A week into his new role as the MBTA’s Chief of Stations, Dennis Varley walked through one of the Red Line's most troubled stations. He's tackling his first task: Cleaning up the JFK/UMass stop during a 16-day October shutdown while workers fix the tracks.
He points to deteriorated concrete on the floor and flaking paint on a pillar on the station’s platform. “I mean you see peeling paint, it gives the impression that it's not well-maintained right? We don’t want to give that impression,” Varley said. “It's not what the people deserve.”
Varley is charged with more than aesthetics. He was hand-picked by MBTA General Manager and CEO Phil Eng after a career in New York transit for the newly-created role that's tasked with helping make Boston's subway, commuter rail and buses safe, secure and clean for riders.
At JFK/UMass, Varley said workers will address tripping hazards on the floor of the station’s lobby, covering it with a material that's found in gyms and is ADA-compliant. Crews will repair light fixtures and refurbish benches. They'll fix the worn stairs and replace a water-tight covering on the roof to keep the platform dry.
"I want to wrap my head around what kind of hazards we have and what should be done," Varley said. And he wants to get ahead of "things that are going to rear their ugly head later."
The T's General Manager, Eng, said he wants to take advantage of the JFK/UMass station closure and maximize the work that can be done to prevent future service disruptions for riders. Over the years, there have been derailments here, a fire and a closed, rusted staircase that led to a death. Varley said the T wants to use its stretched funds to get “critical work” done, like track repairs, but also to improve overall rider experience.
“I've heard enough from the riders that the environment in our stations is vital to them," Eng said. "We've seen enough incidents that we need to focus on it."
Eng said making sure stations are in a state of good repair will increase rider confidence in the T and get more people on the system. He also said improving the state of the T is important to housing and business development near transit.
Varley said he is already working to establish a system to monitor station maintenance. “There'll be station inspections with all the fixes, and then we'll have a condition assessment so that we get a baseline, and then we can track [maintenance] from there," he said.
Varley has three decades of experience in transportation. He worked for the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Long Island Rail Road. Then he took a call from Eng.
He said he was only retired for a day before coming to Boston. “I left one job and moved and started the new one in the three-day span,” Varley said. He said he's still living out of boxes.
Varley said he has major challenges ahead in this new role, from visiting all the stations in the system to getting to know the entire staff. He said he can't speak for the disinvestment that happened before he arrived, but he's hopeful he can drive improvements.
At JFK/UMass, "I'd like them to come down and say, ‘Wow ... we really did something,’” Varley said. “I mean, it should be a noticeable difference.”
While crews replace tracks along the Red Line’s Ashmont Branch and Mattapan Line to relieve slow zones, Varley said his team will work to make the more than 30-year-old station “safe and welcoming.”
Across the transit system, he said, "Give us a little time and I think we'll be able to give some results."
This segment aired on September 7, 2023.