The MBTA on Wednesday announced its plans to accelerate major track and maintenance work on the Orange Line during a 30-day shutdown of the entire line beginning at approximately 9 PM on August 19 through September 18 with service resuming on Monday, September 19, to improve service, safety, and reliability on a faster timeline.
The major revitalization work to take place on the Orange Line during this 30-day shutdown will deliver a number of projects over five years faster than originally planned, and will result in track replacement, upgraded signal systems, and station improvements. The MBTA will also be able to accomplish required track maintenance associated with Federal Transit Association (FTA) directives as quickly as possible.
“This closure will allow departments across the Authority to make substantial improvements across the Orange Line,” said Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler. “Not only will improvements made benefit Orange Line riders, but they will allow for an overall rehabilitated system that is safe and efficient for employees and neighboring communities.”
“We’ve listened to our riders, and we hear them loud and clear – bold action needs to happen in order to improve the MBTA at the pace that riders deserve. This 30-day surge will allow the MBTA to accomplish major and expansive progress on a number of priorities at the same time,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. “Thirty days of 24-hour access to the Orange Line replaces over five years of weekend diversions needed to address delays and slow zones. We can eliminate slow zones, prevent unplanned service disruptions, and increase the reliability of our service. Perhaps most importantly, we will provide the quality of safety and service that our riders deserve.”
“The MBTA’s Capital Transformation program has used the surge approach successfully to make significant improvements across the Green Line over the last two years,” said MBTA Chief of Capital Transformation Angel Peña. “We are applying this experience and lessons learned as we transform the Orange Line. This surge will ensure rider safety with a continued focus on the quality of our employees and the service we offer.”
Maximizing the amount of work able to be accomplished, this shutdown will progress a number of projects and maintenance along the entire Orange Line on an accelerated timeline, which will improve service, safety, and reliability for riders, including:
The replacement of over 3,500 feet of 38-year-old Orange Line track and tie replacement work that will allow for the removal of speed restrictions, improving travel time for Orange Line riders;
The replacement of two crossovers that facilitate the movement of Orange Line trains, allowing for improved reliability and future capacity improvements;
Track repair, tie replacement, concrete work, and more along the Southwest Corridor of the Orange Line, which will improve reliability; and
The installation of upgraded signals and associated systems at Oak Grove and Malden stations, allowing for improved safety and reliability.
The Orange Line provides approximately 101,000 trips each day with ridership approximately 49% of what it was prior to the pandemic.
To keep riders updated about this upcoming Orange Line work, the MBTA has created a specially designated webpage available at mbta.com/BBT2022.
The plan to shut down the entire Orange Line during this 30-day time period will provide work crews with unencumbered access to the entirety of the Orange Line’s 20 stations, over 121,000 feet of track, and infrastructure, allowing a substantial amount of work to be accomplished. Following these 30 days, riders will experience faster trips and better service on an Orange Line fleet that is predominantly new cars.
The MBTA encourages the public to consider their alternative travel options, including those listed below.
Alternative Travel Options for Orange Line Riders
Enhanced Commuter Rail Options: Orange Line riders who must commute downtown are strongly encouraged to use the Commuter Rail as an alternative as the MBTA is making a series of changes in service to accommodate the change in travel patterns:
All Zone 1A, 1, and 2 fares can be paid simply by showing a CharlieCard or CharlieTickets on ALL Commuter Rail lines. Since many Orange Line riders drive to or transfer between buses and the Orange Line, the MBTA is making it easy to access the Commuter Rail before riders get to the Orange Line by allowing all riders to utilize Commuter Rail stations in Zones 1A, 1, and 2 by showing their CharlieCard or CharlieTicket to a conductor.
During these 30 days, most passing south-side Needham and Providence Line Commuter Rail trains will stop at Forest Hills, Ruggles, Back Bay, and South Station. On the north-side, Haverhill Line Commuter Rail trains will stop at Oak Grove, Malden Center, and North Station. During these 30 days, riders can show their CharlieCard or CharlieTicket to the conductor to access the Commuter Rail. Riders should review the latest Commuter Rail schedule changes as a result of adding these stops, which will be available soon.
Seek existing MBTA bus and subway alternatives. Riders can use other existing MBTA bus and subway services to complete their trips.
