It's going to take some time.
But the T now has a plan for getting rid of all speed restrictions on its subway lines.
By the end of 2024, MBTA officials said, the agency will fix all of the slow zones that have been a thorn in the side of riders for more than a year at this point.
“The amount of the work that needs to be done has continued to grow as we continue to do the work on the overnights, on early access, on the weekend outages,” MBTA general manager Phillip Eng told GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Jeremy Siegel. “The age of our track, the amount of maintenance that has been deferred and the years and years of the lack of investment in our infrastructure has resulted in conditions that really essentially have forced us to implement speed restrictions to ensure safe travel.”
This plan, Eng said, will help the MBTA address its backlog of urgent repairs and be able to move into a cycle of preventative maintenance.
Of course, riders have been promised improvements before — and those promises don’t always come to pass: The 2022 monthlong Orange Line shutdown ended with lingering slow zones, and the launch of the Green Line extension needed a shutdown about a year in because of incorrectly-built tracks.
“Well, 2022 was before the new leadership team that I have in place now,” said Eng, who has been at the agency’s helm since April of 2023. “There are lessons that we took from that: That better scoping, better planning, better coordination during construction and a plan with regards to how do we ensure that the work that was scheduled gets completed.”
He pointed to one success: The 16-day shutdown of the Red Line’s Ashmont branch and the Mattapan trolley, which ended with riders back on track and slow zones removed.
“Senior leadership were out there on a regular basis,” he said. “What we were doing was making real decisions on the ground, transferring knowledge to our supervisors. And it is a new way of doing business for the T. … People are now experiencing the ride that they should be. We've given them back time of their day and no longer is this train speeding up, slowing down. It is running at full speed in those corridors. And that's what we're going to do with the rest of the system, one by one, section by section.”
Planned shutdowns are staggered across lines as an attempt to minimize disruption, Eng said.
There will be some delays as parts of train lines are replaced by shuttle buses. But the status quo is already taking time away from passengers, he said.
“Right now our system is delaying people, and that, from my perspective, is unacceptable,” Eng said. “What we need to do is to get in and take care of the work we committed and get out.”
Before each shut down, he said, local residents and businesses will have opportunities to tell the MBTA how the shut down will affect them and what impact shuttle buses will have.
The MBTA is also considering single-tracking where possible, where trains will still run in one direction, even as riders going the other way board shuttle buses to allow for track work. He did not immediately have a timeline or a concrete list of which diversions might allow for that.
“We will continue to take feedback, even during the diversions, to ensure that if there needs to be any modifications, we will,” he said.