T shuttle buses couldn’t keep up
Too many passengers, gridlock hindered replacement service
THE MBTA DEPLOYED 94 of its own buses along with 15 supplied by the Yankee Line to shuttle the thousands of passengers stranded when a Red Line train derailed at the JFK/UMass Station Tuesday morning, but the effort was thwarted when demand for seats far exceeded the supply and many of those who did make it on to the buses ended up stuck in gridlocked traffic for between one and two hours.
The massive shuttle operation had as many as 68 buses operating at any one time and a total of 94 over the entire rush hour period. A T spokesman said in an email that 83 of the 94 buses used in the shuttle operation were pulled from existing routes, meaning service elsewhere suffered to deal with the impact of the derailment. Typically, the T deploys about 800 buses overall during the morning rush hour, the spokesman said.
The Red Line derailment spurred widespread calls for a quicker turnaround at the T and condemnation of Gov. Charlie Baker’s claim that “we’re headed in the right direction.”
Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, in a tweet, suggested the governor was wrong. “Is there any daily @MBTA commuter who agrees with @CharlieBakerMA that service is moving in the right direction? Anyone? Has anyone ever seen the Gov taking public transit? Even 1 time?” she asked.
On Wednesday morning, after conferring with state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Walsh was more measured. He said Pollack had assured him the T would be working properly on Wednesday when the city was hosting a Red Sox game in the afternoon and a Game 7 Stanley Cup game during the evening between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues. But the mayor acknowledged there are no guarantees.
“I don’t think anyone can give 100 percent assurance it’s not going to happen again, but certainly it was concerning to me because it was a Tuesday, commutes were brutal, people were taking the train and stranded at stations,” Walsh said.
The mayor said he supported the MBTA fare hike, which takes effect July 1. “But you have to have more reliability,” he said. “We just have to do better. Certainly I know the governor is frustrated. I was frustrated yesterday. It strains our city streets. It strains people’s ability to get to and from work. There’s a lot at stake here, so we’re going to continue to work at the T and push the T, the general manager there, to make sure the improvements happen. We need to get money into the infrastructure right now. I know the governor allocated $8 billion in a bond bill. The MBTA needs to start moving the projects forward, quite honestly.”
Some wondered whether Boston traffic cops should have done more Tuesday morning to help ease the gridlock. Walsh said there wasn’t enough notice after the derailment at about 6 a.m. “How do you expect on a Tuesday morning at 8 o’clock when we’re at cross walks and schools and making sure kids are crossing the street and all of a sudden the T goes down,” he said.
The mayor and other officials confirmed city and MBTA officials have protocols in place for emergencies (they were prepared to deploy traffic cops for the Wednesday rush hour), but the mayor said it was unclear if any protocol could have dealt with the shutdown of the Red Line, the T’s busiest subway line.
Chris Osgood, Boston’s chief of streets, said the Red Line derailment showed just how vulnerable the city’s transportation system is to a breakdown. “Yesterday morning underscored what we all know, which is that the Red Line is a critical transportation asset in our city and we see the implications of what happens when it’s not working,” he said.
The MBTA restored a semblance of full service on Tuesday evening, but it will be some time before all the kinks are worked out. The train that derailed knocked out a number of installations that house signal systems that track trains and control switches.
The T shutdown service on the Braintree branch of the Red Line for three hours Wednesday so repair workers could begin their work. The derailed train was removed Tuesday night.