Consider working from home. During this 30-day shutdown, Orange Line riders who are able to work from home are strongly encouraged to do so. The MBTA encourages employers with hybrid work policies to allow employees to work from home as much as possible.
Alternative shuttle bus service will be provided. Earlier today, the MBTA Board of Directors approved an approximately $37 million contract for shuttle bus service to Yankee Line, Inc. Alternative shuttle bus service will also be provided by MBTA buses. Shuttle bus service will operate in both directions, connecting Oak Grove and Forest Hills stations to downtown Boston. Riders should expect that this alternative shuttle bus service will take longer and be less reliable than regular Orange Line train service. The MBTA is currently discussing options with the City of Boston for how to best service the downtown area and will provide updated information soon. This service will be at no cost to riders and fully accessible.
Parking: The MBTA will continue to charge for parking at MBTA lots and facilities at Orange Line stations, and will communicate lost-parking impacts related to staged shuttle buses in advance if necessary.
The MBTA is committed to providing as much information as possible before, during, and after this major and accelerated work to take place on the Orange Line. Ongoing and transparent outreach to riders, communities, and stakeholders will continue to take place through all available communication channels, including in-station signage, social media, mbta.com, and more. During these 30 days, extra MBTA personnel and Transit Ambassadors will also be on hand to assist riders.
Upcoming Work This Fall
The MBTA also plans a number of upgrades and maintenance construction work to take place on additional lines this fall 2022. Key highlights include:
On the Green Line:
Track upgrades and Green Line Train Protection System (GLTPS): The MBTA continues to perform track upgrades and GLTPS work on the Green Line. GLTPS combines vehicle and wayside equipment to avoid train-on-train collisions, adds red-light signal protection, and incorporates speed enforcement. Much of the Green Line track is over 30 years old and ready to be replaced. Replacing this track improves safety, reliability, and provides smoother trips for riders.Track and train protection work was already successfully completed on the B and C Branches of the Green Line earlier this summer. Track and GLTPS work on the E Branch will take place from August 6 through August 21 and on the D Branch from September 24 through October 30. This work allows for the accelerated completion of both GLTPS installation and track renewal. New Green Line tracks, ties, and ballast also reduce the risk of high-impact events such as derailments and increase the overall safety and reliability of each branch.
On the Red Line:
Alewife Crossover Improvements: Later in 2022, the MBTA will reconstruct the track crossing between Alewife and Davis stations on the Red Line to allow for an increase in operating speeds. By increasing the speed, the new crossover will help modernize the Red Line, reducing travel times and improving reliability.
Dorchester Avenue Bridge Replacement: Located between Von Hillern and Kemp Streets, the steel Dorchester Avenue Bridge carries motor vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists over tracks for the Red Line, the Commuter Rail Old Colony Lines, and Cabot Yard maintenance tracks. Originally built in 1925 and last rehabilitated in 1975, the bridge is ready to be replaced in order to protect its structural integrity and ensure reliable service. Work that took place this summer and continuing this year includes fully preparing the site for next summer 2023 when the current bridge is demolished and completely replaced. The project will also replace the Red Line tunnel roof. Improvements to the Red Line tunnel that are included as part of the bridge replacement will result in safer, more resilient, more reliable service on the Red Line and reduced future maintenance costs and service impacts.
On the Commuter Rail:
Automatic Train Control (ATC) on the Newburyport/Rockport and Fitchburg Lines: The MBTA is upgrading the signal system to add ATC as part of Positive Train Control (PTC), a federally required safety control system that monitors a train’s location, direction, and speed in real time and reduces speed when needed. Phase I of the PTC Program was completed in 2020. Phase II includes the implementation of ATC. Through the use of signal indications within the train cab in addition to using physical signal lights along the tracks, the ATC system alerts the train engineer of potentially unsafe conditions. If the crew does not respond to the ATC alert, the system will automatically slow or stop the train.ATC was successfully completed on time in 2020 for Commuter Rail lines operating out of South Station. ATC is now currently underway for all Commuter Rail lines operating out of North Station with work taking place this summer and fall on the Newburyport/Rockport and Fitchburg lines. Riders should visit mbta.com/CR for the latest service updates, impacts, schedules, and service alternatives.
