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The Orange Line got new tracks ... and then slowed down

After work on the central part of the Orange Line was completed over weekends in the early fall, the trains are moving at lower speeds through downtown Boston.
After work on the central part of the Orange Line was completed over weekends in the early fall, the trains are moving at lower speeds through downtown Boston.Erin Clark for the Boston Globe

Ah, the MBTA — where after closing off a subway line for multiple weekends to put in shiny new tracks, the trains actually run slower.

As part of its multibillion dollar effort to modernize much of the century-old system, the T has been replacing older track in subway lines, including some 4,000 feet of rails and 2,000 rail ties on the Orange Line. But after work on the central part of the Orange Line was completed over weekends in the early fall, the trains are moving at lower speeds through downtown Boston.

In November, the typical Orange Line train has taken about 7.5 minutes to travel from Chinatown to North Station, according to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority data, compared to under 5.5 minutes earlier this year.

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“After shutting down the Orange Line for six weekends for track work, it seems bad to have travel times go up instead of down,” said Chris Friend, a member of the advocacy group Transit Matters, who analyzed the MBTA’s trip speed data. The T said the slow speed was expected after the construction and insisted service will return to normal levels soon.

Meanwhile, another of the long-promised improvements to the system — new Orange Line trains, the first of dozens coming to the subway system — have been taken out of service for the second time in three months. The trains haven’t run since earlier this week after officials grew concerned about a noise coming from the cars.

MBTA spokeswoman Lisa Battiston said the “uncommon noise” from the train cars is not related to the derailment of a new car at a rail yard earlier this week. She said the Orange Line cars have been removed from service “out of an abundance of caution” amid an ongoing investigation into the cause of the noise and “what it may signify.” She declined to further detail the noise.

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In September, the new Orange Line trains — 12 cars in total — were taken out of service for several days after a door on one of them opened in the middle of a ride. The T had the manufacturer replace a component in all the new cars slated for the Orange Line.

As for the track work, Battiston said the slower speeds in the immediate aftermath of construction were expected and should be temporary; speed restrictions on trains is a regular requirement to allow the agency to evaluate the new tracks.

“While safe to operate over, brand new track does need that settling period in which the alignment of the track is monitored,” said Battiston.

The first of these speed restrictions — through Downtown Crossing and Haymarket stations — were already removed on Tuesday. Other restrictions will be “lifted in the coming days and weeks,” she said.

Maureen Coello, a daily Orange Line rider, said she had noticed the slower service, especially while waiting on platforms for trains to arrive.

“You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it just doesn’t come,” she said. But she was heartened to learn it was related to the track replacement project. “At least it’s not just bad service. It’s for a reason,” she said.

The Orange Line in particular is among the first service in the system to see the tangible results of years of planning and billions in spending on repairs, replacements, and new equipment. The T is spending about $1 billion on more than 400 new subway cars alone, the first of which arrived on the Orange Line to much fanfare this summer. The first new Red Line cars are being tested on tracks outside South Station.

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With the Legislature poised to debate measures to improve the long-beleaguered public transit system — which could include a substantial hike in the gas tax to pay for them — the Baker administration has been proclaiming that its existing $8 billion, five-year capital improvement plan will finally begin yielding benefits for riders.

But after a subway derailment in June shut the Red Line for days and resulted in weeks of slower service as officials repaired heavily damaged equipment, Baker asked the Legislature for an additional $50 million infusion to speed up maintenance work.

Baker also pushed the T to adopt a more aggressive approach to scheduling that work, which resulted in the agency shutting core sections of the subway system over weekends. The Red Line, for example, will be closed for four weekends in late November and early December from Broadway to Kendall Square for similar track replacement.

Battiston said that once that work is completed, the Red Line, too, will face temporary speed restrictions.

The T said the new tracks will produce a quieter, smoother ride because they use a so-called continuous rail design that notably reduces the telltale “clickety-clack” sound made when trains pass over joints between sections.

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