Suffolk County

MBTA General Manager defends Orange Line shutdown

BOSTON — Steve Poftak made a bold prediction Thursday. The MBTA General Manager said by shutting down the Orange Line for a month, the system can get five years piecemeal maintenance done in just 30 days.

Poftak made that claim during a virtual forum hosted by the Boston Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a way to get a lot of work done and get it done in a much more efficient manner,” Poftak said. “I don’t want to gloss over the fact that we know this is going to be inconvenient for people. We’re doing our best to minimize that inconvenience.”

Poftak noted the large number of shuttle buses commissioned by the T to get the region through the shutdown — as well as the possibility commuters can use their Charlie Cards to board commuter trains that will make stops at some Orange Line stations.

“Between six and nine in the morning, you actually have seven inbound trains that you can board traveling from Oak Grove to North Station,” Poftak said. From the South, Providence/Stoughton and Needham line trains will also serve a few Orange Line stations, he said.

“Please consider that as an alternative,” Poftak said. “We’ll also be beefing up service on a couple of complementary routes, including the Silver Line.”

“In many cases, people’s commute is going to be longer,” he said. “And we ask for some understanding in that regard.” Poftak hoped employers would consider adding flexibility into worker schedules — or even allowing some to work remotely.

While the shutdown will address a number of maintenance issues, Poftak said the priority will be track work. The Federal Transit Administration cited several safety issues with the MBTA in directives issued over the summer. One criticism of the T is that it didn’t allow enough time to perform needed maintenance.

Poftak said shutting things down over weekends — or limiting repairs to the hours after the T stops service, are inferior options.

“Complete unencumbered access to the Orange Line is much different than doing work overnight, where, after the service has ended and you’ve shut everything down and you set up your workplace, you might only have an hour or two of productive work time,” he said.

As for how the system reached this breaking point, Poftak said it started with money.

“I think that part of how we got here is decades... decades of underinvestment,” he said. “We’re investing less than $400 million a year in the MBTA on the capital side and that is not nearly enough.”

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