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MBTA reports relative success with commuter rail, T performance amid nor’easter

The 93 bus from Sullivan Square was nearly deserted during Tuesday morning commute into Boston on Congress Street.
The 93 bus from Sullivan Square was nearly deserted during Tuesday morning commute into Boston on Congress Street.(Bill Greene/Globe staff)

Reducing service on the MBTA and commuter rail system during Tuesday’s nor’easter was a successful strategy that led to an 89 percent on-time rate for the commuter rail, permitted subway trains to keep tracks clear, and shielded vulnerable trains from the elements, transportation officials said Tuesday.

But still to be decided is how to handle what is expected to be a return to normal operations Wednesday as the third nor’easter since March 2 fades away, leaving some communities with more than a foot of snow and at least 200,000 customers without power.

“What we’re trying to balance with the MBTA is: enough service today because if people need to get places, we want them to be able to do it on public transportation,’’ Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said at an afternoon press conference. “But by holding back some of the service . . . [it] gives us a head start on tomorrow’s commute.”

Pollack, however, said the storm was still a potent force Tuesday afternoon and it was too soon to announce the level of service that will be offered Wednesday by the T and Keolis Commuter Services, the commuter rail operator.

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“Exactly what tomorrow’s commute will be like will depend largely on two things: one is when the storm ends and therefore how much time we have to recover; and also the nature of the snow,’’ she said.

Pollack and Governor Charlie Baker both urged people to use public transportation for the Tuesday evening commute. But if driving is necessary, the officials urged the public to drive slowly, plan for a longer commute, and keep distance from snow plows.

Around 3,500 plows and crews are on state highways, facing off with a weather system with snowfall rates of 1 inch to 3 inches an hour, according to Pollack.

“If you are not seeing black asphalt yet, it’s because the snow is falling at rates that exceeds our ability to keep up with it,’’ she said, adding that once the storm weakens, “we will be able to get the road back at the conditions we like to have them in.”

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Separately, T General Manager Luis Ramirez said the agency’s biggest concerns heading into the Tuesday evening commute include visibility for bus drivers. He said it’s possible — though not anticipated — that the agency could suspend bus service on a line by line basis if conditions get worse.

The condition of Red and Orange line vehicles is also a concern, said Jeff Gonneville, the T’s deputy general manager. Moisture in these vehicles’ propulsion systems could put them out of service, so rooms at T facilities have been stocked with backup motors in case they need to be replaced after the storm.

Ramirez said passenger levels are extremely low Tuesday. But even on a reduced schedule, some commuter trains reported delays mid-day.


John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.


Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com.