scorecardresearch Skip to main content

MBTA service slowly roars back to life

Questions arise over why it took so long for buses and trains to roll out after storm

Riders boarded a Green Line trolley at the Kenmore Square Station on Sunday shortly after the MBTA resumed limited service at 2 p.m.Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

After an MBTA shutdown that lasted nearly two days the T began limited service Sunday afternoon, with the full schedule to resume Monday morning amid questions about why the weekend snowstorm had so hobbled the system.

The return to service after the longest service interruption in recent memory was greeted with relief by local residents, who couldn’t help but wonder: What took so long?

State transportation officials said snow on roads, employees stuck at home because of the driving ban, a power outage that shuttered a T communications tower, and blocked bus stops and station entrances made it impossible to restore service before Sunday.


“I know folks and our customers see sunny skies today and think — poof! — why aren’t we back?” Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey said Sunday at a press conference in South Station. “This is an extraordinarily complicated and — if you haven’t heard me say it — old system that we need to carefully nurse back for ­tomorrow morning’s rush hour.”

Some residents said they understood the need for the T to close down during the brunt of the storm, but were unprepared for the length of the outage. Some hotels paid for cabs for their staff, while others asked employees to stay overnight.

“We hadn’t anticipated the T shutting down the whole time,” said Jim Carmody, general manager of the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center in South Boston. “We thought it would stop during the peak [of the storm], but we thought it would reopen on Saturday. That kind of caught us by surprise.”

State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, who represents Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, and Roslindale, said he had received a deluge of complaints from constituents about the challenges of getting to work without running transportation — especially in neighborhoods where many residents don’t have cars.


Sanchez said he was especially concerned about health care workers who had to work extended shifts because replacement staff could not reach hospitals.

“How does that affect patient care and safety?” Sanchez asked. “The next storm we have, we need to think, how do we make sure T service runs effectively for those who are essential employees for the state and the region?”

The weekend stoppage was the third time in 18 months, following hurricanes Irene and Sandy, that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has suspended operations. Never before in recent memory had the T been closed for 48 hours, said the MBTA’s spokesman, Joe Pesaturo.

While full service was not planned until Monday morning, most T lines and more than 20 bus routes were functioning by early Sunday evening, including the number 39 bus, which serves hospitals in the Longwood Medical Area.

Bringing much of the service back online Sunday afternoon was an immense effort, said the MBTA’s general manager, ­Beverly A. Scott.

At 9 p.m. Saturday, she said, she called Davey to tell him that she was not sure they were going to be able to make it happen.

The system was still reeling from a host of problems: A communications tower in Quincy was struck by a power outage; many side streets were still slick with ice or piled high with snow; some buses were transporting senior citizens to shelters to wait out power outages; waist-high piles of snow blocked T entrances and covered bus stops; and some train platforms remained slippery and hazardous for commuters.


Plus, Scott said, many MBTA employees could not report to work until the driving ban was lifted at 4 p.m. Saturday, or until their streets were plowed.

“Our people are not the Jetsons,” she said.

Round-the-clock work by T staff had made Sunday service possible, she said, though she knew the afternoon trains and buses wouldn’t be running at 100 percent, and probably wouldn’t on Monday, either. She advised passengers to leave extra time for their morning commutes.

“We’re not going to be running perfect service,” Scott said.

The havoc wreaked by the snowstorm may still have some ill effects on the MBTA. Melting snow has caused some water leaks in the core of the subway system that may cause problems if it freezes over, said the T’s chief operating officer, Sean M. McCarthy.

“We’re going to stay on top of it and address issues as we go along,” McCarthy said.

On the commuter rail, train-mounted plows had kept most of the lines clear of snow, said Hugh Kiley, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad. Only the Kingston and Greenbush lines, he said, remained blocked, ­because of downed trees and power outages. “Everything else should be off to a good start in the morning, anticipating no other weather-related delays,” Kiley said.

Some residents said they wished buses had been back online shortly after the travel ban was lifted, especially for residents who work at hospitals.

That would have been impossible, Davey said, because many roads remained too blocked with cars to accommodate buses — the same reason many schools remain closed Monday.


“Secondary roads in some communities are still in tough shape,” Davey said. “Much of our bus fleet goes over those secondary roads.”

Although highways received another treatment of salt Sunday night, Davey warned that many roads remained perilous, and he urged commuters to take it slow Monday. Travel in breakdown lanes during rush hour will be prohibited on Interstate 95 and Route 3, and some lanes may be narrowed because of the snow.

Hospitals had prepared for the T to shut down during the storm, but were concerned about the possibility of no public transportation till Monday.

And at Massachusetts General Hospital, where up to 60 percent of employees on some units depend on public transportation, some chief residents with four-wheel-drive vehicles were shuttling employees to the hospital, said Dr. Paul Biddinger, medical director for the emergency department.

“I think everybody understands that during the height of the storm, it made sense to shut the T down,” said John Erwin, executive director of the Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals, which represents 14 hospitals in the region.

But by Sunday, some employees were heading into their third day at the hospital. And cabs, in high demand across the city in large part because public transportation was unavailable, were hard to find for patients who needed to get home.

“You don’t need to wait until the entire system is up and running,” Erwin said. “If you can phase it in, anything can help.”


Even people who didn’t need the T to get to work were happy to be able to get around. Just after­ 2 p.m., people began trickling in to the JFK/UMass Station. For some, it was the first time they had ventured out of their homes since the storm hit.

“Oh my god, I would have went crazy if I’d been stuck in there any longer,” said Casey Lebbossiere, 15, who was on her way to meet friends at Neponset Circle for sledding. “It was so bad; I’ve never been stuck in my house before so long in my life.”

Igor and Alison Baldyga were happy to be able to head to TD Garden to watch the Celtics Sunday, where a parking ban prevented fans from driving. Enjoying beers at The Fours before the game, the couple had taken a cab from their home in Brighton to the Kenmore Green Line stop to get to North Station.

“We only had to wait about 10 minutes for the T,” said Alison, 35. But, she said later, “even if the T wouldn’t have been running, we would have found our way here.”

Chelsea Conaboy of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Evan Allen, Kathy McCabe, and Derek J. Anderson contributed to this report. Martine Powers can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.