No quick fix in sight for signal problems at Forest Hills Station

A lightning strike damaged an Amtrak signal system at Forest Hills station in April.
A lightning strike damaged an Amtrak signal system at Forest Hills station in April.handouts

They still can't fix it.

More than seven months after a lightning strike damaged the signal system at the Forest Hills Station, passengers are still facing minor delays on Amtrak and commuter rail trains as officials search for a solution.

Officials were not successful in an attempt to deploy a new signal system on the weekend of Nov. 7, causing delays of more than an hour on some lines, and Amtrak said it has no clear end in sight.

"It's just part of the process," said Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert. "We first deployed the equipment, and as that deployment happened, that led to some issues with the installation. Now, we're just evaluating what those issues were and then we can re-deploy that equipment on a full-time basis."


The Forest Hills signal apparatus, which guides Amtrak and commuter rail trains as they approach the station, was extensively damaged on April 4 when it was struck by lightning.

As technicians search for a fix, Amtrak officials are operating the Forest Hills Station with a temporary solution by taking the interlocking out of service altogether.

And because the interlocking is frequently used, Tolbert said, many trains are being forced to slightly alter their routes, causing delays.

"Trains have to go on specific tracks earlier in their journey," he said. "That limits operational flexibility that we normally have at that junction of track."

Mac Daniel, a spokesman for operating company Keolis Commuter Services, said some delays could also be a result of speed restrictions in place while the interlocking is not functioning. Daniel and Tolbert both said delays are usually 10 to 15 minutes at most.

"When the outage occurred and a full-time fix wasn't in sight, we adjusted the schedule for lines that are used," Daniel said. "We're seeing minimal if no delays as a result of that."


But for some riders, the ongoing signal problems at Forest Hills Station only add to the commuter rail delays that riders have been experiencing for years, said Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board.

He said riders' frustrations stem from a lack of liability and a lack of information.

"Something goes wrong with their train, and they don't know what and they don't know when it will be fixed, and that drives them crazy," he said.

"My main interest is making sure that the cities and towns get the service that they pay for," he added. "The MBTA needs a better answer."

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.