Report: MBTA speed restrictions impact more of the T than previously stated

The MBTA is falling behind on fixing speed restrictions, its backlog nearly quadrupling since 2020, a review found.

A Red Line train arrives at South Station in Boston, Aug. 11, 2021. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The seasoned T rider has seen it all, from delays to derailments. But one everyday transit hiccup continues to frustrate commuters on several subway lines: Speed restrictions. 

A Boston Globe review of MBTA data showed that speed restrictions impact a greater percentage of subway lines than the T previously stated. 

In its last two annual reports, the transit agency said that, on average, 3% to 7% of its subway lines had forced speed restrictions for safety reasons, the Globe reported. However, T data showed that the real figure can be more than three times as high, according to the newspaper. 

Need for speed

“Go-slow orders at points this fall covered more than 10 percent of the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines, roughly matching what federal authorities found when investigating the T this spring,” the Globe reported, pointing to aging infrastructure and track defects as causes.


According to the Globe, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo acknowledged that the length of track covered by speed restrictions has increased, though he blamed it partly on increased construction activity on the tracks. Other restrictions — like weather — could account for discrepancies between the T’s internal and public data, he told the newspaper.

The total delay from slow zones on the Red Line is currently just under 17 minutes, according to data from public transportation advocacy group TransitMatters. A few months out from the Orange Line’s 30-day shutdown for repairs, data shows riders are still seeing a total delay of just over three minutes as a result of slow zones.

Despite some progress, the Globe reported that the T is falling behind on fixing restrictions, with its backlog growing from 14 in 2020 to 55 in 2022. One internal T document showed that of 60 speed restrictions in place across the system in October, more than 20% had been in place for at least a year, the newspaper reported. 

There’s no national standard for how much of a system should be under speed restrictions, but those orders are meant to last weeks or months at most, Keith Millhouse, a California-based rail safety expert, told the Globe. 


“If you’re using them for any other purpose, you’re not using them correctly,” he said.

Read the full report on BostonGlobe.com.


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