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Shuttle buses to return for Red, Orange line winterization project

A southbound commuter rail train passed crews as they shoveled snow from MBTA Red Line tracks in Februrary.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Commuters who suffered through disastrous T service this winter can expect a new inconvenience: Shuttle buses will replace rail service on above-ground sections of the Red and Orange lines during the summer and fall.

This summer, the T will upgrade all the heaters on its subway tracks on outdoor sections of the Red and Orange lines to avoid another winter of discontent. The work will occur in phases and require shuttle buses to provide service on the tracks outside of tunnels, according to Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Pesaturo said the plans are being developed this month. "More information will be released well in advance of the start of the work," he wrote in an e-mail.


The news of the shuttle buses, first reported by the State House News Service, comes on a day a special panel appointed by Governor Charlie Baker released a scathing report on the agency. The panel suggested the creation of a new board to oversee the T, taking away the responsibility from the board of directors of the state Transportation Department.

After a series of snowstorms hit New England's biggest transit system this winter, the T closed entire outdoor sections of the Red and Orange subway lines for days at a time. T officials said ice had encased portions of its outdoor subway tracks on the Red Line.

The T uses heaters to prevent the third rail and the switches on the subway tracks from freezing and disrupting service. During the winter, officials said, the amount of snow was overwhelming for workers to remove, which led to frozen tracks.

Pesaturo said the T previously upgraded heaters only when they broke. Now, the T will go through a "far more comprehensive project" to upgrade all of the outdoor heaters at the same time, he said.


In late March, the T's interim general manager, Frank DePaola, told lawmakers that the T had failed to use common steps taken by other cold-weather transit systems. For example, the agency allowed vehicles designed specifically for snow removal to fall into disrepair years ago. The agency also failed to use anti-icing fluid on its tracks, which could have helped prevent frozen third rails.

Those frozen tracks forced the T to replace rail service on certain outdoor sections of its subway lines with shuttle buses.

The buses sometimes got so packed that commuters had to wait in long lines in the cold. At one point, the T's union agreed to let the agency hire Peter Pan buses to help with the situation.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca