Barrage Of Snow Storms Test MBTA's Limits

Commuters hoping to get home on the T or commuter rail Wednesday could expect some delays as public transit officials said they were keeping a close eye on the ice forecast. The ice could bring down trees and block train tracks, or weigh down the wires on the Green and Blue Lines.

Wednesday morning's big crisis was on the Green Line. Mechanical problems paralyzed three of the 10 trains on the Cleveland Circle route.

Sean McCarthy directs the T's control center from a desk in the middle, behind a row of dispatchers. They all stare up at a collage of flat-screen televisions projecting the action from almost a dozen train platforms. On each side, there are bright, clean diagrams of the train lines. Little train images are moving in real time — except for the Green Line — the "antique" section of the T. Dispatchers have to do everything by radio when directing those trains.

"Joe...Joe...any help we could get out there on Beacon Street," McCarthy said to one T worker.

Wednesday morning’s big crisis was on the Green line. Mechanical problems paralyzed three of the 10 trains on the Cleveland Circle route.

McCarthy wanted T staff to tell riders that buses were coming.

In all, MBTA officials said it took about an hour to resolve the problems on the Green Line.

MBTA General Manager Richard Davey said many of these problems are a result of aging equipment.

"You know, it's not an excuse, but it's just a reality. For the Orange Line, for example, the cars are 30 years old. They should have been retired six years ago. The Red Line trains are 40 years old."

For example, Davey said the seals protecting the breaking system wear out over time — if moisture and cold air get in, they can freeze up.

Chronic financial problems at the T have prevented them from doing a lot of maintenance or replacing equipment.

One bus problem that's gotten a lot of attention on Twitter has nothing to do with failing equipment, but rather whose job it is to clear the snow banks piling up in front of bus stops.

"That was something that I think we relied on abutters to do, the city, or others," Davey said. "And frankly, we decided that it's incumbent on us — we don't have the resources to clear all 8,000 bus stops that we have, but certainly have the resources to improve key routes, bus stops where we know there's high ridership."


As for trains, Davey tried another thing this week. He pre-emptively canceled some of the morning commuter rail trains. He chose lines that he said would least affect riders and removed locomotives that had the most chance of breaking down. He said it helped Wednesday morning's commute run more smoothly, and will likely help Wednesday night's commute too, because there's less stress on the equipment.

Lissandra Paredis hasn't been won over. She had problems riding the Red Line Tuesday.

"The MBTA officials were very confused. It was just a mess," she said. "I don't feel the T is as efficient as it could be."

Let's hope the T has had the last of its snow tests for a while.

This program aired on February 2, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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