Red Line train derails; gridlock ensues

‘What’s the plan?’ Buses take nearly 2 hours to go 5 stops

A RED LINE TRAIN derailment at the JFK/UMass Station early Tuesday morning plunged the city of Boston into a far-worse-than-usual gridlock.

The derailment occurred at about 6 a.m. at one of the major choke points on the MBTA system, where the two southern branches of the Red Line converge. As a result, the T had to scramble to run replacement buses from North Quincy to Broadway on the Braintree branch of the Red Line and between Ashmont and Broadway on the Ashmont branch of the Red Line.

But the shuttle bus service, after it was established, failed to move passengers along because the vehicles were stuck on roads that had turned in to virtual parking lots. I was able to board a bus on Dorchester Avenue near the Shawmut Station T stop at 8:02 a.m. and didn’t reach the Red Line Broadway Station – five stops away – until 9:47 a.m.

It was unclear why congestion was so bad and seemed to extend well beyond the immediate area impacted by the Red Line shutdown. One theory was that the derailment happened early enough that many people who normally would have ridden the T decided to drive into town. The congestion may have been worsened by the decision by emergency personnel to shut down the exits off of the Southeast Expressway near JFK/UMass (Columbia Road) for about 30 minutes – from 7:10 a.m. to 7:42 a.m.

There also appeared to be no police presence at major intersections trying to keep traffic moving along.

MBTA replacement buses during the early morning commute were packed. (Photo by Bruce Mohl)

Jim Aloisi, a board member of TransitMatters and a former secretary of transportation, said it appeared to him that there was no coordinated emergency plan in place for such a situation. The T has protocols for such situations, but in this case the protocols didn’t seem to be coordinated with Boston emergency officials.

“What’s the plan?” he asked. “Everything just broke down. The traffic was unbelievable.”

Aloisi also found it interesting that the T reported switching problems on Monday night at JFK/UMass. An MBTA tweet at 5:11 p.m. on Monday reported “delays of up to 15 minutes due to a switch problem at JFK/UMass. Trains may stand by or move slowly as they are given permission to move through the area.”

On the same Twitter thread, a person commented that “this has to be about the fifth time this week that the Red Line is delayed because of some problem at JFK.”

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Some commuters who took Uber reported astronomical surge prices of more than $100, but officials with the ride-hailing app said the surge pricing was discontinued in the immediate area of the derailment as soon as they learned of the incident.

The train that derailed was headed to Braintree when a car in the middle of the train derailed and leaned to the side. Passengers were taken off the train by emergency personnel. Only one was injured; none were taken to the hospital.

The Red Line derailment follows close on the heels of a derailment on the Green line Saturday that injured 11 people, including the driver. That incident was blamed on operator error, although T officials say they are still investigating.