Mission Impossible: Commuting on the MBTA or running it?

It wasn’t a fluke, an infrastructure issue, sabotage, or terrorism, according to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. Nor did it have anything to do with the T’s debt issues or the coming fiscal 2010 budget implosion.

Yet the entire subway system from Alewife to Ashmont from Malden to Forest Hills to the Green Line and the Blue Line was at a standstill for roughly one hour this morning.

With the Red Line out, I took a bus trek on Massachusetts Avenue to the Green Line at Hynes only to find the station closed by the same power failure that left Harvard Station pitch black.

A Boston cop, who’d just finished yelling at a woman who first yelled at him about the closed station, kindly directed me to Copley Station. “You have your family and your health,” he told me after I tried to query him about possible causes. “This happens all the time,” another plainclothes transit officer in shades told me.

No, a meltdown on all four subway lines simultaneously does not happen all the time.

So, with a normal hour's commute heading into two, I took alternative transit:  Foot power down Newbury Street and a detour to the State Transportation Building. What happened? The problem originated in a power plant in South Boston, was all Pesaturo would tell me as we sat in the MBTA’s offices. Power was restored after an hour, in phases. Though the cause has been pinpointed, it’s still under investigation, said Pesaturo who declined to comment further.

He also saw no reason for General Manager Dan Grabauskas to worry about his continued employment. “Absolutely not.” Pesaturo said, adding the T “can’t control what people think.”

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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Absolutely right, but what happens when customers aren’t happy? (Alan LeBovidge can provide some insights.) Unfortunately, between texting employees, aging infrastructure, billions in debt, no help from Beacon Hill, and now a bizarre subway system collapse, Grabauskas has the Bay’s State’s Mission Impossible, running a hapless transit authority that would probably defy celestial intervention.

UPDATE:   A maintenance crew tripped a main breaker to cables powering trains and trolleys, according to media reports. Such system-wide outages are "rare," according to Virginia Miller of the American Public Transportation Association based in Washington, DC.