BOSTON (SHNS) – A comprehensive plan outlining when all speed restrictions will be eliminated on each subway line is “not ready to be released,” MBTA General Manager Phil Eng said Thursday.
Fielding questions from reporters for about 15 minutes after an MBTA Board of Directors meeting, Eng said his focus for now is on forecasting shorter-term maintenance projects — and related service disruptions for riders — that can be accomplished more quickly to tackle the worst stretches of slow zones, which were suddenly imposed in March.
“We can give them a better timeline on when we’ll be tackling those, but maybe the specifics of which week, things of that nature, has to be a little more as we get closer to those points,” Eng said about providing commuters with a sense of when to expect improvements.
MBTA officials still have not explained why the speed restrictions now pitched as a safety necessity were not in place before a March site visit by Department of Public Utilities inspectors prompted the dramatic change.
Eng described the Federal Transit Administration’s recent scrutiny of MBTA worker safety practices as a factor, describing the FTA’s demand for improvements to prevent near misses as “one of the variables that has had us switch and pivot a little bit from a full plan” for slow zones.
When Eng started the job in April, he said he asked MBTA staff to compile a list of all the work needed to remove slow zones and signaled he would like to share that information publicly once available.
“This way, we can measure ourselves against our schedule and we can measure ourselves against the ability to deliver and beat those schedules,” Eng said on April 10.
One-fifth of all MBTA subway tracks are still under slow zones, where trains cannot safely operate at full speeds until crews make repairs. That includes 31 percent of the Blue Line, despite Eng’s past estimate that a maintenance blitz would lower the share of that line subject to speed restrictions from 43 percent on April 19 to 28 percent by the end of May.
Asked Thursday about slightly missing that target, Eng said the work on the Blue Line successfully targeted the “worst locations” where slowdowns were causing the most delays for riders.
“The speed restrictions that we lifted [were] the worst ones, the ones that are 10 miles an hour, Eng said. “Those are the ones where I think people can feel it. Some of those other ones — they’re literally seconds between stations that they add. Now, those are important seconds, and that doesn’t mean we’re not going to tackle them. But when you give that we are at six minutes or less [headways between trains], I think it’s important that we pivoted now to the Red Line and made sure we started focusing on those because those are some of our worst delays for our riders, and I need them to know that we are tackling those as well.”
“I don’t think it’s about ensuring one line is completely back to where we want to. It’s ensuring we start to restore, as a system, that reliability,” he added.
Between May 1 and May 6, Eng told the agency’s board, repair work has slashed typical travel times by about five minutes on the Red Line’s Ashmont trains and between eight and 12 minutes on its Braintree trains.
Shuttle buses are replacing trains between North Quincy and JFK/UMass during some stretches of June to give workers more time on the tracks for repair efforts.
The MBTA’s safety failures and service woes have been in the spotlight for more than a year, particularly because of an FTA investigation that last summer ordered a wide range of fixes.
The Legislature’s Transportation Committee, which last year held a series of hearings about the T’s problems, on Thursday announced it will convene another oversight hearing on Monday, June 26 to examine work the MBTA has done since that probe and how well it has addressed issues the FTA found.