Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MBTA to close Red Line north of Harvard!

Well, October is almost over and what a month it has been! Unfortunately, it hasn't really been that great for the T. This month has been a very interesting and frustrating one for commuters on the Red Line. In the past week there has has been over four disabled trains, a power outage, and a fire! I always try to be understanding when it comes to the MBTA's problems, especially when I get caught on a disabled train (like I did Friday at Davis!), but it's starting to get very old.

Disabled Train at Harvard Station
The infrastructure of the Red Line is a mismatch of old and new. The Red line fleet consists of cars that were put into service between 1968 and 1994. The stations on the Ashmont branch are brand new and the stations north of Harvard haven't been touched since the extension was built in 1985. Overall, the entire line is trying to cling to its youth, but it's just not working out!

This past Saturday the MBTA announced that they would be closing the Red Line north of Harvard during weekends, from Nov 5th, 2011 until March 5th, 2012, so they can perform $80 million worth of back logged maintenance. The first note I would like to point out about this entire situation is that the MBTA did not actually formally announce this closure until mid-afternoon on Monday but the Boston Globe broke the story on Saturday! This left many commuters, especially ones who live in Somerville, the area affected by the closures, very angry.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand! The closures will leave commuters who regularly travel from Davis, Porter, and Alewife on the weekends scrambling. The MBTA, however, is providing shuttle bus service between Alewife and Harvard but we all know it will probably be faster to just walk to Harvard. The project will allow MBTA crews to plug tunnel cracks, seal water leaks, replace eroding concrete bases and electrical wiring. They will also be replacing damaged sections of track and third rail.

Crews working on Tunnel
Near Davis. You can see the water leak at the top!
Originally published on Boston.com
This project has been needed for many years now but because the MBTA has an ever building maintenance backlog, now estimated at well over $4.5 Billion, it has been pushed off. It first came into public light in 2009 when Gov. Deval Patrick ordered an independent study on the safety of the T. The report came back to say that on this particular section of trackage if maintenance was deferred any longer the threat of train derailment would become even more significant and eventually make it unsafe to travel between Harvard and Alewife.

The T did, however, put this on its five year capital improvement plan which plans to spend $420 Million this year to maintain and replace vehicles and maintain infrastructure that is in despair. They also received a little over $4.3 million in stimulus money to help outset the cost of the project. Here is the actual funding request (You'll notice that the request says "high priority!")

Despite what the 2009 report stated, the MBTA is continuing to stress that there is no immediate danger of a derailment. The T fully inspects the tunnel twice a week, but if the maintenance was prolonged it would eventually cause major problems.

One of the main reasons why this project has been put off for so long is due to its complexity. The Harvard to Alewife extension, which opened in 1985, has a specialized track that runs along thousands of concrete slabs instead of wooden ties. These slabs float on rubber disks, almost resembling hockey pucks, that help to cushion the trains vibrations. Over the years, though, tunnel leaks have caused these slabs to crack and their rubber disks to corrode, which poses a risk of rail movement.

The T expects to work most weekends through the end of March, though trains will run during the Christmas and New Year’s weekends. Buses will otherwise provide substitute service, picking up and dropping passengers off outside the closed stations.The project cannot be managed solely within the 3 ½-hour window each morning when the T is closed, without disrupting service. Materials must be hauled in and out each weekend on special trucks outfitted to drive on rails, with the nearest entry point at the mouth of the tunnel near Kendall Station two miles from Harvard and nearly five miles from Alewife. 

Lastly, for those of you who are still complaining about how inconvenient this is ask yourself this: 
Would you rather the T willingly suspend service to address the problem or have a derailment cause the T to suspend service to address the problem?

1 comment:

  1. What would be nice is if they planned repairs like this for the summer when it's so much easier/more pleasant to replace travel on the T with walking or biking. In nice weather, I would almost never take the T from Davis to Harvard. But in the cold winter months, it's a much better option compared to biking.

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