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Boston transit system gets advice from ‘peer’ cities

March 30, 2015

BOSTON (AP) — Transit officials from New York City and other metropolitan areas are offering advice to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on how it might avoid the problems that crippled the Boston-area during winter’s record-setting snowfall, including the use of outside contractors to help clear snow after storms.

Frank DePaola, interim general manager of the MBTA, briefed lawmakers Monday on the results of a so-called peer review by experts from the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Toronto transit systems.

Boston received more than 100 inches of snow during a roughly five-week period that began in late January. The snow — combined with frigid temperatures during much of that time — clogged tracks, froze electrified rails and disabled scores of locomotives and passenger cars.

DePaola told an oversight hearing of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee that the MBTA received a number of tips from the other transit systems that could help during extreme weather events in the future.

Among the suggestions was the purchase of special diesel-powered vehicles to clear snow from tracks, rather than relying on what are widely known as “snow trains,” but are simply regular passenger trains retrofitted with plows.

DePaola also said the MBTA planned to follow the lead of other systems in using deicing chemicals to prevent the third rail from freezing and losing contact with the trains, causing them to stall.

Another suggestion: Use contracted workers to help with snow removal.

“The T in the past has not had contracted help to call in during major snow events,” he said. “The T would try to take on the burden of snow management as well as running the service with essentially the same staff as they have running the service day in and day out.”

DePaola said the peer systems also recommended that the MBTA not even attempt to run full service all day during major storms, but instead focus equipment and personnel on the busy morning and evening commuting periods when service is most in demand.

DePaola was named interim general manager of the nation’s oldest public transit system after the abrupt resignation of Beverly Scott in February.

Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack told legislators that a special commission appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker to look into some of the underlying issues affecting the MBTA — apart from the winter breakdowns — was expected to issue its report next month.

But Pollack said the transit system already has heard loud and clear from customers that it needs to do a better job of communicating with passengers, who have complained of waiting on frigid platforms for trains that were supposed to arrive and never did.

“Our failure to provide them with real-time accurate information on the state of the system was a significant performance failure that we need to correct,” Pollack said. “We need to do better than that.”

The MBTA’s commuter rail network returned to a full schedule of trains on Monday for the first time since the start of the winter onslaught.

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