It isn’t a secret to longtime Orange Line commuters, but the MBTA this week confirmed something riders had long suspected: Over the past few years, Orange Line trains have become even more crowded, and the trains have been arriving less frequently during rush hours.
The reason? Just as Orange Line ridership surged past 200,000 daily rides in 2011, the T began using fewer trains during those peak hours — weekdays from 6:30 to 9 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Todd Johnson, the T’s deputy chief operating officer, told members of the MBTA’s fiscal control board this week that the T previously operated about 102 trains during rush hours, and aimed to have a train arrive every five minutes. (In transit jargon, the expected time between trains is referred to as a “headway.”)
But in 2011, officials started using 96 trains during rush hours regularly because the trains had become so worn out. It has only gotten worse since then: More riders and fewer trains now mean the T aims for six-minute headways during rush hour.
During your commute, an extra two minutes can seem like an eternity — especially if you’re one of the poor souls who gets left on the platform because the train was too crowded for you to board.
(The T offered some data on that, too: According to one July 2015 observation by T officials, 350 people were left waiting on platforms throughout the evening commute because of overcrowding.)
Officials mostly blame the age of the vehicles: The Orange Line uses some of the most dilapidated trains in the entire transit system. The T put 102 new Orange Line trains into service in 1979 and 1981.
They’re not so new anymore. And unlike some of the older Red and Orange line trains, the 1980s-era Orange Line trains never got a complete overhaul to keep them in good shape. That means they perform worse, which helps contribute to your headache-inducing commute.
T officials say they are eager to address this by getting new Orange Line cars on line as quickly as possible. But in the transit procurement world, “quick” is not that quick. The T awarded a $566.6 million contract in 2014 to a China-based company now called Chang-chun Railway Vehicles, but the first Orange Line cars won’t be delivered until 2019.
In the meantime, officials are trying some cheaper methods: They have placed markings on the floor of the perpetually crowded North Station to advise customers to line up in an orderly way, to speed up boarding times. Johnson said that so far, the move has sped up boarding time by about 20 seconds.