MBTA: “May Be Trains Arrive”

Keolis having issues even before really bad weather settles in

Perhaps it’s delay fatigue (as opposed to delayed fatigue), but the operators of the MBTA’s commuter rail had an awful, bad, terrible evening commute Tuesday in the warm drizzle of an early fall day that barely registered a blip on the news radar.

The Download, as regular readers know, has a lead item that wraps up coverage of one of the day’s most notable stories. But the problems which affected thousands of commuters got little notice from area media outlets, save for Fox 25 which based its story on riders lighting up the T on social media. With a paucity of legacy links, we’’ll turn this over to social media. (It’s an old joke in reporting circles, though, that local news isn’t a story until it affects an editor. So in full disclosure, I was one of the passengers on one of the severely delayed trains.)

The commute from hell got off to a rocky start when the 4:52 p.m. Greenbush train from South Station broke down in Quincy Center. That’s when the fun began. The packed train couldn’t move off the single-track, preventing both inbound and outbound trains from passing. And the Greenbush line shares tracks with two other lines – Kingston/Plymouth and Middleboro/Lakeville – between South Station and Braintree.

Waiting behind the stuck train was the outgoing 5 p.m. Kingston train. And behind that the Middleboro/Lakeville train. And behind that was another Greenbush train. And then another Kingston train, all leaving between 5 and 5:45. See where this is heading? Those halted trains also triggered a stoppage going north not only from trains that couldn’t pass but a lack of trains to pick up passengers at the start of their inbound trip because late-arriving equipment hadn’t arrived.

Many passengers complained on social media they weren’t being given any information about what was going on as they sat looking forlornly out the windows at Red Line trains passing by. But because the trains were stopped away from platforms, looking was all passengers could do.

“We weren’t near the station,” one rider named CeejTankGaming wrote on Twitter. “We were basically train-napped.”

“This service is BEYOND unacceptable,” another user tweeted from a Middleborough train. “No updates from the conductor, the train isn’t moving, and we’re now 2 hours delayed. Open the damn doors and let us find another way home.”

Keolis gave some updates on its Twitter feed, merely saying a “disabled train” was the cause and putting delays in the range of minutes. As in “105 to 115 minutes” because, apparently, minutes sounds better than hours.

The fix was as head-scratching as the delays. Keolis officials emptied out an inbound train from Middleboro/Lakeville so it could hook up to the broken down train and push it to Braintree. The passengers from the Greenbush train were unloaded in Quincy and put onto the former inbound train and taken home while the inbound passengers either waited for a long-delayed train or went to the relatively more dependable Red Line.

Many sent angry tweets to Gov. Charlie Baker but got no response. Some even pulled in Amazon to show the company what it’s getting into if it chooses Boston for its new headquarters.

“Surely Amazon will drop Boston from the running for HQ2 if they’re reading the @mbta_alerts,” one stuck rider wrote, tagging the online giant in the post.

Keolis put out a statement to Fox 25 late Tuesday night apologizing for the delays but offered little information about what they’ll do to fix it other than laying the blame on old equipment.

“A mechanical issue with a locomotive caused these delays,” Keolis said in a statement. “We continue to make progress overhauling our locomotive fleet, but there is still work to do. We appreciate our passengers’ patience while crews worked to keep them informed and reach their destinations.”

The problems weren’t limited to the south as a Worcester-bound train broke down and had to be pushed by a following train, causing an hour or more delay for other westbound trains. And early Wednesday morning, Keolis canceled a train from Providence with little reason but which the Boston Globe discovered was due to “late arriving crew.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez has tried his best to hang the T’s and Keolis’s problems around Baker’s neck. Gonzalez retweeted dozens of posts from the Tuesday commute to highlight the problem.

“Riders struggling to get home,” Gonzalez tweeted. “As Gov, I’ll ask the wealthy to pay more so we can fix our system.”

Gonzalez has said he’ll fire Keolis if he is elected, a stance many dismiss as simplistic. But after Tuesday’s failures, it will find a receptive audience among many riders.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

“.@MBTA_CR question,” CeejTankGaming tweeted to Keolis’s account, “does MBTA stand for ‘maybe trains arrive’? Asking for a friend.”

JACK SULLIVAN