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MBTA says it needs at least $24.5 billion to repair its troubled system

Caution tape was used at Harvard Station after equipment fell on a commuter in May.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

The MBTA needs a gobsmacking $24.5 billion to repair and replace its decrepit track, stations, trains, signals, and other assets, an agency analysis released Thursday shows, providing the long-awaited tally of how broken the transit system is.

The T’s repair and replacement backlog — which only covers updating the current system, not delivering long-promised upgrades like commuter rail electrification or climate resiliency improvements — is more than twice as high as when the T last calculated its backlog, in 2019. Then, the T estimated it would need about $10 billion in repairs.

In Thursday’s announcement, the T said its assets are deteriorating far faster than the agency is updating them. All in all, about 64 percent of T assets now need updating.


A train or station that is not in what is called a “state of good repair” costs more to operate and maintain and faces a higher risk of failure, the T said. But the agency emphasized that those assets are still safe.

The heavy rail system — the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines — will be the most expensive to fix at $9.9 billion, the analysis found, with most of the investment needed to upgrade bridges, tunnels, and power systems.

The next most expensive is the commuter rail system, at about $8 billion, with the bulk of investment needed for stations, followed by the Green and Mattapan lines — which need $4.7 billion.

MBTA general manager Phillip Eng said the analysis is “directly related to some of the challenges you see us facing here today.”

“We’re not going to sit on our hands. So it’s important to continue moving the system forward,” he told the T’s board of directors on Thursday.

After the meeting, Eng said he isn’t considering fare hikes “right now” to pay for the work.


Thomas McGee, a T board member, called the analysis “very sobering” and said a five-year, $9.7 billion capital spending plan approved by the board in July “doesn’t come anywhere close to dealing” with the agency’s needs.

He and Eric Goodwine, another board member, pressed T staff about whether the price tag could soon soar even higher and asked the T to calculate the cost of repairing assets that weren’t included in the analysis, but are on the cusp of being beyond their useful life.

“We can’t really understand what’s sitting there next year. Could it be $32 billion?” McGee said.

What would be the cost, he asked, of making the T “what we want it to be?”

The T’s $24.5 billion need is based off the condition of its assets in 2021, the agency said, and is much higher than the last estimate the agency provided because the T now has a more accurate count of its assets. The previous inventory did not include certain cables, overhead wires, the South Boston power station, emergency generators, or high voltage yards, the agency said.

This estimate also accounts for “significant infrastructure and construction cost increases driven by inflation and supply chain challenges,” the agency said. The T prepares an analysis every three to four years.

The subway track is in the most dire need of repair, the analysis found, with 89 percent not in a state of good repair, followed by commuter rail signals, 80 percent of which need to be updated, and power systems, 76 percent of which need to be updated.


About half of the subway trains and buses need updating, the analysis found.

The analysis should not come as a surprise. For nearly 15 years, outside experts have repeatedly warned the agency is not investing enough in maintaining and updating its infrastructure. Most recently, the Federal Transit Administration’s safety management inspection last year found the T had all but abandoned repairing parts of its tracks, opting to slow trains over dangerous defects for years instead, and let a Green Line work train used for maintenance remain inoperable for at least eight months.

Thursday’s announcement did not include a plan for how the state would fund the improvements. And the real cost could actually be higher, officials said.

Jillian Linnell, the T’s executive director of capital strategy, said there would be additional expenses for design and other work. Further costs could arise from incorporating upgrades for accessibility, sustainability, and resiliency into repair plans, she said.

“The replacement cost does not capture the full universe of capital investments that may be needed to meet additional requirements or agency goals,” Linnell said.

The T’s five-year, $9.7 billion spending plan cited by McGee, the first established by Governor Maura Healey’s administration, did not come close to providing as much new funding as T staff had requested at the time. That plan provided just $1.5 billion in new funding for reliability and modernization initiatives, such as bridges and tunnels, maintenance and administrative facilities, passenger facilities, and vehicles, far short of the $9.2 billion in new funding the T staff sought.


That plan will be paid for in large part by federal funds and borrowing money.

To pay off the debt on its five-year spending plan, the T relies on its operating revenue, made up largely of sales tax revenue, fares, fees paid by municipalities, and assistance from the Legislature.

That revenue also has to pay for day-to-day expenses like wages, benefits, and fuel. The T projects that its operating budget could be short as much as $139 million in fiscal year 2025, which begins next summer, and as much as $475 million the following year, according to a presentation to the board of directors earlier this year.

The analysis released Thursday elaborates on what was already known: the T’s financial needs far exceed its available funding.

State and federal lawmakers praised the T for offering what they called a transparent assessment of its needs. The challenge now, they said, is for the T to act with urgency to pursue the massive punch list.

In a statement, Representative Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Salem, acknowledged the high cost of repairing the T, but said the price is a fraction of the $64.1 billion spent annually on driving in Massachusetts.

“While other transit agencies are building automated rail with fast trains every minute, we’ve let ours erode to the point that it’s faster to walk in some places. How do we expect to reduce our terrible traffic if you can’t even trust your train to not derail or catch fire?” he said.


Moulton said that he has previously called for the T to overhaul how it functions and that the latest capital needs assessment is “yet another wake-up call.”

“If major changes are not made, we’ll be dealing with the exact same, or worse, issues for years to come,” Moulton said. “Whether you use the T or not, every one of us in Massachusetts suffers from having a transit system we can’t trust.”

Karissa Hand, a spokesperson for Healey, said the administration is “committed to ensuring that the MBTA has the resources it needs to deliver the safe, reliable service that the people of Massachusetts deserve.”

State Representative William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat who cochairs the Legislature’s joint committee on transportation, said funding for the MBTA has been included in three state transportation bond bills since 2014, and about $1.5 billion has been set aside for the agency to pay for capital projects through June 30, 2026.

“We now have an administration which is committed to making use of the resources that the Legislature provides,” Straus said.

State Senator Brendan Crighton, a Lynn Democrat and the other cochair of the Legislature’s joint committee on transportation, said he applauds the T’s honesty about how great the need is.

“For a long time there were many who wanted to bury their heads in the sand,” he said.

Taylor Dolven can be reached at Follow her @taydolven. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at Follow her @lauracrimaldi.