MBTA offers commuter rail alternative as inspections limit subway speeds

Pockets of slow zones persist across MBTA subway lines after the the agency failed to provide sufficient documentation on its tracks to state officials last week.

On Monday,  the T urged riders traveling into Boston to add an extra 20 minutes to their commute, as the agency works with internal and third-party engineers on "verifying and validating the defects that were identified on our track and our track conditions," according to T interim General Manager Jeff Gonneville.

"At this point it is too soon to say when this process will be completed and too soon to say when all these speed restrictions will be lifted," Gonneville said. "What we can commit to is that these restrictions will be lifted on an incremental basis."

In the meantime, riders can use their CharlieCard to get on the commuter rail at the following stations:  JFK/UMass, Quincy Center, Braintree, Porter Square, Back Bay, Ruggles, Forest Hills, Malden Center and Oak Grove.

The agency is directing riders to use the trip planner on its website to identify alternative lines and schedules.

By Friday, some stretches of the T's subways lines had returned to normal speeds of 18 to 40 mph after "global" speed restrictions had been imposed on the Blue, Green, Orange and Red lines late Thursday night.

Only the Green and Mattapan Lines are operating with end-to-end slow zones, defined as 10 to 25 mph on Friday.

Though the Blue, Orange and Red lines no longer had total speed restrictions, there were some "local" slow zones in specific stretches.

MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo did not answer what percentage of these lines were operating on slow zones, but he confirmed that it is more than usual.

The MBTA's decision late Thursday to immediately impose systemwide slowdowns of 10-25 mph was prompted by insufficient documentation of inspections, which the T's interim general manager said could signal unidentified issues with the tracks.

"This decision that we made yesterday to slow the trains down globally was done out of an abundance of caution for [rider] safety," Gonneville said at a press conference Friday morning.

The T has six teams of workers and consulting engineers inspecting tracks and said they will need until Monday to validate repairs and verify speeds. Pesaturo said additional updates would be forthcoming, but not when T riders can expect them.

Unsurprisingly, riders were frustrated with the speed restrictions.

Johana Aristizabal lives in Revere and said in Spanish that the slowdowns have made traveling on the Blue Line feel like “total chaos,” over the last day and a half.

Green Line rider Clarissa Noorinejad was surprised to know that her train will be reduced to speeds of 10 to 25 miles per hour for the foreseeable future.

“That is detrimental, oh my God,” she said. “My schedule is flexible but that is detrimental for other people. Like, could you imagine arriving to work 40 minutes late?”

Gonneville asked for riders to be patient while crews work to inspect tracks.

In a press release published on Thursday at 10:03 p.m, the T announced, "The speed restrictions are the result of findings following a recent site visit of the Red Line between Ashmont and Savin Hill by the Department of Public Utilities."

"The MBTA remains committed to operating the transit system in the safest manner possible. Riders should plan for additional travel time while we work to address these findings," the agency said. "We apologize for the inconvenience and will provide more information as it becomes available."

The DPU serves as the designated state agency responsible for safety oversight of the T. When Federal Transit Administration investigators flagged widespread problems at the MBTA last year, they also criticized the DPU for falling short of those responsibilities.

The latest announcement of slowdowns follows months of intense scrutiny on the T's safety failures fueled in part by the federal probe, which found staffing shortages, a deferred maintenance backlog and other issues.

MBTA officials late last month began publishing data on subway slow zones — where trains are limited to lower-than-typical speeds due to infrastructure defects — that have frustrated riders for months.

As of Jan. 31, 2023, a total of 8.7 miles of track across the MBTA's Red, Blue, Orange and Green Lines, representing 6.5 percent of the system, had some kind of restriction in place limiting speeds to anywhere between 25 mph and 3 mph.

With reporting from WBUR's Samantha Coetzee and Andrea Perdomo-Hernandez, and the State House News Service's Chris Lisinki and Sam Drysdale.

This article was originally published on March 10, 2023.


Headshot of Andrea Perdomo-Hernandez

Andrea Perdomo-Hernandez Transportation Reporter
Andrea Perdomo-Hernandez is a transportation reporter for WBUR.


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Samantha Coetzee Associate Producer
Samantha Coetzee is the associate producer for WBUR's Morning Edition.



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