Welcome back to Tales from the T! Every other week, I’ll be diving into a story about the history and future of the T and other transportation around Boston. I get to indulge in my pathological obsession with trains and you … I don’t know, might learn something interesting along the way, I guess.
It’s been a while since I last tormented y’all with a column. In that time, while we were all busy having our hot girl summers, the T was having its own hot train summer. As in, the trains caught on fire. (And also derailed, collided, exploded, dragged a person to death, burned down an orphanage, you get the point.)
Things got so bad that we started the school year with an entire line taken out of service for emergency repairs. The T recently finished their 30-day Orange Line shutdown, which brought faster speeds, newer tracks and more modern trains on the line.
It goes without saying that this shutdown was an extremely drastic and desperate measure. It caused chaos for thousands of commuters, many of whom don’t have the privileges of home offices or car ownership. Other cities, like New York, have shut down lines for extended times before, but as a (ahem) New Yorker, I attest that New York is just built differently. As in, there’d usually be other lines available as reasonable alternatives. This isn’t possible in Boston’s puny network, and so we’re stuck with shuttle buses, which … suck … but points for trying, I guess. (The free bikeshare passes were an excellent idea though!)
But the alternative to this shutdown would’ve been a grueling multiyear schedule of weekend shutdowns. These would wreck off-peak and weekend ridership — one of the fastest growing groups of T riders post-COVID — and who knows how many more trains would catch on fire while repairs were underway. And, long shutdowns are more efficient, allowing for uninterrupted construction and eliminating the precious hours needed to repeatedly shunt equipment and people onto and off the worksite.
We don’t know the right answer. Whatever approach is taken, thousands of people will have their day plans ruined. But what we do know is the T still needs a lot of work done. I love the T — it’s efficient, affordable and convenient. But, even before the pandemic, thanks to a perennial lack of funding, it was in urgent need of maintenance to bring it back to a good state of repair, before service improvements can even be considered. Disappointingly, much of the needed maintenance may not result in dramatically better service, but at least it’ll prevent a repeat of this summer.
Now, with its come-to-Jesus moment this summer, and with rat boy Pete Buttigieg willing to make it rain with that transit funding, it might be time for the T to finally get the hashtag selfcare it needs. And, as the T works through its maintenance backlog, it might just be that longer shutdowns like the Orange Line will happen again. It’ll be a bumpy ride for sure, but we might just get there sooner that way.