MBTA says it will refurbish a dozen of its older locomotives
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is seeking to overhaul a dozen of its older locomotives amid frustration over persistent equipment shortages on the commuter rail over the past month that have led to frequent delays and cancellations.
Jeffrey Gonneville, the MBTA’s chief operating officer, said Monday that the agency should refurbish some of its decades-old locomotives to address the shortage, caused by mechanical problems on new and old locomotives alike.
The commuter rail operator, Keolis Commuter Services, is contractually obligated to have 67 locomotives available at all times but has failed to meet that mandate for several weeks, leaving the system shorthanded.
On Monday, Keolis had 66 available, a marked improvement from recent days. The morning commute was the first without cancellations since early last week, though some evening trains were canceled.
“We made a great deal of progress over the last seven days, and we’re going to keep pushing forward,” Gonneville told the agency’s oversight board at its weekly meeting.
The overhaul, which would cost more than $30 million, comes as the MBTA considers cutting service on some weekend commuter rail lines. Governor Charlie Baker recently ruled out a proposal to eliminate all weekend service but left the door open to partial reductions.
Keolis, which has a $2.7 billion contract with the MBTA to run the commuter rail, last year received at least $66 million more to operate new schedules, better maintain the T’s newest locomotives, and overhaul some old ones. Some oversight board members have recently expressed dismay over the company’s struggles, particularly in light of last year's decision.
Keolis has largely blamed the shortage on defects in the MBTA’s 40 newest locomotives, as well as equipment failures in the older ones. Last week, MBTA officials said that they had chosen not to overhaul many of the older locomotives but didn’t provide reasons why.
On Monday, Gonneville said that all 50 of the MBTA’s old locomotives were “past due for a major overhaul,” and that the agency would look to refurbishing a dozen of them. Upgrading 10 locomotives would cost around $30 million, Gonneville said. The cost of restoring two others, which are part of a different fleet, has not been determined.
Some board members sought more details about the plan.
“I want this rescue plan to work, as do all of us in this room,” member Steven Poftak said. “But how do we ensure that we’re getting accurate information and what we’re doing is actually going to fix the problem?”
Gonneville said the MBTA took several other steps in the past week to make sure Keolis’s performance improved, including overseeing workers at the Boston Engine Terminal in Somerville, where many of the repairs are done. Keolis workers put in more than 400 additional hours on maintenance in the past week to improve the reliability issues, he said.
Meanwhile, the MBTA’s chief financial officer, Michael Abramo, presented the board with a number of cost-cutting options to help balance the agency’s budget. They included cutting some weekend commuter rail hours or lines, a plan that was widely criticized in recent months.
In March, Abramo floated the idea of cutting all weekend commuter rail service to save about $14 million during the next fiscal year. Officials said such cuts were necessary because the agency faced a $42 million budget gap, although some of the shortfall was created by setting aside money for longer-term infrastructure projects.
The idea drew an outcry, and on Monday officials discussed more modest cuts aimed at saving $6 million. Stephanie Pollack, the state’s transportation secretary, told the board that amount isn’t achievable without schedule reductions, either by dropping routes with the lowest ridership or eliminating service on one weekend day altogether.
But MBTA officials don’t expect proposing cutting certain lines or hours in the coming months, as they have said they need to do a better job counting its ridership. The agency has installed new passenger-counting technology in recent months.
Board members will vote on a budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday.