Poftak sees T turning corner with Orange Line reopening

Baker downplays the need for additional funding

MBTA GENERAL Manager Steven Poftak said on Sunday that he believes the successful refresh of the Orange Line over the last 30 days could be a turning point for the transit authority.

With the MBTA preparing to reopen the Orange Line to the public on Monday for the first time since August 19, Poftak said the transit authority met all of its goals, including replacement of 14,000 feet of rail and 2,800 rail ties, elimination of six slow zones, installation of new signal equipment, and the prep work necessary to bring 72 new train vehicles on line.

“I truly believe we are turning a corner with this Orange Line surge,” Poftak said. “A lot of people went in to this not thinking it would work or not thinking we could get the work done in 30 days. My hope that when they come back they appreciate that the product is better, the ride is going to be faster, you’re going to get more vehicles. It’s going to be a smoother, more reliable ride. To the extent that folks had lost confidence in the T, I’m hopeful that this is a step in regaining that confidence.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, who attended the press conference at the Tufts Medical Center Orange Line station, thanked the T team for their hard work and said he had been reasonably confident the agency could get all the work done because it has done that before on several other partial closures of lines.

The MBTA oversight board has started talking about obtaining new funding for the transit authority and listened to a presentation last week by T staffers who laid out revenue streams being utilized by other transit authorities across the country and around the world.

Baker, however, said the first priority is satisfying all the safety directives laid out by the Federal Transit Administration in a safety audit of the MBTA released on August 31. He said the other priority is hiring people for positions that are fully funded but currently unfilled.

He downplayed the need for additional funding. “The next several years we are actually in pretty good shape,” he said, although T officials say the transit authority’s operating budget is likely to face a deficit of at least several hundred million dollars in fiscal 2024, which begins in July 2023.

The Orange Line is the MBTA’s second busiest subway line in terms of passengers, providing 101,000 trips each day prior to the 30-day shutdown with ridership approximately 49 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

With tomorrow’s reopening, the commuter rail system will start collecting fares once again in Zones 2, 1, and 1A but will continue some of the stops added during the shutdown. For example, trains on the Haverhill Line will continue to stop at Oak Grove and nine new stops at Forest Hills on the Franklin and Providence/Stoughton lines will continue.