Winter-weary Bostonians, take heart: Your transit authority is attaching plows to passenger trains to prepare for the season’s snow.
Believe it or not, in past winters, Red and Orange line trains could either clear snow or carry passengers. They could not perform both tasks at once.
But this time around, the two lines—which bore the subway’s brunt of the transit crisis last winter—will each have 40 trains equipped with sleek, stainless steel plows attached to their front undersides that can function even when passengers are aboard. Each line will have 20 installed by December and another 20 by January.
“Every 10 minutes, they’ll take four inches off,’’ said Steve Hicks, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority senior director of vehicle maintenance. “It’s not designed to remove two feet of snow. It’s designed to run constantly and keep snow off the tracks.’’
Increased plowing isn’t just about easy passage. The plows should prevent snow from debilitating the trains’ traction motors, one of the big problems on the Red and Orange lines last winter, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.
In the past, the MBTA has attached bulkier plows to a few empty trains to remove snow from the Red and Orange lines during service hours.
Attaching those plows interfered with the T’s automatic train operation system. That meant the plowing trains had to be operated manually from the MBTA control center at reduced speeds. They could not carry passengers for two reasons, according to Pesaturo: safety concerns, and because the reduced speeds would cause even worse delays if they stopped at each station to load and unload passengers.
But the smaller plows are specifically designed to not interfere with automatic train operation, meaning the trains can run normally while plowing. They will stay for the long haul and won’t be removed, unlike the larger plows.
“I call them baby plows,’’ Hicks said. “They’re not monsters.’’
The bigger plows will still see some snow action this year on the Red and Orange lines. In fact, the T is bringing in 20 more of them for each line, Pesaturo said.
As for the other lines? Plows were attached to Blue Line trains when the latest fleet was delivered 10 years ago, Pesaturo said. Green Line trolleys are already equipped with pilot bars, which are steel structures on the front of the trolleys used to clear debris on the tracks, and which can help clear snow.
“Keep in mind that Green Line cars didn’t experience the major issues with traction motors that Red and Orange line cars did during the winter,’’ Pesaturo said.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s $83 million MBTA winter preparation plan also includes installing new third rail on the Red Line and new third rail heating on the Orange Line, using more contractors for snow removal, erecting new fencing to keep snow from piling up on the tracks, and buying and repairing other snow removal equipment.
The T is also planning to use non-corrosive de-icing fluid for the third rail this year, which it did not have in advance of last winter. Buildup of ice and snow on the third rails, which provide trains with their power, was also cited as a major problem for the Red and Orange lines during the 2015 blizzards. (The Green Line and outdoor portions of the Blue Line do not use a third rail for power.)
MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola has said he guarantees the T will run better in the snow this year. Last winter brought severe delays and service cancellations, prompting Baker’s winter plan and other MBTA reform initiatives.
Hicks said he is confident the plows and other aspects of the plan will make for a different story this year, and that he’s eager to put the trains to the test.
“I feel bad for the first few snowflakes,’’ he said.
Winter weather woes on the MBTA: