Keolis plays whack-a-mole
Even as commuter rail service improves, problems keep popping up
THE PERFORMANCE OF KEOLIS COMMUTER SERVICES is improving on a number of fronts, but there continue to be setbacks that make it appear the MBTA’s commuter rail operator is playing a game of whack-a-mole.
Dan Grabauskas, a consultant hired by the T to oversee improvement at Keolis, reported to the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday that the availability of locomotives and coaches has been holding steady at acceptable levels, train cancellations and terminations were down 19 percent in 2017, and line-by-line efforts to improve performance seem to be working on the Worcester and Haverhill Lines.
But these gains were partially offset by significant delays that surfaced during the extreme cold and snow in early January and by puzzling problems with the commuter rail system’s newest locomotives.
Grabauskas said on-time performance plummeted around January 4 to about 65 percent on a passenger-weighted basis because of snow clearance problems and signal damage caused by storm surge, particularly on the Newburyport and Rockport Lines.
“We were very candid with them. They were very candid with us,” Grabauskas said.
Overall, Keolis has been doing a better job at keeping locomotives and train coaches on the tracks. Still, many of the locomotives are old and prone to breakdowns. The mean miles between locomotive failure is less than 10,000 for most of the system’s older locomotives.
Grabauskas said the commuter rail’s newer locomotives have experienced more failure problems recently. Normally, the mean miles between failure has ranged between 25,000 and 30,000 with the newer locomotives, but in November and December the number fell to less than 20,000. Grabauskas said the downturn in November was due partly to slippery rail conditions caused by falling leaves. He said the cause of the December downturn was harder to pinpoint.Overall, Grabauskas said he was not overly concerned. “Nothing has reached my desk that says there is a sense of any real great concern,” he said.
Grabauskas said many of the failures with the newer locomotives were due to automatic safety shutdowns of the engine if the wheels sense slippage for longer than three seconds. He said the shutdowns often result in no delay for passengers and Keolis is even exploring whether the time before shutdown should be extended beyond three seconds.