State Lawmakers Ride The Commuter Rail — And Get Crowded, Delayed Trains

Commuters wait on the platform in Salem as an MBTA commuter rail train arrives in early March. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Commuters wait on the platform in Salem as an MBTA commuter rail train arrives in early March. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In an effort to better understand the challenges — and headaches — faced by public transit riders this winter, dozens of state lawmakers rode the MBTA and the commuter rail Thursday morning.

About 47 lawmakers took part in what is being called Gov On The T Day.

At South Station, many of the state representatives who rode the commuter rail said they experienced delays, overcrowded trains and waits in the cold — issues commuters have been dealing with all winter.

"It was consistent with the reports that I have been receiving for the past two months from my constituents," said state Rep. Alice Peisch, a Democrat from Wellesley. "The train was about 20 minutes late. It was overcrowded — standing room only."

Democratic state Rep. David Linsky of Natick said delays at least need to be communicated better. He said his train from Natick Center was 15 minutes late, but the delay was not properly reflected on the message board on the track where he boarded.

"If it’s going to be late, the lateness has to be communicated in such a way that [riders] could make alternate plans," Linsky said at South Station. "Having the message board not reflect the accurate time of the train until just before it was due to arrive is the problem, and it’s a serious problem."

Many of the issues plaguing the commuter rail are due to the fact that the system is still not operating at full service — more than a month after the last major snowstorm and with spring around the corner. Commuter rail operator Keolis has pledged to restore full service by next month.

"The main limitation is the lack of working locomotives," Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said. "Once they have a full fleet of locomotives, they will get back to a full schedule in April."

While Keolis works to restore full service to the commuter rail, the MBTA announced Thursday morning that it had all four subway lines operating the full number of cars for the first time since Jan. 22.

Pollack rode the commuter rail Thursday morning from Newtonville and said the train was so crowded that many people could not get on and were left behind on the platform.

The brutal winter weather hampered service across the T and the commuter rail this winter. Still, the problems faced by commuters this year have also raised issues about the transit system's funding and maintenance backlog.

"Just giving the T money alone is not going to solve the problem," Pollack said.

It's a sentiment Pollack has expressed before as the MBTA struggled during the last two months. And other lawmakers Thursday agreed, saying they want to get a better understanding of how money is already being used on the state's transit system.

"There really needs to be some good oversight of the whole system," state Rep. Kay Khan, of Newton, said. "It’s complicated, but in this day and age it seems to be that we should be able to figure out how to make it a better system. I don’t know if we’re ready to pour in money at this point until we really know what we need to be doing and then take a look at what the cost will be."

Khan said Thursday was her first time riding the commuter rail. She got on at Auburndale commuter rail station and said her train was about 10 minutes late getting into Boston.

Assessing the MBTA is the focus of an advisory panel created by Gov. Charlie Baker last month. That commission, which was created to look at the MBTA's longstanding problems, is expected to issue its findings and recommendations at the end of this month.

Pollack said the MBTA is also working with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) to address the specific issues it faced this winter. The APTA has been reviewing what happened with the T and will give its recommendations, according to Pollack. T officials and APTA members met Thursday morning, she said.


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Zeninjor Enwemeka Senior Business Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a senior business reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.



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