Local

MBTA considering 30-day shutdown of Orange Line

The "drastic" move would allow workers to make necessary improvements, but inconvenience thousands of riders.

An Orange line train caught fire in July, causing passengers to break windows in order to flee. David L. Ryan/Boston Globe

Commuters who rely on the Orange Line could be facing major headaches in the near future. The MBTA is “strongly considering” shutting down the Orange Line for a full 30 days, The Boston Globe reported.

This shutdown would begin later in August and stretch into September. The extensive closure would give workers an opportunity to do long-needed maintenance, but would also disrupt the schedules of hundreds of thousands of people. 

The head of the MBTA, General Manager Steve Poftak, is scheduled to appear Wednesday at Wellington Station for an announcement regarding “accelerated infrastructure upgrades to the MBTA.” Poftak will be joined by Governor Charlie Baker and Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler, according to the Globe

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On top of that, the MBTA’s board of directors will meet Wednesday morning to discuss a contract with Yankee Line, according to the newspaper. Yankee Line has worked with the MBTA in the past to provide shuttle bus service. 

Last weekend, MBTA workers were set to begin signal and track repair, but this was delayed indefinitely, according to WBZ. Officials needed time to explore “additional opportunities to accelerate work on the Orange Line.”

A shutdown of this magnitude would be extremely notable. 

“There may be a small precedent, but nothing on this scale,” Former Massachusetts secretary of transportation Jim Aloisi told the Globe. “This is a drastic step.”

Last week, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu publicly pushed to “rip the Band-Aid off.” That is, for the MBTA to consider large shutdowns in order to make the system safer and more reliable, instead of periodically closing portions of track for small repairs. 

“I know that’s painful, because it would be tremendously disruptive, but we are at that point where prolonging this will make it worse and continue to bring about safety issues,” Wu said during an appearance on WBUR. “Plus, the city of Boston can play a big role in trying to ensure that there are reasonable alternatives.”

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The Orange Line is one of the MBTA’s most frequently-used services. Last year, it was second of the four lines in terms of average weekday trips, according to the Globe. There were about 104,000 average weekday trips on the Orange Line in 2021, compared with 125,000 on the Red Line, 94,000 on the Green Line, and 41,000 on the Blue Line. 

This shutdown would come after a long line of safety incidents plaguing the MBTA. This includes an escalator malfunction in Back Bay Station that injured nine, a commuter rail train killing a woman in her car after a crossing signal malfunctioned, a collision of two Green Line trains near Government Center, and a man being dragged to death after his arm got stuck in a Red Line door at Broadway Station. Not to mention the Orange Line train that caught fire in July, causing hundreds of passengers to flee, including one woman who jumped into the Mystic River below. 

A number of these incidents caused the federal government to step in earlier this year. In a nearly-unprecedented move, the Federal Transit Administration conducted a safety investigation of the MBTA subway system. The FTA came back with four key issues that the MBTA needed to address, including delayed track maintenance.

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Last week, the FTA ordered an “immediate safety standdown” in response to a new runaway train incident. This move requires all workers who operate or secure out-of-service trains at the MBTA rail yards to participate in safety briefings.

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