Approval by Boston transportation agencies of an $18.3-billion capital investment plan for fiscal years 2020 to 2024—$1 billion more than the prior plan—should provide hope in the wake of two Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority derailments causing rider anger and frustration over ongoing delays.
The five-year plan earmarks $1.58 billion for Red Line/Orange Line improvements, including investments for replacing and expanding the line’s fleets and upgrading related facilities and infrastructure; $640.6 million for Red Line bridges, track, signals and stations, and $1.3 billion for the estimated $2.2-billion Green Line Extension project, according to a June 17 announcement by the Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation.
Boston MBTA crews have been working 24/7 on repairs since June 11, when a Red Line train jumped the tracks and crashed into electronic signaling equipment, damaging the equipment and injuring one passenger, in the second MBTA derailment within a few days.
“More than 150 MBTA workers and contractors continue to make progress on-site to repair damaged signals, switches, and bungalows,” says an MBTA spokeswoman. Last week crews replaced 200 ft. of track and the third rail at the JFK/UMass Red Line Station, but there is no estimate on how long it will take to complete the signaling repairs, nor end in sight to persistent delays.
A few days earlier, a Green Line trolley derailed near Kenmore Station, injuring 11 people. The MBTA determined that incident “appears to be operator- related,” said MBTA Deputy General Manager, Jeff Gonneville.
The 62-year-old operator, hospitalized following injuries from the crash was suspended following the outcome of a preliminary investigation. The Red Line incident is still under investigation, but MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak says officials are focusing on the car itself as the probable cause.
The twin derailments have heightened safety concerns among commuters, lawmakers and transportation advocates, who blame the state for failing to adequately maintain its antiquated transportation infrastructure.
Currently, the MBTA says it is investing nearly $2 billion in the Red and Orange Line Improvement Program between new cars and infrastructure improvements. “During the derailment, the train struck and damaged multiple signal "bungalows" outside the JFK/UMass station that houses Red Line signal system hardware and equipment, the MBTA says in a statement. “This equipment controls the intricate system of track, signals, and switches where the Ashmont and Braintree branches diverge on the Red Line.”
Without the signal system, each Red Line train must be given permission to proceed from one station to the next with personnel along the tracks physically directing trains’ routing, the MBTA notes. This manual process is contributing to delays as trains continue to operate at reduced speeds and move slowly in affected areas.
The MBTA has hired LTK Engineering to conduct a review of the last two years of MBTA derailments. The Red Line has had 14 derailments from 1999 through June, according to MBTA data. During the same period, the Green Line has had 121 derailments.