advocates and other observers..

“This level of dysfunction and irresponsibility defies explanation,” said Seth Gadbois, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, the group that elicited the state’s promise to build the Green Line Extension in 1990, and then sued in 2005, accusing officials of stalling the project.

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Kate Dineen, chief executive of A Better City, a business and transit advocacy group, called the revelations “extremely concerning.”

“We welcome General Manager Eng’s transparency and commitment to developing a permanent fix within the current project scope and cost,” she said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to support the General Manager and his team as they work to catalyze a culture shift within the agency to ensure that both problems and solutions are swiftly identified.”

The scope of the problem is vast, Eng acknowledged. He said the consortium of construction companies that built the extension will be held accountable for the fixes.

Eng also said he has installed new leadership over the Green Line Extension. Pesaturo said two people with senior roles on the extension project were no longer employed as of Thursday.

Jarred Johnson, executive director of the advocacy group TransitMatters, applauded the T putting in new leadership.

“We’ve got to make sure . . . there’s a culture where issues get reported,” he said. “Mistakes happen, issues happen, but it’s about how quickly are they addressed and that we aren’t hiding things from the public, and the agency is building trust at a critical time it needs to restore trust with riders.”

Governor Maura Healey, who took office in January and later appointed Eng, said Thursday that “senior MBTA officials under the previous administration knew about issues with the Green Line Extension tracks years ago and did not disclose them to our administration or address them on their watch.”

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Eng has said he had “no indication” that there was a rush to open the project on behalf of former governor Charlie Baker.

Jim Conroy, a spokesperson for Baker, said in a statement Thursday that the governor’s office “was never informed of the gauging issues with GLX and Governor Baker hopes that MBTA and the contractors involved will address these issues as soon as possible.”

Riders on the Green Line Extension expressed frustration Friday before the extension was shut down.

Leandra, a rider at the Magoun Square stop who did not want to give her last name, lives in Somerville and takes the Green Line to work in Boston. She works near Government Center, and was in disbelief when she about the track issues on the extension.

“I find it funny. I mean, it’s not funny. It’s more just like — comical, that something that cost that much money could be done so wrong,” she said. “It just seems like that’s . . . very Boston.”

Emily Sweeney of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Taylor Dolven can be reached at taylor.dolven@globe.com. Follow her @taydolven. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her @lauracrimaldi. Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her @ditikohli_.