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Gov. Baker unveils plan to speed MBTA improvement projects

June 25, 2019

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled a plan Tuesday to speed up construction projects on Greater Boston’s public transit system after a pair of subway car derailments earlier this month ramped up calls for improvements to the aging system.

The Republican said the plan includes a one-time injection of $50 million for additional workers to focus on construction and infrastructure projects.

Baker said other steps include scheduling more aggressive evening and weekend closures to help speed improvements, and increasing the frequency of inspections to help catch and fix problems before they slow down service.

Typically the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority does much of its repair work during the overnight hours when the trains aren’t running. Baker said evening and weekend closures will provide more time to make repairs and will allow the MBTA to schedule multiple repair projects at the same time. Many such closures are in the works in coming months.

Baker said the goal is to transform the MBTA into a modern, safe, reliable transit system.

“This acceleration plan will allow the T to continue its investments at a faster pace, with greater focus on service improvements to provide a safe, reliable means of transportation,” Baker said in a press release.

The MBTA is in the middle of a five-year, $8 billion capital investment program.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Tuesday that riders shouldn’t have to plan for extra time to commute to work or schools and the infrastructure and operational needs of the MBTA go beyond what he called a “one-time revenue solution.”

“This fall the House plans to debate the revenue options to fund statewide transportation investments, including funding a long term strategic investment plan for the MBTA,” DeLeo said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Governor to enact a supplemental budget to provide a more immediate infusion of funds, but only in the context of the larger debate the long term funding of a strategic investment plan for the MBTA.”

Pressure has been building on Baker and transit officials following two recent accidents.

A June 11 derailment on the MBTA’s heavily traveled Red Line caused major delay, but caused no serious injuries to passengers or workers. Investigators have ruled out human error or track-related problems, focusing on the train itself.

Nearly a dozen people were hurt in a Green Line derailment that occurred just days earlier. Investigators have blamed operator error and the T has suspended that operator.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said the plan unveiled Tuesday will provide needed extra tools to help make improvements to the transit system.

“More important, it allows us to treat this situation with the urgency our customers demand,” Poftak said.

The Red Line derailment prompted Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to call for a delay on a planned fare hike next month until after Red Line service returns to normal. Transit officials have rejected the call.

Critics also worry that the beleaguered subway system — the oldest in the country — could be a drag on the region’s red-hot economy, and ultimately push more riders into personal cars or toward ride-hailing companies like Uber or Lyft.

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