MBTA GM apologizes, says ‘tangible benefits’ near

Poftak: Fare increases to go forward as planned

MBTA GENERAL MANAGER STEVE POFTAK stressed Friday that T officials are working as quickly and safely as possible to assess and fix the damage to the Red Line, and he said despite the disruption to service, the July 1 fare increases will go forward as planned.

“This is unacceptable and we apologize for the inconvenience during the commute this week,” Poftak said three days after a 50-year-old Red Line car ran off the track, damaging three bungalows filled with signal equipment. “I want to assure everyone that the MBTA is working 24 hours a day to address this incident. We have a team of over 150 T employees and contractors hard at work trying to get service back together.”

The failure, which is one of the most significant since Gov. Charlie Baker appointed a control board to fix the transit system four years ago, has led to calls from politicians and business leaders to develop and implement a plan to repair and upgrade the T as quickly as possible.

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu cited this week’s stalled commutes as another reason why the fare increases should not go forward July 1, but Poftak said those decisions have already been made.

“The fare increase will occur on July 1. That process has been long underway. It’s a pretty significant process from a technical point of view,” Poftak said. “But also from a procedural point of view, we have put together an FY20 budget that invests in the system, that invests in additional service, that invests in our employees. The fare increase is a component of that investment in the FY 20 budget.”

Wu had said that after this week’s service disruptions, the fare increases are “insulting.”

The investments the T has made into upgrading the system – replacing third rail, procuring new Red and Orange Line train cars, and making spot repairs to stations – are starting to bear fruit, Poftak told reporters at a press conference held just outside JFK/UMass, where the derailment occurred Tuesday.

MBTA employees work on track next to damaged signals location. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

“We’re right at that moment where we’re going to start to see tangible benefits,” Poftak said. “We have a $113 million program that is underway to replace all the signals on the Red Line. This unfortunately was supposed to be the last one replaced. We’re now in the process of trying to figure out how we can replace it quickly.”

The derailment Tuesday was the second in less than a week. T officials blamed operator error for a Green Line derailment on Saturday, and they are still investigating the Red Line incident with their attentions focused on potential problems with the track system or the train care itself. Operator error and malfeasance have been ruled out.

The car itself was put into service in 1969, received a midlife overhaul in the late 1980s, and had its trucks replaced in 2014, according to Poftak, who said the cars are inspected about monthly, and the car that derailed had last been inspected May 3. The area where the southbound train derailed is right by the split in the tracks between the Braintree and Ashmont legs of the Red Line.

When it went off the tracks, the car hit three bungalows housing signal equipment, and “almost entirely wiped out” one of them, Poftak said.

Countdown clocks throughout the system rely on the electronic signal system that was damaged at JFK/UMass, but T officials are trying to develop “workarounds” to restore the signs that let transit passengers know when the next train will arrive, the general manager said.

The T is still running dedicated commuter rail trains to the affected area – making stops at JFK, Quincy Center, and Braintree – and T officials expect to make an announcement regarding the schedule for restoring service on Sunday evening after testing this weekend.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Poftak thanked T customers for their patience – advising people to build in extra time to their T travel – and also thanked the agency’s front-line employees.

“We know that it’s incredibly frustrating,” Poftak said. “This is obviously a very difficult situation. With our employees, it’s hardest on our front-line employees.”