Boston-area public transit system tested during snowstorms
Feb. 10, 2015
NEWTON, Mass. (AP) — The hardy side of Boston might not extend to its aging public transit system.
On Tuesday, the head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority staunchly defended her decision to suspend rail service for more than 24 hours as crews struggled to clear tracks of snow and ice and hundreds of thousands of commuters scrambled to make alternative travel plans.
The performance during recent storms of the MBTA — known in Boston as the T — has been criticized by Gov. Charlie Baker and raised questions about whether the aging system can be modernized enough to handle the Olympics should Boston succeed in its bid to host the 2024 Summer Games.
Officials announced that subways, trolleys and commuter rail trains, idle since Monday night, would resume Wednesday at a reduced level. Passengers were warned to expect fewer cars and less frequent service on most lines of the nation's fifth-largest and oldest system. The first underground subways in the U.S. began in Boston in 1897.
"We are running an extremely aged system that is getting a pounding every single day," said Beverly Scott, MBTA general manager. She acknowledged that riders are "frustrated as heck. They are mad as heck." She said she hasn't spoken directly to Baker since the onslaught of winter storms began more than two weeks ago.
Scott said she could not guarantee the system would run smoothly if more snow falls as forecast later in the week, adding to the 7 feet already on the ground in some places.
Transit stations around the region, normally jammed with commuters on a weekday, were eerily silent Tuesday.
The sprawling Riverside MBTA station in suburban Newton was virtually empty except for a handful of plows and workers trying to clear away snow.
A few people who hadn't heard the news of the shutdown were surprised to learn there were no trains, including 91-year-old Bernard Udin, who walked several blocks to the station and planned to take a trolley to Newton Highlands to run some errands and visit the library.
"I'll go back home I guess," Udin said. "What else can I do?"
The subway station at Davis Square in Somerville was padlocked, and some businesses in the neighborhood were closed.
"The fact the trains aren't running means no one is heading to work," said Jeff Brussel, who was trying to find one of the few buses still operating that could get him to Boston. "But I'm on a project with a deadline, and everyone is freaking out. So I'm going to do what I can."
Scott said she made the call to shut down rail service in part after dozens of trains broke down Monday after losing contact with the electrified third rail, including one in which passengers were stranded for more than two hours. She said upgrading the system would require more investment in new equipment.
Scott was appointed in 2012 after managing transit systems in Atlanta, Sacramento and Rhode Island and holding leadership positions in others including the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York.
"I have been around 40 years. I have been through hurricanes. I've been through World Trade Center bombings, tornadoes coming ... 36 inches of snow, this ain't this woman's first rodeo," Scott said.
Asked Tuesday why he had not yet huddled directly with Scott, Baker said he had no direct control over the MBTA and was dealing with the agency through Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack, who has a seat on its board of directors.
Baker said he hopes to meet with T officials Thursday.
The governor also struck a more conciliatory tone, conceding that the system faced severe financial pressures and that Scott and MBTA employees had been working around the clock to restore normal service.
"But we are going to have to figure out, and they are going to have to figure out what the operating plan is going forward," said Baker, who took office in January and has vowed not to raise taxes.
The group Transportation for Massachusetts said it was gathering thousands of signatures on a petition calling the governor and Legislature to stop the "chronic underfunding" of mass transit.
"No one likes paying taxes, but we cannot have a 19th-century transportation network if we are going to thrive in the 21st century," said Josh Ostroff, the organization's outreach coordinator.
Associated Press writers Steve LeBlanc and Mark Pratt in Boston, Philip Marcelo in Somerville and Denise Lavoie in Whitman contributed to this report.