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Orange Line alternatives and everything else you need to know about the shutdown

New commuter rail fare rules are among the methods being implemented by the MBTA to offset the Orange Line's 30-day closure.

Old and new Orange Line trains sit at Wellington Station after an announcement that the city will shutter the Orange Line for 30 days to provide much needed improvements. Erin Clark/The Boston Globe

In a drastic move, MBTA officials announced Wednesday that the entire Orange Line would shut down for 30 days beginning Aug. 19.

This move, which is being done to “accelerate major track and maintenance work,” raises a lot of questions. Perhaps the most pressing for everyday commuters is a simple one: “How will I get to where I need to go?”

Here are a few answers about alternatives to the Orange Line, details on the shutdown, and more.

Other means of transit

In their announcement, MBTA officials laid out a few alternatives that they are urging the public to consider. First, a plan to “enhance” commuter rail options for those that rely on the Orange Line. This is especially relevant to those who take the Orange Line downtown, the agency said. The MBTA is making a series of commuter rail service changes to accommodate the new travel patterns brought about by the shutdown. 

Once the shutdown begins, all commuter rail fares for Zones 1A, 1, and 2 will be payable by showing a normal CharlieCard or CharlieTicket on any commuter rail lines. Many Orange Line users drive to or transfer between buses and the subway. This move is being done in an effort to ease access for people hopping on the commuter rail before getting to the Orange Line. Regular Orange Line service will be replaced with hundreds of shuttle buses. A map of the ten commuter rail zones can be found on the MBTA’s website

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Throughout the 30 days, most commuter rail trains running south on the Needham and Providence Lines will stop at Forest Hills, Ruggles, Back Bay, and South Station. On the north side of the tracks, commuter line trains on the Haverhill Line will stop at Oak Grove, Malden Center, and North Station. Riders will be able to show their CharlieCards or CharlieTickets to conductors for access to the commuter rail. An updated commuter line schedule will be available soon, according to the MBTA.  

Normal Orange Line riders are also being encouraged to work from home, if possible. The MBTA “encourages employers with hybrid work policies to allow employees to work from home as much as possible.”

Now back to the shuttle buses that will replace regular Orange Line service. On Wednesday, the MBTA Board of Directors approved an approximately $37 million contract for shuttle bus service to Yankee Line, Inc. Regular MBTA buses will also pitch in to cover the new needs on the Orange Line. 

Shuttle buses will run in both directions, between Oak Grove and Forest Hills Stations and through downtown Boston. 

“Riders should expect that this alternative shuttle bus service will take longer and be less reliable than regular Orange Line train service,” the MBTA said. 

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Shuttle bus service will be offered at no cost to riders, according to the MBTA. The agency is working with Boston city officials to plan out the best ways to service the downtown area. 

People will still have to pay for parking at MBTA lots at Orange Line stations. 

The MBTA is planning to communicate more service details through social media and in-station signage for the duration of the shutdown. Extra MBTA employees will be dispatched to help riders navigate the new system. 

What improvements will be done?

The shutdown will let MBTA workers complete various projects more than five years ahead of schedule, the agency said. Track replacement, upgraded signal systems, and station improvements are all in the works.

“Thirty days of 24-hour access to the Orange Line replaces over five years of weekend diversions needed to address delays and slow zones. We can eliminate slow zones, prevent unplanned service disruptions, and increase the reliability of our service. Perhaps most importantly, we will provide the quality of safety and service that our riders deserve,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said in a statement. 

More than 3,500 feet of 38-year-old Orange Line track is scheduled to be replaced, opening the door for the removal of speed restrictions and improving travel time for riders. Two crossovers that enable Orange Line trains to be moved will be replaced as well. This should also increase reliability and capacity. Concrete work will be done on the line’s southwest corridor, and upgraded signals will be installed at the Oak Grove and Malden stations. 

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A new website has been created specifically for updates on these projects: www.mbta.com/BBT2022.

The MBTA estimates that the Orange Line provides about 101,000 trips every day to riders. Ridership is approximately half of what it was prior to the pandemic. 

Workers will have “unencumbered access” to the Orange Line’s 20 stations and more than 121,000 feet of track. 

After the 30-day period, officials expect the Orange Line fleet will be predominantly made up of new cars. These new trains have been put into service and pulled numerous times, most recently because of a battery failure.

Expanding the scope

Although the massive Orange Line shutdown is dominating headlines, the MBTA is also planning for numerous construction projects on other aspects of its system this fall. 

On the Green Line, workers will continue periodic track upgrades and improvements to the Green Line Train Protection System. This system uses equipment on trains and along the tracks to better protect against train-on-train collisions. 

Improvements on tracks and train protection have already been completed on the Green Line’s B and C branches earlier this summer. Work on the E branch will run from Aug. 6 through Aug. 21, and work on the D branch will run from Sept. 24 through Oct. 30. 

Later in the year, the Red Line will be improved. The track crossing between the Alewife and Davis Stations will be reconstructed, giving trains the ability to move faster. 

Work is also being planned for the Dorchester Avenue Bridge, which is located between Von Hillern and Kemp Streets. The bridge, originally built in 1925 and last rehabilitated in 1975, accommodates cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and train tracks used by the Red Line. The bridge must be replaced, according to the MBTA, and work will continue to prepare the site for demolition and construction next summer. 

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A bevy of other maintenance projects are planned for the Silver Line and the commuter rail. Their details can be found on the MBTA’s website

Hiring and safety

The MBTA also gave an update on new hiring and safety directives brought about by The Federal Transit Administration’s safety inspection. The agency said it is “aggressively” engaging in a hiring blitz, specifically targeting candidates for the job of heavy rail dispatchers within the Operations Control Center. To generate interest in applying for dispatcher positions among both internal and external candidates, the MBTA is offering a $10,000 sign-on bonus. A “targeted hiring marketing campaign” is also underway. 

The MBTA said it has so far met all the deadlines and requirements outlined by the FTA in response to the safety directives laid out by federal officials. New trainings and policies are being put in place for operators moving trains in rail yards. An improved internal tracking system is in the works to ensure employees are up-to-date with their safety certifications. Updated rules for current employees are geared towards ensuring they have manageable shifts and necessary rest time. Finally, officials are creating a pilot program aimed at improving “Blue Flag” procedures, which alert train operators to other workers currently near rolling cars or other dangerous equipment.

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