MBTA: Trains will be 19 years late

David Taber

The Orange Line fleet was to gain 18 coaches by 1996 as part of a plan to offset the environmental impact of the Big Dig, but now the new train cars are not projected to roll out until 2015.

The MBTA agreed to add the cars as part of the environmental mitigation plan for the over $14 billion “Big Dig” Central Artery Tunnel project, which was completed in January of 2006.

“The mitigation was designed to allow more people to ride the Orange Line and get out of their cars,” said Carrie Russell, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). A suit filed by the CLF against the state led to the negotiation of the 1991 Central Artery Transit Commitments (CATC). In November 2006 the CLF and MBTA signed an agreement outlining updated timelines for meeting many of the commitments.

The 18 cars will mean three new six-car trains for the Orange Line, providing the capacity to decrease the official time between trains from five minutes to four minutes during peak hours, according to a Transit Commitments Status report issued by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the state Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) on May 1, 2007.

It is unclear whether the MBTA ever had any plan in place to meet the original 1996 deadline. More recently, according to the DEP/EOT Status Report, the plan was to convert 18 Blue Line trains for operation on the Orange Line. That is, until a $2 million study in 2003 determined the conversions would cost $1 million a train and the trains would only run for eight years.

Instead the MBTA now plans to add the new cars when it replaces the entire Orange Line fleet in 2015. MBTA trains are generally expected to last 35 years. The current 120-car fleet was built in 1981.

At Forest Hills Station on a recent Friday evening opinions were mixed about whether the Orange Line needs new trains.

John McDonough, a Norwood resident who regularly commutes through Forest Hills, said the train he boarded at Downtown Crossing was overcrowded.

“If I had waited at Downtown Crossing for the train, where there would have been fewer people and I would have been able to sit down, I would have missed my bus,” he said.

On the other hand, a Jamaica Plain resident who only identified herself as Alison said she did not have much to complain about.

“It’s no more crowded than any other public transportation system. It’s better than the Green Line. The Green Line is nightmarish,” she said.

West Roxbury resident Kitty Franklin said she had no problem with the Orange Line but is outraged by bus service in her community.

In particular, the No. 51 bus, which runs from Forest Hills through West Roxbury to Cleveland Circle, “only runs once an hour on Saturdays and doesn’t run at all on Sundays. There is no egress from my neighborhood,” she said.

As part of their recent settlement with the CLF, the MBTA agreed to add 85 buses to routes that parallel the Orange Line corridor. In an e-mail, MBTA Spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said these buses had been purchased and delivered and are in operation. They are serving the northern end of the corridor.

The roadways next to the Orange Line are already covered, he wrote. “The southern (or JP) segment of the orange line is fully serviced by low-floor, environmentally friendly buses powered by compressed natural gas (these buses operate out of the Arborway facility).”

The No. 39 bus, which runs between the Forest Hills and Back Bay stops on the Orange Line, is scheduled to run at 10- to 15-minute intervals on Saturdays and Sundays.

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