Winter is coming, and the MBTA is getting ready

Workers are spending their weekends replacing third rail on the MBTA’s Red Line.
Workers are spending their weekends replacing third rail on the MBTA’s Red Line. –Adam Vaccaro /

About 27,000 feet of new third rail have been replaced on the Red Line south of Boston in the last four weeks. This partially addresses a simple truth facing the system and its riders: Winter is coming.

The new third rail on the tracks to Braintree is part of Gov. Charlie Baker’s five-year, $83 million winter resiliency plan, which was announced earlier this year after several winter storms caused MBTA delays and cancellations, casting a spotlight on long-lingering infrastructure issues. Now that work is ongoing, and is even ahead of schedule.

By the time the next snow falls, the T hopes to have installed 39,000 and 50,000 feet of new third rail, which provides power to MBTA trains. The refurbished tracks will stretch to south of Wollaston. Replacing third rail all the way to Braintree is not in the plans ahead of this winter, according to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.


The third rail on the Braintree line has not been fully replaced since it was installed in the 1970s. Patrick Kineavy, the T’s director of construction logistics for MBTA operations, said the new rail carries a few advantages that should help the Red Line survive the winter. It is bound together by aluminum, which will allow for better heating, and it doesn’t have the wear and tear that made clearing the third rail so difficult last winter.

Work on the Orange Line in August. —Adam Vaccaro /

“The third rail had some grooved contours in there just from wear,’’ he said. “That water was freezing, so we weren’t getting contact with that third rail.’’

The new third rail is the highlight of work on the Red Line. The Orange Line, north of Sullivan Square, is also getting prepped for winter. That work includes installing new equipment to make sure its third rail is well-heated. Work will continue on both lines through October.

Other elements of the winter resiliency plan include the installation of fencing to protect tracks from snow buildup, heaters on rail switches, outfitting trains with plows, and more.

Workers have spent the last four weekends laying the new third rail—necessitating shuttle service for passengers on Saturday and Sunday between JFK/UMass and Quincy Center. The Orange Line, meanwhile, has been getting overnight work, Sunday through Thursday, since earlier in the summer, requiring passengers to use shuttle service after 8:45 p.m.


Kineavy said he thinks customers irritated by the need for shuttle service may be put to ease when they hear it’s meant to prevent another winter transit debacle.

“I would think that because it was so bad last year that they would be more willing to endure these weekend diversions,’’ he said. “Once it starts snowing, they’ll understand why we’re out there.’’

Winter weather woes on the MBTA

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