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Details of MBTA service fix scarce

Officials considering commuter refunds

Delays and cancellations left commuters with long waits at North Station on Tuesday.Sean Proctor/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on Tuesday provided no specifics about its timeline to restore full service to the embattled transit system, as the public fumes over weeks of canceled trains and system shutdowns that have stranded thousands of commuters across the region.

A day after saying it would take as long as 30 days to get the system back to normal, MBTA general manager Beverly A. Scott would say only that her timeline includes “incremental” restoration of service and that transportation officials are working on a strategy.

“We are very focused on having a concrete plan and to be able to lay that out to you’’ on Wednesday, she told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday.

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Service levels have dropped so sharply after the record-breaking snowfalls that Scott said the agency is considering refunds to frustrated commuters.

“We more than appreciate that this has not been the service level at all that anyone would have wanted,” she said.

Scott’s remarks came on a day when one major commuter rail line was suspended, and several subway lines were running at reduced capacity and on shortened routes. Pressure from Governor Charlie Baker continued, and riders vented about the lack of solid information about individual trains and longer-term plans to fix the system.

“I understand the problems of trying to get the system up and operating, but the ability to communicate with your customers should be pretty basic,” said Paul Regan, the executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, an independent group meant to provide public oversight for the agency. “They need to do a better job telling people what alternatives they have to get where they need to go.”

Riders would be more understanding if they had an idea of why the agency needs as much as a month to get the system fully operational again, he said.

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“They have to make their case, and I don’t think they’ve done it yet,” Regan said. “They’ve got to get out there and tell people what they’re going to be doing for the next 30 days.”

Speaking at a news conference, Governor Charlie Baker said he considers the 30-day time frame an “outer limit” of when the transportation system would be back up and running.

“I think we need to be faster than that, but I don’t want anyone overpromising and under-delivering,” Baker said.

He added that his immediate priority is getting the T back up and running at full capacity before exploring how to better fund and maintain the system in the future.

“In the short, the very short term, our primary focus is going to be on what are we going to do today to move toward getting the system back online tomorrow and the day after,” he said.

Baker also said he was not satisfied with the commuter rail’s performance and singled out the private contractor that runs that system. “I’ve called the folks at Keolis and told them I want to meet directly with them,” Baker said.

Scott also called the company’s performance “substandard.”

The commuter rail, which is run by Keolis Commuter Services, has been running on a modified weekday schedule but has experienced further delays and cancellations. The Greenbush Line service was suspended Tuesday morning after a train became stuck on the tracks overnight, and more than 30 trains were canceled into the evening commute.

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Mac Daniel, a spokesman for Keolis, declined to comment on the remarks by Baker and Scott.

However, Daniel said the company only has 40 locomotives available for use for the commuter rail, when the ideal number is 63. Winter storms are responsible for sidelining most of the equipment.

Record-breaking amounts of snow also have limited the number of subway trains the T has available to run — the snow has caused motors on many of the trains to break, leaving hundreds of trains out of service, officials said.

Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, said the agency has already exhausted its inventory of motors and is working to repair them as fast as they can with help from three contractors, Scott said.

Pesaturo said the additional contractors are helping the agency replace the motors at a rate of about 20 per week.

But T officials wouldn’t say whether difficulty getting motors is a factor in the delay to getting the system back to normal.

Accumulated snow has been a continuing problem on lines that have exposed tracks. Randy Clarke, the T’s director of security, said about 200 people, including inmates from the Department of Correction, were helping to shovel out tracks on the Red Line, and about 60 more people continued shoveling Orange Line tracks Tuesday.

The efforts helped restore service on the Ashmont branch of the Red Line on Tuesday.

Commuters are hoping a full recovery happens sooner than Scott’s 30-day prediction. Tom O’Shea of Lynnfield said he was waiting for a Haverhill train at Wakefield Tuesday morning, only to have the train pass by him without stopping.

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After checking the limited schedule and seeing the next one was scheduled at about 10:40 a.m., he headed back home to work from there.

“It’s frustrating, but then you go home and you think about it, and then you think, it’s just absurd, ridiculous, and shameful,” he said.

O’Shea said the 30-day timeline seemed disingenuous.

“They’re just going to set people’s expectations so absolutely low that we’ll get angry and frustrated, then spring will eventually come,” he said.

Scott said the agency will give a recommendation on refunds for commuters to the MassDOT board of directors finance committee in early March.


Globe correspondent Aneri Pattani and Akilah Johnson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com.