MBTA schedules slow zone work on Red Line

Scope of rail defect problem coming into focus, cause remains unclear

THE MBTA on Monday announced new steps to address slow zones caused by subway track defects that were apparently identified by routine rail scans but for some reason never addressed by transit authority personnel.

The scope of the problem is coming into focus, even as its cause remains unclear.

The problem surfaced in March when T officials couldn’t provide documentation of repair work to address rail defects discovered by routine track scans and inspections.

As a safety precaution, T officials ordered trains to slow down from 40 to 10 miles per hour on most of the system while engineers checked to see what the rail scans showed and what repairs had been made. After the inspections were completed, roughly a quarter of the subway system remained under slow zone restrictions, suggesting that defects uncovered by the scans had never been addressed.

The T has identified track defects on all the subway lines – 69 on the Blue Line, 75 on the Red Line, 24 on the Orange Line, and a still-undetermined number on the Green Line.

The MBTA on Monday evening began addressing a portion of the Blue Line defects between Government Center and Wonderland stations, replacing 2,000 feet of track and 450 rail ties.

Over the next month, the T will begin addressing track defects on the Red Line, initially between Park Street and Columbia/JFK and then on the two branches of the Red Line extending from Columbia/JFK to Ashmont and Braintree.

Portions of the B, C, and D branches of the Green Line will also be shut down in late May to allow track work to be done.

All of the work will be done at night or on weekends, with shuttle buses ferrying passengers while a portion of the subway system is shut down. (For a detailed breakdown of the service changes, click here.)

Phillip Eng, the MBTA’s general manager, said last week that work on the Blue Line would be completed in November while Red Line work would be finished by the end of the year.

“At this time, the T is concentrating its efforts on the Blue Line to ensure as much of that line as possible can return to normal line speed prior to the closure of the Sumner Tunnel in July,” the T said in a statement.

Eng and other T officials have been tight-lipped about what caused so much of the subway system to be gobbled up by slow zones.

The MBTA in late March hired Charles L. O’Reilly of Carlson Transport Consulting to review the T’s track safety inspection procedures. His contact cannot exceed 90 days or cost more than $70,000.

In a statement, the T said a part of O’Reilly’s review “includes an analysis of the process steps involved in identifying, documenting, and tracking rail defects detected across the MBTA system, and scheduling work to address rail defects that have an impact on service.”