The failure of a train engine at South Station that made thousands of commuters late getting home last night resulted from “bad luck’’ and does not indicate chronic problems at the company hired by the MBTA to provide commuter rail service, a company spokesman said today.
Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad spokesman Scott Farmelant said a computer circuit board on Engine 1138 failed, triggering an automatic safety shutdown of the engine just as it reached a key junction at South Station around 4:40 p.m.
The engine broke down at a "choke point'' in the rail yard that made it impossible for other trains to depart the station, he said.
Crews moved quickly to safely remove the broken-down engine and succeeded in doing so within 35 minutes, he said. But the problem caused “cascading delays’’ that slowed South Station commuter rail traffic.
Farmelant said the delays averaged between 15 and 30 minutes. A total of 40 trains on the Franklin, Fairmount, Needham, Greenbush, Providence/Stoughton, Framingham/Worcester, and Kingston/Plymouth lines experienced delays.
The 5:10 p.m. outbound train on the Fairmount line was replaced with bus service, as was the 5:46 p.m. inbound train.
Farmelant said there is a public perception, driven in part by media coverage, that the company is struggling to provide on-time service to its customers because of equipment problems.
He said that perception grew out of the delays caused by this year’s heavy winter storms and some high-profile failures, such as one train taking four hours to travel between Worcester and Boston.
The reality, he said, is that the railroad is on time about 96 percent of the time, when adjusted for issues outside the company’s control.
“In this case, this happened at the worst possible place at the worst possible time,’’ he said of last night’s disruptions. “It was very unfortunate, but this is not reflective of anything other than bad luck.’’
He also said commuters usually register their complaints with the company when there are delays. As of 9:30 a.m. today, he said, no consumer has complained to the railroad about Wednesday night’s mishaps.
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