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Officials Call Commuter Rail Delays 'Unacceptable'

State transportation officials say the commuter train breakdowns that led to hours-long delays this week are "unacceptable."

On Monday night, a Boston-to-Worcester train took four hours. On Thursday night, a Boston-to-Fitchburg train took more than three hours.

Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan said there is a distinction between the mechanical failure on the train to Fitchburg and the breakdown of the Worcester train that was traced to human error.

"We've got some old equipment out there and the mechanical failures are going to happen," Mullan said. "What I'm not going to tolerate is an inability to communicate with our customers in a regular and consistent fashion. And we've got to limit human error on the railroad."

Mullen says the 37-year-old train to Fitchburg that broke down is normally reliable, but had a circuit board failure.

Scott Farmelant, spokesman for Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail, the agency that operates the line for the MBTA, said the Fitchburg train left Boston's North Station at 5:20 p.m. Thursday and broke down in Waltham. The train then had to be pushed all the way to Fitchburg by the next train leaving Boston.

“At each stop they’re required to let passengers board and get off one set of coaches, then move the second set of coaches up to the platforms, and that unfortunately adds significant delays to the travel time,” Farmelant said.

It was 9 p.m. before riders going to Fitchburg got to the station.

MBCR General Manager Hugh Kiley issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon that said Monday night's incident was preventable. Kiley said MBCR made a mistake when it returned to service on Monday a locomotive that had experienced a mechanical problem earlier in the day.

The same locomotive broke down in Newton Monday night after leaving South Station at 5 p.m. Passengers did not arrive in Worcester until after 9 p.m. The trip normally takes about 80 minutes.

This program aired on March 4, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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