If all goes as planned, the Orange Line will reopen a week from today, on Sept. 19. Still, the weekend was a hectic and sometimes dangerous one on the T. On Saturday night, an out-of-use commuter rail train caught fire. And on Sunday, a power line fell down at Park Street station, causing sparks and loud noises that sent passengers running in panic. What do these issues mean for the T’s long-term safety and reliability? GBH News transportation reporter Bob Seay joined Morning Edition hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to talk about it. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Jeremy Siegel: Before we get into the Orange Line, there were a couple incidents over the weekend on the T, one involving a wire, one involving a fire. What happened with these?
Bob Seay: Never a dull moment on the T. Saturday night, an abandoned commuter rail train that hadn't been used in several years suddenly caught on fire, which, of course, is a very suspicious occurrence. So it wasn't an operation. There was nothing that was going on while it was servicing any kind of passengers. So that investigation, Keolis is undertaking to find out how that fire started. But it was pretty spectacular looking if you did see the video.
Yesterday's incident involved a power line falling from the ceiling at Park Street station, causing quite a ruckus, lots of flashes and loud sounds. Some people thought it was gunshots. That was general panic among the populace there. And the T said, well, don't worry, there wasn't a fire. Well, there was plenty of excitement and fireworks. And it brings to question the whole inspection and maintenance problems that the T has been having. I mean, this was a major station, Park Street station, the biggest.
This was not some, you know, station out in the hinterlands of the E branch or something. How this power line could have fallen raises some real questions about the whole procedure that the T uses to inspect and maintain its equipment. And I think that's one of the big issues that the Federal Transit Administration raised. So hopefully we'll find out more about how that happened. But again, fortunately, no one was hurt.
Paris Alston: Definitely some peculiar things happening on the T there, Bob. And you mentioned maintenance. We're on week four of the great Orange Line shutdown of 2022 that we're all going to remember for the rest of our lives. And it's worth reminding folks that the T said they wanted to do this so they could complete some much-needed maintenance work. So how far along is that work? How's it going? And is it really going to be reopened a week from today?
Seay: Well, everyone says they're confident it will be. That's what they say. As of Friday's update, GM Steven Poftak said they're two-thirds of the way there, which is exactly, you know, 20 of 30. And it's what they say is where they should be. With just a week to go, they are expressing optimism about reopening. Governor Charlie Baker also had the same confidence when he inspected some of the work last week. Kind of the big news Friday, not big, but important news — is that there will be new Orange Line cars available, a total of 60, by the end of the shutdown. That's an increase of 30. And that will make a real difference in people's experience on the Orange Line. And like Steven Poftak said, you're going to be more likely to get into a new Orange Line car than anything else when service begins on Monday. So that's an exciting development.
Siegel: What does it take for the shutdown to be a win for the T? Like if people are getting back on on Monday and they're getting on fresh and new cars, are they going to forget this past month of mayhem?
Seay: Well, probably not. But I think many people realize that in order to actually fix the T, these kinds of shutdowns are going to have to occur. And they have to accept it reluctantly, perhaps. But it's the only way really the T can get this work done. And if in fact, it does reopen as scheduled on Monday, that's a huge win for the T. It shows that they can do big jobs successfully and that hopefully people will recognize the new service. It may be faster on newer cars, and it also may help relieve some of the traffic congestion that really built up last week. That was another big issue that, you know, you're moving 100,000 people a day on the Orange Line and suddenly they're all on shuttle buses. And those shuttle buses are in the same traffic as school buses.
"I think many people realize that in order to actually fix the T, these kinds of shutdowns are going to have to occur."-GBH transportation reporter Bob Seay
So a lot of this is really just unavoidable traffic, which hopefully will be relieved after this week is over. But it also reminds people about just how vital having a good rapid transit system is. When you take out the second-busiest line, this is what you get: tremendous traffic. So there's a lot of things to watch over the next week or so. And if the T pulls this off, it will be kind of a real turning point in reviving the transit system in Boston.
Alston: It wasn't just the Orange Line that's been shut down in these past couple of weeks here, Bob. The Green Line extension shut down also happened between Government Center and Union Square. So what are they doing there and how's that work coming along?
Seay: Well, once again, they're working on the overhead wires on the Lechemere Viaduct, and they're hoping to complete that. And that really is preparation for the opening of the Medford Branch Service, which is scheduled for November. We haven't heard about any delays on that yet. It also enabled the contractors at the Government Center Parking Garage, which has really been problematic, as you know, with the tragic death of a worker, with the demolition process making the Green Line tunnel underneath pretty vulnerable.
The shutdown of that service has allowed them to expect to complete that demolition work, or do a lot in terms of getting it completed, which should relieve some pressure on that Green Line. So it's not really track replacement like the Orange Line because the track is new in this extension that just opened a Union Square. So next Monday, with both the Green Line and the Orange Line opening up again, people should see a real change.
Siegel: So but before we let you go, we began by asking about those incidents over the weekend. The T has been under a federal probe. And this week there's going to be another hearing on the Federal Transit Authority's investigation into the T. What are you going to be keeping an eye out for with that?
Seay: Well, this is the second hearing by the legislature's transportation committee, and they'll have invited FTA officials to Boston. So we're going to hear more details about their report and more grilling of MBTA officials about what they're planning to do about it. And just one last thing, Jeremy – the East Boston ferry is starting today. And you're such a champion of that. Maybe you had something to do with that. I was so happy to see that. For your sake and many others as well. Ferry service is something people really want to see expanded in Boston. So this is a great move.