Gloucester Drawbridge, Commercial Street Bridge, East Cottage Bridge, and Norfolk Avenue Bridge Replacement:
The Gloucester Drawbridge, which carries the Rockport Line over the Annisquam River, is being replaced. The current bridge was built in 1911, reconstructed in 1932, and updated in 1984. The MBTA suspended service across the bridge in April 2020, though single-track commuter rail service to Gloucester and Rockport stations resumed on May 23, 2022.
The Commercial Street Bridge carries the Newburyport/Rockport Line over Commercial Street in Lynn between River Works and Lynn Station. The steel bridge, which was built in 1913, is nearing the end of its useful life and will be replaced to meet the MBTA’s reliability and modernization needs. The new bridge will have a projected service life of 75 years.
The East Cottage Street and Norfolk Avenue bridges, between Uphams Corner and Newmarket stations, carry the Fairmount Line through Roxbury and Dorchester. The MBTA is replacing the bridges, both built in 1906, with updated steel infrastructures to improve safety and reliability.
The work that has taken place and will continue this fall to replace these bridges will allow for the delivery of increased reliability of service, eliminate speed restrictions, bring the bridges into a State of Good Repair, and reduce maintenance costs and service impacts.
North Station Signals Replacement: The MBTA continues work this fall to replace the obsolete signal system that controls the movement of MBTA Commuter Rail and Amtrak trains in and out of North Station. The new signals will improve efficiency and safety and will support the future growth of the MBTA and Amtrak.
On the Silver Line:
Courthouse Station Leak Mitigation: Work taking place this fall regarding the ongoing mitigation of groundwater infiltration into the existing station will protect existing infrastructure from deterioration and result in a more reliable and safer Silver Line service.
New Courthouse Station Headhouse: The new Courthouse Station Northeast Headhouse, which will continue to be worked on this fall, is a partnership between the Commonwealth, WS Development, and the MBTA to add a new fully accessible, and flood-resilient entrance to Courthouse Station in the Seaport District.
Five candidates are completing their 10-week training program now (four started July 11 and the fifth started on July 25). Prior to the MBTA’s hiring blitz, another dispatcher candidate began their training last May who is awaiting completion of the program.
The MBTA continues to aggressively attract, promote, and hire in a number of key areas, including and especially heavy rail dispatchers within the Operations Control Center (OCC), which is unique in that it requires that applicants already work within subway operations so that their service as a dispatcher can benefit from their working knowledge of the system.
The MBTA implemented a number of hiring initiatives specifically aimed at generating interest among Operations staff in applying for the dispatcher position and attracting interested prospective applicants, including the authorization of a $10,000 sign-on bonus, the expansion of the MBTA’s pool of eligible internal candidates to include light rail dispatchers, and an immediate hiring blitz that began at the end of last month along with a targeted hiring marketing campaign.
The MBTA continues to make progress on addressing ongoing safety concerns raised during the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Safety Management Inspection (SMI).
The MBTA has met all the FTA’s deadlines and requirements to date in response to the four special directives issued and continues to develop Corrective Action Plans (CAPs) to address them. As part of these CAPs, the MBTA has taken the following actions to date:
Issued a new series of safety directives, trainings, and polices for operators regarding train movements in rail yard facilities and car houses.
Ensured all active rail transit employees are safety-certified. The MBTA is developing an improved internal tracking system and policies for ensuring re-certifications are up to date.
Prioritized track projects that address track conditions in need of most repair and that currently have substantial speed restrictions.
Updating procedures for accessing track areas to safely increase the time crews have to perform work on the tracks during the overnight hours when subway service does not operate in order to make the Orange line, Blue line, Green line, and Red line safer.
Launched an aggressive hiring campaign to attract qualified candidates as drivers, dispatchers, and inspectors to improve safety and rider experiences, and updated work rules to allow for more manageable shifts and necessary rest time.
The MBTA also has ongoing initiatives underway as part of these CAPs, including:
Exploring ways to accelerate the maintenance of its existing rail construction equipment.
Developing a PPE compliance checking program.
Increasing staffing at rail yards.
Developing a pilot program for Blue Flag procedures on rapid transit. A codified standard in railroad operations, Blue Flag procedures are clearly distinguishable blue flags/lights by day and blue lights by night that indicate workers are on, under, or between rolling cars or equipment. The purpose of the Blue Flag procedure is to protect workers from the movement of rolling equipment.
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