Governor huddles with Massachusetts commuter rail operators
BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker, stepping up his direct response to weather-related public transit breakdowns, said Wednesday he was tired of “excuses” and insisted the contractor that operates the state’s commuter rail system improve service and keep customers better informed.
Baker met privately in his Statehouse office with top representatives of Keolis Commuter Services, amid widespread reports of long delays and passengers waiting for scheduled trains that sometimes would not arrive.
“I’m sort of done with excuses, OK. I want to hear what people are actually going to do to get the riding public back to the point where people can depend on and rely on the service,” Baker told reporters after the meeting.
Even if the system cannot deliver full service in the aftermath of a spate of recent storms that have dropped more than 8 feet of snow on Boston, he said, the operators should at least deliver whatever service is being promised.
“People plan their daily lives, their work schedules around this. Whatever the schedule is you run on, you better run on it accurately,” the governor said.
Keolis later announced a storm recovery plan and apologized for spotty communication.
With the relentless onslaught of snowy weather, Baker has recently taken a far more personal role in the transit recovery effort, which also includes trolleys, subways and buses run by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The Republican governor initially received some criticism for taking what appeared to be an arm’s length approach to the MBTA’s weather woes, saying he was disappointed with the T’s performance but pointing out that he had no direct control over the system and assigning his transportation secretary, who serves on the T’s board, to deal with the agency.
After a one-day shutdown of the system Feb. 10, the governor acknowledged he had not spoken directly with MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott since his Jan. 8 inauguration. The two met later in the week, after Scott announced plans to step down.
Since then, Baker aides have met twice daily with MBTA officials and the administration says it has coordinated the delivery of heavy equipment and manpower — including National Guard troops — to assist in snow removal efforts along MBTA routes. Baker also took credit for arranging private buses from Peter Pan to help shuttle commuters along a closed branch of the Red Line.
The “action plan” announced by Keolis on Wednesday includes additional workers and more heavy equipment to remove snow from tracks, and stepped up maintenance on aging locomotives and passenger cars that have been disabled by the storm. The company said it needed at least 65 locomotives to run a regular schedule, but has only 46 available at the moment.
Keolis said providing accurate information about service disruptions would also be a priority.
″... we recognize that communications with our passengers during this difficult period has fallen short and for that we sincerely apologize,” the company stated.
The MBTA board last year awarded the subsidiary of the French transit conglomerate Keolis an eight-year, $2.68 billion contract to operate the system, dislodging the former operator, Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad. The deal has a four-year option that could bring its value to $4.26 billion.
The contract includes a so-called “no excuses” clause that allows Keolis to be fined up to $12 million a year for subpar performance. It was not immediately clear Wednesday if the company would be penalized in connection with storm-related disruptions.
The commuter rail system carries about 70,000 daily roundtrip passengers and operates on 394 miles of track extending north of Boston to Haverhill, west to Worcester and south to Providence, Rhode Island.
Scott said Wednesday that the MBTA is clearing more stations, restoring service to more parts of the public transit system, and working to get train counts up.
“With all the additional resource at our disposal we are now systematically executing a plan to recover remaining sections of the Orange, Green and Red lines while also working to get our maintenance facilities fully operational,” Scott said in a statement.