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New Orange Line cars pulled from service due to ‘uncommon noise,’ return date unknown

A crowd of people waited to board an Orange Line train at Malden Center on Wednesday morning.
A crowd of people waited to board an Orange Line train at Malden Center on Wednesday morning. Finn McSweeney

MBTA officials said Wednesday that they did not know when forlorn passengers will next see the new Orange Line trains that have been out of service for the past two weeks.

The first two new trains of those that are replacing the worn-down Orange Line fleet were taken off the tracks in mid-November. Officials said they were concerned about an “uncommon noise” from the cars.

On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority offered details about the problem: A 5-by-13-inch pad between the upper and lower parts of the subway cars — the truck, or undercarriage, which includes the wheels, and the body, which carries passengers — was “wearing irregularly,” general manager Steve Poftak said.

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Poftak said the MBTA was still working to determine the cause of the problem, and find a solution. He said the T has a “high degree of confidence” the problem will be solved soon, but could not say when the two six-car train sets will return to service.

“We’re always going to prioritize safety, and we’re going to prioritize vehicle life,” Poftak said. “These vehicles are supposed to last 30 years. We are not going to make a short-term decision on the basis of short-term demand that puts any kind of long-term durability in jeopardy.”

The new trains — one of the most tangible and near-term improvements to a transit system in dire need of many — have for months seemed tantalizingly out of reach of riders desperate for progress. The first new train entered service after a flashy ceremony attended by Governor Charlie Baker this summer, almost a year later than expected. It was joined by a second train a few weeks later, but even while they were up and running, they provided only a handful of trips each day.

The two trains also were briefly taken out of service earlier this fall because of a problem with their doors.

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But the need for the new cars and other improvements has only grown more clear in recent days, as Orange Line passengers have suffered a week of miserable commutes. On Tuesday, parts of the line were out of service due to a power problem. And on Wednesday, three separate trains that date to the early 1980s suffered mechanical failures, causing widespread delays that underscored the subway’s reliability problems.

“There’s something always wrong,” said Orlando Poupart of Roxbury. “You’re raising the prices for the fare, but [stuff] is still broke and breaks down every couple minutes. It’s ridiculous.”

Moreover, Orange Line trains have been running at slower speeds through the downtown tunnel in recent weeks since the T replaced some of the tracks. It said the speed restrictions were short-term while the new track settles, but passengers are experiencing slightly longer commutes as a result.

Poftak declined to say whether the latest problem with the new trains is the fault of CRRC, the Chinese company that won the nearly $1 billion job to build 404 cars for the Orange and Red line that are being finished at a factory in Springfield. But he said the T would not incur any costs to fix new cars because they are under warranty.

CRRC declined to comment.

The company may need to install a different kind of pad between the bodies and the trucks, or change the way the remaining trains are built, Poftak added. He stressed that because the problem was found on the first trains to enter service, the rest of the fleet will be modified accordingly.

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Bradley Clarke, a subway expert and president of the Boston Street Railway Association, a nonprofit group devoted to the history of public transportation, said it’s common for new subway cars to experience some hiccups at first. While transit systems test vehicles before putting them into service, it’s not the same as handling loads of passengers under real-time conditions.

“I don’t consider it abnormal for them to have these glitches, and they’ll probably have quite a few before the whole thing is said and done,” Clarke said.

But the new cars are under close scrutiny because of what they represent, he added. “We’re looking at it because we are desperate for the system to run properly,” he said. “There is a feeling on the part of the riding public that they really, really, really want these cars to work.”


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro. Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.