Overmatched and overwhelmed by a record-breaking onslaught of snow, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on Monday evening canceled its rail service through the end of Tuesday, running up the white flag after Governor Charlie Baker called the struggling transit system’s performance unacceptable.
The closure, while not unprecedented — a blizzard in 2013 shut the T for nearly two days — essentially shuts down the main form of transportation for hundreds of thousands of workers across the region on the same day the governor encouraged commuters to stay off the roads. The agency said bus service would be available on an “extremely limited” basis on Tuesday.
The announcement shocked commuters, and also laid bare the new governor’s discontent with the transit system’s response to the recent snow emergencies. On Monday, before the T announced the shutdown for Monday evening and Tuesday, Baker struck a strident tone as he blasted the MBTA’s dismal performance.
“We’ve been frustrated, disappointed with the performance of the T,’’ Baker said at a midday press conference. “The public transportation system has to work. Let’s face it, this can’t happen again.”
While the governor acknowledged the hard work of many MBTA workers, he said the authority’s performance was “not acceptable.”
“We plan on having a long conversation with folks at the T about improving performance,” he said.
Baker said later in the day that he learned about the T closure “probably just around the same time everybody else did.” He said he had spoken to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack about the closure, but not T officials.
Baker has proposed $40 million in cuts to the state’s transportation system, but has expressed confidence the cuts will not undermine MBTA service.
In an interview before Baker’s comments, Beverly A. Scott, the general manager of the T, had defended the call to operate the service on Monday, saying it had taken into account information from many areas of government, including the transportation secretary and the governor’s office.
“At the end of the day, if we don’t think we can operate safely, we won’t do it,” she said. “Everyone has been thoughtful and nobody is operating in a silo.”
Scott could not be reached for comment after the announced closures.
Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, responded to the governor’s comments with a one-sentence e-mail. “Confronted with extraordinarily difficult weather conditions, the MBTA will continue to do everything possible to keep its aging trains moving,” he wrote.
The MBTA’s failure to run reliable service hit the area hard. Even though the agency had hoped to run a reduced schedule on Monday, Pesaturo said that the accumulating snow was making it “virtually impossible” to keep rail lines open through the night.
“The MBTA is concerned about the risk of multiple disabled trains that would require evacuations on the tracks, potentially in the dark,” Pesaturo wrote, announcing the evening closures.
Not long after, the T said the rail system would remain closed all day Tuesday as workers cleared snow and ice from cars, tracks, and switches, and “assess the damage done to subway cars, trolleys, locomotives, and passenger coaches,” Pesaturo wrote in a statement.
The plan to keep the T in operation Monday was scuttled after a snow-covered third rail left about 50 passengers stranded on a Red Line car during the morning commute, a mishap similar to an event a week ago near the Braintree station, where passengers were stranded during the evening commute because of ice on the third rail.
“We are disappointed, we are apologetic, we are sorry, it is all of it in spades,” Scott said Monday. “We’re trying to do the best we can.”
By midmorning, the agency had suspended subway rides on large portions of its Red and Orange lines. Shortly before 4 p.m., T officials said they would suspend all subway, trolley and commuter rail trains departing Boston after 7 p.m. The T continued running limited bus service but advised customers that connections to subway and commuter rail lines were not available.
Scott called the amount of snow facing the transit system “unbelievable,” saying the duration and excessive accumulation has presented a challenge for experienced MBTA workers.
“I haven’t been through one like this for 40 years,” she said.
The National Weather Service reported on Monday that by 7 a.m., it had recorded more than five feet of snow over the past month, breaking a record set by the Blizzard of 1978.
The frustrations expressed by the governor were also evident at many T stations throughout the day. When Jeff Ferraiuolo, 42, hopped off a shuttle bus at the JFK/UMass station on Monday morning, he said the morning had been “stressful and long.”
His commute from Quincy had taken about two hours because of a shuttle replacing rail service — and he still needed to take a bus to South Bay Plaza, he said.
He had never seen this much snow, he said.
“And the transit system is kind of failing at the moment,” he added.
As the snow has continued to overwhelm the battered system, many commuters have aired their grievances. Transportation for Massachusetts, a nonprofit, started a petition to ask the governor and Legislature to invest in more reliable public transportation, and more than 1,400 have signed.
Before the last trains began running out of Boston, Mac Daniel, spokesman for Keolis, which runs the commuter rail, said workers were having trouble getting the trains into the stations. “There is some trouble getting trains where they need to go, mainly due to frozen switches,” he wrote in an e-mail.
At 6:38 p.m., Dante Leone scrambled down the steps of South Station in hopes of catching one of the last Red Line trains. The board didn’t show any Alewife-bound trains coming, but he soon learned the prediction system was just down.
Leone, 26, works for a financial district operations-management company and was helping to organize a long-planned annual meeting still scheduled for Tuesday. He’s not sure how he will get downtown Tuesday.
“Normally it wouldn’t be that much of a nuisance, but this time, it’s a huge pain for me,” he said.