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Cold weather catastrophes on the T, and a reminder for 128 drivers

Posted by Nichole Davis  January 25, 2013 06:33 PM

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Back from a few days off. Today we'll talk about the one thing that's on our minds here in Boston -- this frigid weather. (Normal as it may be for this time of year, it's still a pain sometimes -- especially on the rails.)

Next week we'll talk about the news on the Green Line -- that is, the new GPS they're working on for each trolley to allow for smartphone tracking apps. Let me know if you're a Green Line rider and how you feel about the new developments. My email: commuting.boston at gmail dot com.

Stay warm!

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So it was another difficult week on the rails -- this time, more so on the subway side of things.

That's not to say that the commuter rail didn't have its issues -- just yesterday alone, service was affected on the Framingham/Worcester, Newburyport, Providence/Stoughton, and Haverhill lines for various reasons. Signal issues alone on the Fitchburg line caused over one hour delays on some trains last night.

Not once, but twice, though, on the Green Line Wednesday, passengers were left out in the cold. A smoldering cable by Arlington station brought all service to a halt, sending seven trolleys worth of passengers out of the tunnels and up to the surface to walk to their destinations on one of the coldest mornings of the year. (Here's an interesting shot provided by the MBTA of General Manager Beverly Scott and Assistant GM Michael Turcotte checking out the culprit of that fire.)

Another burning box of cables shut down the Green Line again during the evening commute -- again, forcing everyone above ground. Three Red Line trains died on the morning commute, according to UniversalHub -- one at Charles/MGH, another at Porter, and another at Andrew.

Thursday's commute wasn't much better.

On a whim, I decided to take a look around the internet and try to find some stories about the same situations in other cities. Surely, considering the entire Northeast and Midwest are dealing with this heavy cold snap, other transit systems must be suffering from this sort of trouble, no?

I found this article from a New York neighborhood news service, which noted that transit officials throughout the city had not reported any problems on the MTA, Amtrak, or New Jersey Transit systems. Metro-North railroad to and from Connecticut had about a 10 minute delay from time to time, but that was it.

Maybe Philadelphia, another fellow East-Coast city? The Philly Post reports that there was a "Code Blue" issued, and all express trains on the SEPTA's Market-Frankford line were cancelled. Was this due to equipment problems? Not exactly...

“When the city issues a Code Blue, we stop at every station so that we don’t leave people waiting in the cold,” explains SEPTA spokesperson Kristin Geiger. “We don’t want our passengers to freeze.”

That's actually very kind, and I appreciate that they're able to do that for their customers. Kudos to you, SEPTA! But it didn't help on my quest.

All right... surely Chicago, the windy city, would have a problem or two to report. In fact, they had a pretty big one, according to the Chicago Tribune:

... But the longest disruption does not appear to be linked to the cold, officials said. The mishap, which trapped Blue Line riders in the bitter cold after midnight Monday, was caused by the electrified third rail becoming dislodged on part of the O'Hare branch. The problem shut down service for almost two hours between the Cumberland and Jefferson Park stations, complained some riders traveling inbound from O'Hare International Airport.

In the interest of full disclosure, the article also lists that there were about 36 delayed trains on the commuter rail out of around 700 that were run in a three day period. The city's Pace bus system reported no major delays or equipment problems. CTA also had issues with a cracked rail and some stuck doors and switches.

However, the transit agency said they're in better shape for winter than they have been in some time:

CTA riders have shivered through this week's deep freeze with minimal delays because the fleet of buses and trains is gradually getting younger as the transit agency focuses on overhauling deteriorated rail equipment, officials said.

Deteriorating rail equipment... older buses and trains ... hold on -- those are all issues that continue to be front and center on the MBTA! And people wonder why they're being left in the cold.

The fact is, no matter how the funding is found, I feel overhauling the subway system on the MBTA needs to happen -- and sooner than later. This, in my opinion, should even be put ahead of any and all expansion plans -- including the Green Line extension. We have to get back to a stable, reliable system before we can even commit to expanding.

As we discussed in last week's entry about the governor's transportation plan, the MBTA is asking for not only new Red and Orange Line cars, but also for new Green Line trolleys, as well as significant funding to get all of the infrastructure on these lines back to good. Some of the current trains in service are several decades old. Would you drive around each day in a car that's 40 years old that hasn't had service in a while and expect it to work efficiently? (We're not talking about collectible cars, here. Consider riding around in a Pinto.) Eventually, you have to upgrade.

