After a smoldering cable caused the Back Bay stretch of the Green Line to shut down for hours during Wednesday’s morning rush hour, forcing thousands of riders to wait for shuttle buses in the bitter cold, some officials are pointing to the transportation debacle as evidence that the MBTA needs the increased funding that would come with Governor Deval Patrick’s proposed tax hikes.
Service on the line was shut down from about 8 a.m. to shortly before 11 a.m. A smoldering cable, about the diameter of a paper coffee cup, had begun to fray with age. Single-digit temperatures put extra stress on the wiring, which began to smoke as the rubber insulation melted.
Beverly A. Scott, the incoming general manager of the MBTA, said problems like Wednesday’s are likely to continue without systemwide improvements.
“We cannot have an expectation that this existing system is going to be able to continue to just go, without getting the necessary replacements and upgrades,” Scott said.
“This is not beauty parlor stuff here,” she continued. “We’re talking about absolute basics.”
Problems surfaced again Wednesday night when a smoldering cable in a tunnel closed the Arlington T station. Firefighters responded to the Green Line station just before 9:45 p.m., MacDonald said.
He said dry powder was used to suppress the smoke, and T workers shut down power at the station in order to identify the cable.
Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, said power was restored at about 11:20 p.m. Shuttle buses were provided for riders Wednesday night.
Patrick, who proposed extensive tax hikes last week in part to fund public transportation improvements, argued at a state budget briefing Wednesday that Commonwealth residents are tired of frequent breakdowns in their public transportation.
“They have asked for a modern, up-to-date, reliable transportation system,” Patrick said. “Ask any of the folks who were outside in the cold at Arlington Street today whether they want those kinds of investments. They totally get it.”
The morning problem began at 7:14 , when a train operator noticed smoke coming from an electrical box beside inbound tracks, past the Copley station and about 100 feet short of the Arlington station.
MBTA technicians inspected the smoking wire, and about 40 minutes later, they called the Boston Fire Department, which asked to have the power cut off in that section of the tunnel to investigate. The T had to cut off power from Kenmore to Government Center.
“I can understand how it gets frustrating for the commuters,” said MacDonald. “It was just a lousy time for that to happen.”
Passengers in four Green Line trains — eight cars in total — were evacuated, as T employees escorted an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 passengers stuck in the tunnel between Hynes Convention Center and Boylston stations, as well as between the E Line’s Northeastern and Prudential Stations.
Riders were directed out into the frigid air — at 8 a.m. the temperature fluttered at around 10 degrees, with a wind chill making it feel like zero — where they waited for 70 buses, diverted from their regular routes.
The buses mobilized quickly, said MBTA chief operating officer Sean McCarthy, but the difficulties of navigating clogged Back Bay streets meant that many riders were delayed.
Dozens of shivering and frustrated commuters stood Wednesday morning on St. James Avenue in Copley Square and cast expectant gazes down the street, looking for the shuttle bus that would offer them brief shelter from the bone-chilling cold and a way to reach their destinations.
Early in the morning, some commuters waited as long as a half-hour to catch a shuttle or a bus already scheduled to run along Boylston Street.
“They keep telling us the 39 is coming, but it’s not coming, and this is outrageous,” said Dana Harmon, 30, who works at Northeastern University.
Shortly before 11 a.m., the MBTA had isolated the cable, power had been restored, and testing was taking place.
Scott said she is planning a meeting between MBTA and city officials to discuss the episode, recap the response, and brainstorm on ways to improve performance in the future.
The affected cable will be replaced later in the week, Scott said. But she has asked technicians to save a portion of the frayed cable for her to show others.
“I am going to take it on the road with me,” Scott said. “There are thousands of these old cables that need to get replaced.”
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