New Orange Line cars being tested

The MBTA has begun testing its new Orange Line cars with the goal of returning them to active service in the coming weeks, a move that suggests the transit authority is finally closing in on the cause of a derailment nearly six months ago.

The Orange Line derailment – not to be confused with the more recent Green Line crash – occurred on March 16. One of the T’s new Orange Line trains was moving from one track to another at slow speed in a work zone near the Wellington train yard in Medford when it derailed. 

The derailment was concerning because all of the T’s 252 Red and 152 Orange line vehicles are being replaced by CRRC Mass., the Chinese manufacturer who has built a facility to assemble the vehicles in Springfield. While the cause of the derailment is being investigated, T officials removed from active service all of the new Orange and Red line trains that have been delivered so far. 

The initial focus of the investigation was the 46-year-old switch that the Orange Line train used to move between tracks. But in early May the T’s deputy general manager, Jeffrey Gonneville, said he suspected the problem had to do with the vehicles themselves – specifically pads attached to the vehicle trucks, which enable the vehicles to turn. He said testing indicated the pads were wearing down faster than expected. When that happens, he said, the pads tend to grip harder, increasing “rotational force” that makes it more difficult for a vehicle to turn.   

In early June, Gonneville outlined a handful of other infrastructure issues that could have played a role. He said the switch, in addition to being old, lacked a guardrail that helps to keep a train on the track in tight turns. He also outlined two other issues with the track itself that could have been contributing factors. 

There was no “single point of failure” that caused the derailment, Gonneville said in early June. 

The T executive also suggested there was a disagreement between T officials and CRRC about the cause. “The MBTA right now does feel pretty strongly that the guardrail itself on the switch and the excessive rotational force were more than likely the key contributing forces that led to this incident,” he said. “But in full fairness, CRRC is of the opinion that really the infrastructure items that I’ve outlined here played a greater or more key role in influencing the derailment itself.” 

The stakes are high for CRRC. The MBTA is the company’s first customer in the United States and the firm has leveraged the T contract to secure other clients. Problems with CRRC’s vehicles could have a ripple effect on the company’s business. 

Two months since Gonneville’s last report the T still hasn’t settled on an explanation for the derailment, but it apparently has reached a point where it believes the vehicles can be returned to active service. 

T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an email that the new Orange Line trains are currently being tested on the main subway line and are expected to return to active service before the end of the summer, which is September 22. He said the investigation into the cause of the derailment is ongoing with a “continued focus” on the various factors Gonneville had outlined previously.

“The investigation into the cause(s) of the derailment and the process of re-introducing the cars are on parallel tracks,” he said.  

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Keeping it local: Two Roxbury families, uninterested in becoming the face of a Massachusetts marijuana business for out-of-state companies, are plunging into the field themselves with plans to open one store on Newbury Street and another in Nubian Square. Solmon Chowdhury and his wife Rokeya are joining up with friends Brian and Joanne Keith to open Rooted in Roxbury. The business is new for both families. The Chowdhurys operate four restaurants and the Keiths work in aviation sales and finance. “We recognized if the four of us then worked together, we could do this better than what the large out-of-state corporation was trying to do, and we could also make it so that community people were actually involved,” said Brian Keith. 

— The marijuana business in Massachusetts is dominated by large cannabis companies and funded by venture capitalists. Rooted in Roxbury, by contrast, boasts over 40 investors, of whom 96 percent are black, all are people of color, 51 percent are women, and all are Boston residents from Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park. The founders said they reached out to people they know through their community work, targeting investors of color. They set a minimum investment amount of just $1,200 to encourage people who are not wealthy to invest. Read more.

Boston-Cambridge tourism district: Hotels in Boston and Cambridge are moving to take advantage of a new state law allowing them to add a new room fee and use the money to promote tourism in the two communities. At a hearing of the Boston City Council, Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the fee would raise an estimated $10.5 million in its first year.

— The proposed tourism destination marketing district is similar to the business improvement districts already in existence, but the focus is on tourists and hotel stays instead of general business conditions. Both are examples of private sector initiatives designed to make up for shortfalls in public funding. According to Sheridan, Boston spends $7.4 million a year to promote tourism while other cities around the country (Atlanta, Miami, Nashville, and Philadelphia) spend more than $30 million. Read more.

Gig question: Opponents of a ballot question being pushed by Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and Instacart filed a complaint with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, alleging the firms failed to properly disclose expenditures on their campaign before it was officially announced. A spokesman for the firms dismissed the “false claims” and said they were based on a “willful misunderstanding” of campaign finance law. The proposed ballot question would affirm gig workers can legally work as independent contractors and are not employees. Read more.

OPINION

Grid connections: Kaitlin Kelly O’Neill of the Coalition for Community Solar Access says the current process for connecting solar installations to the grid isn’t working and needs to be improved if the state is going to meet its climate change goals. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

In a twisting turn of a tale that includes Fall River’s former mayor, Jasiel Correia, who is awaiting sentencing on federal corruption charges, as well as his predecessor, Will Flanagan, who once accused Correia of pulling a gun on him, Swansea planning board member Jonathan Carreiro faces charges of witness intimidation and destruction of property. (Herald News)  

Worcester officials lay out their plans to spend $111 million in federal ARPA money, with the funds going to affordable housing, public health, park improvements, business assistance, arts, and other community priorities. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester is on a hiring spree, replacing hundreds of nurses on strike for staffing increases. (Patriot Ledger)

Researchers at Duke University say their study of more than 1 million K-12 students shows that universal mask mandates in schools clearly reduce COVID transmission rates. (New York Times) Salem and Northampton require masks be worn inside buildings open to the public. (Daily Item and Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Nine nursing homes reach an agreement with federal prosecutors to settle allegations that they refused to admit patients receiving treatment for substance use disorder. (Eagle-Tribune)

Globe columnist Joan Vennochi and Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld both rip former president Barack Obama over his mask-free birthday bash on Martha’s Vineyard amid rising concerns about a resurgence of COVID. 

ELECTIONS

Former Roxbury district city councilor Tito Jackson endorses Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who succeeded him in the District 7 seat, for mayor. (Boston Globe)

Mayoral rival Andrea Campbell continues to press Janey to require proof of vaccination to patronize Boston restaurants and also urged that all city workers be required to get vaccinated to undergo regular COVID testing. (Boston Herald

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Employers are still struggling to find workers. (Salem News)

EDUCATION

Boston Teachers Union president Jessica Tang says she would support a mandate that teachers get vaccinated or submit to regular COVID testing. (Boston Globe

UMass Dartmouth’s former interim Chancellor Mark Fuller officially cinched the role of the university’s highest ranking officer following an extensive search process. (South Coast)

The Framingham School Committee approves a plan for distribution of $14 million in federal relief funds. (MetroWest Daily News)

ARTS/CULTURE

Only the independently wealthy can afford to be artists in Greater Boston, says painter Bethany Noël. All others are getting priced out of housing, despite landlords who wish they could accommodate studios. (WBUR)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Environmental advocates say the new UN climate report is an urgent call to action to head off the worst effects of climate change. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Former Brockton police officer Anthony Louis was released on personal recognizance Monday, after being indicted on two counts of filing a false police report and misleading a police investigation. The indictment alleges Louis failed to check the cell of a man who died in police custody in May. (The Enterprise)