I tend to think about it this way -- no transportation system, even if it's your car or a bicycle, is going to be able to work effectively after years and years of neglect and lack of upkeep. So, where do we draw the line and start to demand better treatment of our transportation system? What do we cut and how much more do we open our pockets? Is the new transportation funding plan by the governor enough, or does it ask for too much? Are we just doing too much talking and not enough following through?

Obviously, the way we're doing it right now isn't working. Something's got to change, and the money has to be found somewhere. Otherwise, nothing is going to get better on the T, and your chances of walking to work (and freezing your buns off) are only going to rise.

Let me know your thoughts below in the comment section.
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By the way, a friendly reminder came down this week from the higherups at MassDOT and the State Police about the commute on 128 -- namely, for those of you that can't seem to get out of the habit of driving in the breakdown lane in the stretch that has now opened up to four lanes...

You may remember that, back in November, a fourth travel lane was added in both directions between Route 24 and Route 109. Hey, great! Every little bit of extra space on the road helps. They're still working on the stretch between Dedham and Wellesley, as we know - there's that new lane split in place southbound for just that reason.

But, see, the thing is that when they put the new fourth lane in place, officials at the Federal Highway Administration have now revoked the privilege of drivers to use the breakdown lane for travel. Use of the breakdown lane had been in effect with special permission since 1986, when this whole project began. (It's not something the Highway Administration lets just any state do.) However, the authorities say that now, since the project's complete and the extra space has been created, the breakdown lane has to go back to ... well, being a place for breakdowns, accidents and emergencies. (You know, its intended use.)

There's plenty of commuters who have argued vehemently that a fourth travel lane's simply not enough on 128 -- and many of those people have been continuing to use the no-longer-active breakdown lane anyway, despite signage being plastered among 128 telling them not to do so. Most days, when our helicopter is hovering above 128, I see State Police pulling several people at a time out of the breakdown lane and handing out tickets. Then, the travel lanes on 128 start to slow down, even if they'd been moving fine before, because everyone's curious about flashy lights and wants to see what's going on over to the side of the road. That, of course, then leads to gridlock, which defeats the entire purpose of the new lane and makes my head hurt.

My advice to you -- don't be that guy! (Or girl.) I know it's hard to break a habit, but State Police say they are going to be heavily enforcing breakdown lane travel until they start to see some abating of people breaking the rules. The inevitable ticket's not worth trying to get there a few minutes faster.

MBTA Matters

Orange Line riders get to put up with another weekend of busing in the usual stretch between Sullivan Square and Oak Grove. This interruption of service will start at the beginning of service Saturday and end at the end of service Sunday night. Everything will be back to normal on Monday morning. The busing, of course, is to allow for work to be done on the new Assembly Square station. Just one more weekend after this one, and then the scheduled busing stops for the foreseeable future.

You'll find slowdowns here...

95 in both directions at Route 114, Danvers (Exit 47): utility work closes lanes from 2:00 AM to 10:00 AM on Saturday and Sunday.

95 in both directions at Endicott Road, Boxford (Exit 51): watch for bridge inspection crews on Monday from 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM.

Lowell Connector southbound at Route 3, Chelmsford: guardrail repair closes the shoulder on Friday from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM.

Route 3 southbound after 495, Chelmsford (Exit 30): guardrail repair closes the shoulder Friday from 8:00 AM to 8:30 AM.

Route 3 southbound at Westford Road, Tyngsboro (Exit 34): guardrail repair closes the shoulder on Friday from 9:30 AM to 10:00 AM.

Route 3 northbound between Route 4 (Exit 32) and Route 40, Chelmsford (Exit 33): construction work closes lanes each Tuesday and Wednesday from 8:00 PM to 5:30 AM.

Route 128 in both directions between Route 135, Dedham (Exit 17) and Highland Avenue, Needham (Exit 19): continuous lane closures are in effect until further notice as part of the 128 widening project. Expect extra slowdowns, especially during mid-days, for work.

Also -- don't forget about the new lane split on 128 Southbound between Great Plain Avenue (Exit 18) and Route 135 (Exit 17). If you plan on getting off the highway at either of those exits, stay right through the lane split. A northbound one will also be in effect soon.

North Harvard Street over the Larz Anderson Bridge: Continual lane closures are in effect in both directions for bridge reconstruction work. No left turn onto Memorial Drive from JFK Street.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Nichole Davis is a Boston-based traffic reporter and news anchor. She’s been seen and heard on television and radio airwaves across New England since 2003, providing commuters with all the More »

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