No Orange Line cars passed through Downtown Crossing station Saturday — instead, a yellow mini-excavator and a work crew sliced through the old track with a circular saw, replacing the subway cars that normally maneuver along the underground rails.
On Friday night, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority began its first round of weekend service interruptions that are planned through mid-December by closing six Orange Line stations between Sullivan Square and Tufts Medical Center, so workers could make repairs and upgrades.
“We appreciate that this is a real inconvenience for our customers,” Steve Poftak, the MBTA’s general manager, told reporters near an Orange Line platform at Downtown Crossing. “We appreciate everyone’s patience during this period and we expect that the customers will be happy with the results.”
The weekend station closures and service disruptions are part of plans to speed progress on the MBTA’s five-year, $8.2 billion improvement project. The Orange Line work is scheduled for six weekends through Nov. 10 with service being suspended each Friday at 8:45 p.m., the MBTA said.
During this weekend’s closure, the MBTA plans to replace 550 feet of Orange Line track while tackling to-do lists that include painting, cleaning, and repairs in Downtown Crossing, Haymarket, State, and Chinatown stations. There were 135 workers on the job Saturday.
While Poftak updated reporters, three workers were replacing stair treads in a stairwell that connects to Red Line trains and the Orange Line’s southbound platform. At Chinatown station, crews this weekend are replacing elevator floors and getting rid of a porous material the MBTA blames for holding onto noxious smells even after elevators are cleaned, Poftak said.
The replacement of 30-year-old tracks are planned for three stations: Downtown Crossing, Haymarket, and State, the MBTA said.
“There will be safer, more reliable service because we replaced tracks, and there will be cleaner and better-looking stations,” Poftak said.
During the weekend closures, the MBTA is providing shuttle buses between Sullivan Square and Haymarket stations and encouraging customers to use the Green Line to navigate downtown Boston.
The closures cover such a wide stretch of the Orange Line, Poftak said, because the MBTA needs to access a spot between Sullivan Square and Community College stations where large construction materials can be loaded onto tracks and transported underground.
On Saturday morning, Poftak said he took the shuttle bus from Sullivan Square to Haymarket station, picked up the Green Line and rode it to Copley station, and then walked to Back Bay station to experience the detours Orange Line customers face.
The stretch between Copley and Back Bay stations confused some customers, he said, prompting him to order the MBTA to display more signs and send more workers to the area.
At Chinatown station, some commuters said they didn’t know the Orange Line had closed for the weekend and were surprised to find locked entrance gates.
“I’m so confused,” said Di Wang, who was headed to Revere Beach.
Ming Wong mapped out a new route to Wellington station in Medford. He said he planned to take the Green Line to Haymarket, then board a shuttle bus to Sullivan Square, where he would take the Orange Line to his destination.
“I understand,” said Wong. “They have to do that.”
Adrian Shaw said he was reconsidering plans to visit Home Depot in Assembly Square in Somerville, a stop on the Orange Line. The station improvements are overdue, he said.
“The stations need cleaning. That’s for sure,” he said.
Weekend service disruptions to accommodate construction are also planned on the Green and Red lines.
On the Green Line’s C branch, shuttle buses will replace train service between Cleveland Circle and Kenmore station from 8:45 p.m. on Oct. 18 to Oct. 20.
On the Green Line’s B branch, shuttle buses will run between Boston College and Washington Street in Brookline from 8:45 p.m. on Oct. 25 to Oct. 27. Shuttle buses are also planned to replace train service on the Green Line’s B branch between Boston College and Babcock Street in Brookline for three weekends in November.
On weekends from Nov. 16 to Dec. 15, shuttle buses will replace Red Line service between Kendall and Broadway stations. The exception will be Thanksgiving weekend, when regular subway service will be available.