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Fiscal conservatives’ study rips commuter rail cost management

The report showed that from 2008 to 2013, the MBTA’s costs per capita for commuter rail increased by 50.5 percent.Sean Proctor/Globe Staff

The costs for the MBTA’s commuter rail system have risen higher and faster than those of a similar system in Philadelphia, according to a report released Thursday by the Pioneer Institute.

The analysis, prepared by the nonpartisan, fiscally conservative think tank, challenges calls for more funding and continued expansion for the T.

Gregory W. Sullivan, the institute’s research director and co-author of the report, said the findings show that the agency needs to figure out how to properly maintain the system that is already running.

“They should think seriously about putting the brakes on expansions and capital expenditures for the commuter rail system,” said Sullivan, a former Massachusetts inspector general.


The report showed that from 2008 to 2013, the MBTA’s costs per capita for commuter rail increased by 50.5 percent. Comparatively, the costs per capita for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s commuter rail system grew by 13.7 percent.

Rafael Mares, the senior lawyer for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the report should be viewed with skepticism because it only compares the T to one system.

“They pick and choose who they want to compare to show the T in a bad light,” he said.

Sullivan said he also looked at other similar systems, such as those in Chicago and Newark, that have higher costs than the MBTA in some categories. He said the institute compared the MBTA to SEPTA because they are most similar according to a database that uses figures from the Federal Transit Administration. He said he also wanted to compare the MBTA to a system of similar size that is operating with more efficiency.

The T and the governor’s office had no direct comment on the Pioneer Institute’s report. But Billy Pitman, a Baker spokesman, said the governor looked forward to reviewing the findings of a special review panel that looked into the MBTA’s operations, finance, governance, and capital planning.


The report compares the amount the two transit systems have spent on the maintenance of commuter rail vehicles. From 2008 to 2013, SEPTA’s cost of maintenance per vehicle increased 8.5 percent, from $124,352 to $134,868. Meanwhile, the MBTA’s cost of maintenance per vehicle increased by 73.5 percent, from $142,830 to $274,744.

“The fact that this winter’s crisis occurred after six recent years of increasing maintenance investments, including nearly one-half billion dollars in commuter rail vehicle maintenance expenditures, highlights the failure of the T’s management to implement an effective asset management system,” the report said.

The report said if the T had spent as much on maintenance per vehicle as SEPTA has, the T could have saved $160 million from 2008 to 2013.

Keolis Commuter Services, the commuter rail operator, has also said that newer locomotives could have helped the company avoid delays. The study attempts to debunk the idea that the age of the its vehicles is a significant problem by showing that SEPTA also runs older vehicles.

In 2013, the average MBTA commuter rail vehicle was 23.5 years old, compared to the average of about 25.5 years old for SEPTA vehicles.

On Wednesday, a coalition of Massachusetts business leaders called for the continued expansion of the MBTA, saying the transit system is crucial to the region’s economic growth.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.