T’s commuter rail on a roll

On-time performance over 90 percent last 6 months

THE RED LINE continues to plod along in the wake of the June 11 derailment, but the MBTA’s commuter rail system is on something of a roll.

From December through May, the system’s 14 train lines as a group had their best on-time performance since Keolis Commuter Services began running the system five years ago.

The 14 lines as a whole were on time (defined as within five minutes of the arrival time) 90 percent or more of the time over that six-month period. The best month was December at 93.2 percent (the system’s best month ever) and the lowest was February at 90 percent. The six month average was 92 percent.

“This has been our best stretch in quite some time,” said Rob DiAdamo, the T’s new executive director of commuter rail, in a presentation to the Fiscal and Management Control Board last Monday.

Baker administration officials say the turnaround at commuter rail is a sign of what the T can accomplish with a focus on improving performance accompanied by sustained investments in refurbished locomotives, passenger cars, track, and other equipment.

Transit advocates have welcomed the improving on-time numbers, but several pointed out that commuter rail is still struggling to meet goals set for an aging system whose purpose is in flux. Many transit advocates are pushing for more frequent service throughout the day.

The other big concern is the number of commuter rail derailments. There was one derailment (human error) in 2017, two (weather and vehicle issue) in 2018, and two already (both under investigation) in 2019. There were three derailments overall on the entire T system in 2017, five in 2018, and five so far in 2019.

DiAdamo cautioned that on-time performance numbers for commuter rail may dip in June. He said South Shore commuter rail lines added several stops at the Braintree, Quincy Center, and JFK/UMass stations as Red Line service was struggling in the wake of the derailment. Those additional stops, since discontinue, will probably hurt on-time performance. DiAdamo also said work on the Green Line extension is necessitating speed restrictions on the Lowell Line between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Under the oversight of consultant Dan Grabauskas, who had been serving as the T’s executive director of commuter rail, the focus of commuter rail has been a line-by-line review focused on finding the causes of delays and the best way to remedy them. The initial focus was the Worcester Line, followed by the Haverhill Line.

The Worcester Line’s performance, while improved, is still struggling for consistency. It was 90.5 percent in December and 91.1 percent in March, but was below 90 percent for four of the last six months. The Stoughton, Providence, and Middleboro lines had similar performances.

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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.

The best on-time performances over the last six months were on the Haverhill, Fairmount, Lowell, Newburyport, and Rockport lines. All five lines had on-time performance above 90 percent for the entire six-month period.

Ridership appears to be up on the commuter rail system. The MBTA lacks hard passenger counts, but commuter rail fare revenue was up $4.7 million during the first six months of this fiscal year – a bright spot for the T since subway and bus fare revenue were down.