Second derailment in days sends T into chaos
Less than three weeks before the latest MBTA fare hike takes effect, a derailment on the Red Line Tuesday morning plunged the city transit system into chaos, turning the commute for thousands of riders into an hours-long slog, and prompting the agency to announce plans for an outside review.
The T restored service on the Red Line by the evening commute, but trains were running at reduced speeds for part of the way, and riders were warned to plan for 15 to 20 minutes of extra commuting time, and on Wednesday morning as well.
Tuesday’s derailment was the second in four days, and the second on the Red Line in under a month. The latest occurred when a southbound train went off the tracks outside JFK/UMass Station in Dorchester around 6:10 a.m. — just as the morning rush was beginning.
There were about 60 passengers on the train. One suffered a minor injury that did not require hospitalization.
The incident forced riders onto shuttle buses that inched along under the crush of Boston traffic, or to take ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft charging $60, $70, and even more for the trip into downtown.
“I’ve seen people pushed to the brink today,” said Jake Bayless after reaching Park Street Station just before 11 a.m. Bayless, who was visiting Boston for a work trip, said he saw frustrated commuters on a shuttle bus exchange heated words and threaten to call police. “I started in Dorchester and it took me two hours to get to here.”
While insisting the subway system is safe to ride, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority general manager Steve Poftak announced the agency is hiring an engineering firm to review derailments from the last two years.
“A derailment is always a bad event at a transit agency and we take every one very seriously,” Poftak said at a news conference outside the JFK station, adding the MBTA “would turn over every stone” to pinpoint a cause. “We hear very clearly and we understand very clearly that this situation with these derailments is not acceptable. And we are taking steps to address that.”
Transit Police have not determined what caused Tuesday’s derailment. The MBTA said the operator of the Red Line train was a 39-year-old man who has been working for the agency since October 2016, but it did not release his name. He is not operating trains while the T investigates.
On Saturday, a Green Line trolley derailed on the D Line, injuring 11 people, including the operator, who was found at fault in a preliminary investigation.
The MBTA has had a high number of derailments compared to other major US transit systems — 43 in the last five years, according to federal transit data.
There have been five already this year, including another Green Line train on Feb. 5, the day of the Patriots Super Bowl victory parade, near the Beaconsfield stop in Brookline, and yet a third Green Line train on March 30 that was not in service at the time. On May 21, a Red Line train that was not in service derailed at the Ashmont train yard.
The firm hired by the MBTA to examine the derailments, LTK Engineering Services, will limit its review to incidents involving trains that were serving passengers when they went off the rails, said Joe Pesaturo, an agency spokesman.
Poftak, who became MBTA general manager at the beginning of the year, has been implementing a five-year, $8 billion spending plan authored by Governor Charlie Baker’s administration to repair the aging transit system. For example, the agency has multimillion-dollar contracts to upgrade the signal systems on the Red and Orange lines to reduce the large number of delays caused by trip-ups in the T’s electrical connections.
Speaking in Springfield Tuesday after attending an unrelated event, Baker declined to address the cause of the derailment. But the Republican, who has long pushed back against calls to raise new revenues to help the T, argued the agency is still doing the “overdue” work to update its aging equipment and infrastructure, some of which is decades old.
“We want to make sure we get it right,” Baker said. “I wish we could install it all tomorrow. We can’t. But I believe we’re heading in the right direction on that stuff.”
The return to Red Line service Tuesday was hampered by the location of the derailed train: under the Columbia Road overpass, which made it difficult to access. On Tuesday evening, the MBTA removed the train without having to use a crane, and did not need to close the exit off Interstate 93 in Dorchester near the station, as originally planned, State Police said.
The two major incidents within a few days prompted a number of advocates to call for more urgent intervention by the state in the transit system, and for some commuters to complain about the pending fare hike — the fourth since 2012. On July 1, subway fares will increase to $2.40 from $2.25, and monthly subway passes will cost an additional $5.50.
“The T is totally unacceptable,” said Annette James, an accountant from Quincy, who was forced to commute into Boston on a shuttle bus that was sweltering because its air conditioning wasn’t on.
“I just think the reason why all this happens is there’s no competition and we have no choice,” James added. “If there was competition, I think it would be a lot better.”