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MBTA offers hope for faster recovery; Baker blasts Keolis

Passengers wait as MBTA commuter rail train pulls into the North Beverly station.John Blanding/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced Wednesday that nearly all of its rail lines would reopen by Monday — much sooner than anticipated — while Governor Charlie Baker turned his ire to the state's commuter-rail operator, saying that he is "done with excuses" from the company.

Even with most stations set to reopen Monday, it remained unclear when the T will have enough working trains to restore service to normal levels. Officials on Wednesday warned riders that their commutes would still be hampered by long waits and crowded trains.

The agency said that the E branch of the Green Line and the Red Line from JFK/UMass Station to North Quincy will reopen Friday. The Green Line's B branch and Red Line service from North Quincy to Braintree would be restored by Monday, the agency said.

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For weeks, the T and its commuter-rail system have been hobbled by unprecedented snowfall, stranding thousands of commuters across the region.

Public patience is wearing thin, and on Wednesday, after dozens of commuter train cancellations this week and more than 20 on Tuesday alone, Baker publicly chastised Keolis, the private company that operates the service, leading the company to apologize to its riders. Baker met with Keolis officials Wednesday, and sent his staff for a second meeting.

"The point we wanted to make clear to them is we felt their service-recovery plan was not satisfactory,'' Baker said. "A big part of our objective here was to get a lot more clarity from them about what their plans are."

Baker warned that the company must be prepared when school vacation week ends, and commuters head back to work.

"Next week, everybody comes back to work and the thing better be working," Baker said. "People plan their daily lives, their work schedules, around this. And whatever the schedule it is you run on, you better run on it accurately."

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Keolis did not make any executives available for interviews, despite repeated requests. But company officials issued a statement apologizing for failing to keep passengers informed about delayed and canceled trains.

"One of our top priorities in the next few days is to improve customer communications to ensure we are providing accurate information in a timely manner to our passengers," the statement read.

The public criticism follows a rocky start for Keolis, which took over the commuter-rail system in July. After fining Keolis several times since the fall, the MBTA levied the contractual maximum penalty — about $868,000 — against the company in January for late trains and other problems, such as station and car cleanliness and the availability of vehicles, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The monthly penalties from October through January totaled about $3.3 million.

In the company's statement, Keolis officials said the governor's staff and the company worked together Wednesday on an "action plan" to help the system recover; the blueprint includes additional workers to help clear snow and ice from maintenance facilities and various switch points.

The governor will also help Keolis acquire additional equipment to remove snow from the tracks, and the company has set up a recovery maintenance plan to repair disabled locomotives and passenger cars.

All of the commuter lines are running, but the frequency of trains has been limited by breakdowns in equipment due to the snow and cold. Only about 46 locomotives are available, while 65 are needed to provide regular service, according to the company's statement.

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While snow has contributed to sidelining much of the company's equipment, Keolis has also struggled with mechanical issues: Last month, the Globe reported that 40 new locomotives had issues with their motor traction bearings, and fewer than 10 had been repaired.

State Senator Bruce Tarr, the chamber's minority leader from Gloucester, announced that the Republican caucus had filed MBTA reform legislation on Wednesday.

The proposal would create a board that would be responsible for controlling the MBTA's finances, for developing a long-range financial plan. And if the proposed finance board fails to make reforms, it could be dissolved and a receiver could take over the transit authority.

"The Legislature cannot sit idly by as commuters continue to feel the pain of a failed public transportation system that they depend on, day in and day out, to get to work, home, school, and other appointments and destinations," Tarr said in a statement.

Baker said he had not seen the GOP bill, and he wanted to focus on getting the T on a reliable schedule before starting a conversation on what's next for the system.

The T has been working to reopen a number of stations. After a complete shutdown of the system during Sunday's blizzard, many stations remained closed until crews could clear the tracks of snow. The T's general manager, Beverly Scott, said earlier this week that it could take up to 30 days to restore service to normal levels, but the schedule released Wednesday has the T reopening its closed rail stations in much less time.

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The last section of the system to reopen would be the Mattapan trolley line, with its stations expected to be in service by Feb. 27.

Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, said the Red Line's Braintree link and the Green Line's B branches will take longer to reopen because of difficulties with snow removal. The Braintree leg is the longest stretch of track and third rail completely exposed, he said.

"There's much work still ahead of us," Pesaturo said in an e-mail.

Scott said the schedule is not a sure thing.

"The goals we identified today will hinge on a number of factors, including weather conditions, and while we are making progress on recovering tracks and stations, we are also working hard to get train counts up," Scott said in a statement.

Colleen Noonan of Reading said she has gotten used to receiving last-minute e-mail alerts from Keolis that have made it impossible to plan her morning commute into downtown Boston.

She takes the Haverhill train to North Station, but says the commuter rail website and the e-mail alerts sometimes have conflicting messages: She has received e-mails warning of delays on trains that had been previously canceled.

Noonan, who pays $222 for a monthly commuter rail pass, said she worries the experience won't get better anytime soon.

"I'd just like to know when I wake up if I can take a train to get downtown before 9 a.m.," she said. "That's a very basic expectation, but I'd take it."

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Globe staff reporter Joshua Miller contributed to this report. Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@ globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.