The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s 11-mile-long Orange Line will be entirely shut down for 30 days beginning at 9 p.m. on Aug. 19, the transit agency and Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday. The move comes in the wake of safety failures that prompted the Federal Transit Administration to take on safety oversight of the MBTA in April. The line carries 101,000 riders a day.
The monthlong loss of an essential transit line in one of the nation’s largest public transportation systems comes as transit agencies across the country face a $176 billion backlog to bring their systems to a state of good repair, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2021 Infrastructure Report Card.
On July 21, an Orange Line train carrying about 200 passengers caught fire while crossing a bridge over the Mystic River, sending 27 riders to the hospital and prompting one to leap from the bridge.
Five runaway trains in the MBTA system, including one Orange Line train, were reported to the FTA between Jan. 1, 2021, and June 15, 2022. A sixth runaway train occurred July 25. Three days later, the FTA responded by ordering the MBTA to conduct an immediate safety stand-down, which prohibited the agency from permitting any worker who has not attended a safety briefing from moving any rail transit vehicles in yards or shops.
In a press release issued Wednesday, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said “This 30-day surge will allow the MBTA to accomplish major and expansive progress on a number of priorities at the same time.”
Reaction from local leaders was swift. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement shared on Twitter that “A shutdown of this scale will be tremendously stressful for the region, but I’m hopeful that doing this necessary work now will save us years of disruption down the line.” She also supported reducing barriers to access Boston’s BlueBikes public bike share system.
Big news today for us Orange Line riders & the whole region. Hugely disruptive but we’re also past the point of small fixes for @MBTA safety & reliability.— Michelle Wu 吳弭 (@wutrain) August 3, 2022
Boston needs to help make this as painless as possible: shuttle bus lanes, back-to-school plans, signage & info. Ideas??
Congresswoman Katherine Clark, D-Mass., said in a statement that “This service disruption will upend the lives of those who have already been hit hardest by the pandemic and its economic fallout. There needs to be a clear, comprehensive plan for the tens of thousands of people who rely on the orange line every single day and significant investment in our public transit system to finally take it into the 21st century.”
During the shutdown, the MBTA will provide shuttle bus service between Orange Line stations, add station stops to selected commuter trains and allow riders to use their transit fare cards and tickets on certain commuter trains.
Transit Matters, a transit advocacy organization in Boston, said in a statement, “As the MBTA plans to shut down this critical piece of transportation infrastructure on short notice for a month, we need the Authority, municipalities, and other partners to take an all-hands-on-deck approach and coordinate efforts to deliver effective and usable transportation alternatives for 100,000 T riders who will be disrupted by this initiative.”
An FTA investigation this year found that the MBTA has a “growing backlog” of more than 16,000 open and pending defects related to track, signals and communication, power and facilities. One section of track on the Orange Line has been under a speed restriction dating back to 2019 due to excessive wear and defects.
The MBTA plans to use the shutdown to install upgraded signals at two stations and replace and repair designated sections of track on the Orange Line.