Gov. Baker and MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak announced today that Orange Line service will end at 9 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19 and will return at 5 a.m. on Sept. 19 with the elimination of slow zones, better signal systems, an almost entirely new fleet of cars and "deep cleaned" stations.
Poftak called today's announcement part of "a momentous day" for Orange Line riders, who will see a transformation from a wheezing system with cars that catch on fire into one that can zip them quickly to and from downtown Boston. He added a fix is in place for the exploding-battery issue on the new cars.
What isn't in place, however, is a plan to get all the shuttle buses the T plans to have on the road - up to 160 an hour at peak times - through already clogged streets. Poftak said he's talking to the city of Boston on possible ways to speed shuttle buses up along Boston roads, but had no details, although he acknowledged that "pop-up bus lanes" are possibilities. Part of the discussions will include figuring out what to do about BPS students who have to take the T to school, he said.
Track will be replaced in slow zones, concentrating on areas where trains now shriek their way slowly due to poor track conditions, in particular near Jackson Square, Back Bay, Tufts and Haymarket, he said. He said that once the work is done and regular service has resumed for several days, trains will be able to bound through those stretches at 25 m.p.h. rather than the current restricted 10 m.p.h. Old signals and switches will also be replaced.
Poftak said that by shutting down the entire line for 30 days, the T could get work - which was already being planned anyway - done that would otherwise take five years of weekend and overnight work.
In addition to shuttle buses along the route, Poftak said people can also use their CharlieCards on commuter rail from Zone 1, 1A and 2 stations on the Haverhill, Providence and Needham lines. Baker recalled that riders switching to commuter rail worked really well when that Red Line train derailed at JFK/UMass and took out all those signals.
But also, Poftak said, if you can work at home, work at home.
In addition to the bus contract, Poftak said the T already has contractors ready to jump onto the tracks, alongside the T's own maintenance-of-way workers. "We wouldn't close it down for 30 days unless we had contracts in place." He added that the schedule of work has "float" built in to allow for any unexpected delays. Recent, shorter repair projects on the Blue Line and Red Line had problems after repair equipment derailed, most recently on Monday into Tuesday.
Officials added the Federal Transit Administration, which issued a series of "safety directives" about critical T failings, has signed off on the work.
"Oh, God, yeah, we wouldn't do this without the FTA's permission," Baker said.
Poftak added he does not foresee the need for complete shutdowns of any of the T's other three lines, although he said officials are looking at a possible shutdown of part of the Green Line - in addition to the current E Line shutdown.
Baker acknowledge more work needs to be done on the T, but credited himself and his administration for getting the T into a better position, after decades of it being underfunded by previous governors. He said the T's backlog of unfunded capital projects has shrunk from $12 billion to $6 billion and that even with its superannuated cars and tracks, on-time performance now is better than when he took office.
MBTA updates on the work.