Trains croak, riders choke

As of 8:20 a.m.: A Red Line train flatlined at Ashmont around 6:20. An Orange Line train gave up the ghost in Malden around 7. Another Red Line train began pining for the fjords somewhere on the Braintree Line around 7:20. A Green Line trolley met St. Peter at Harvard Avenue around 7:50. Another Green Line trolley put both feet in the grave around 8 at Government Center.

Only the last one still resulting in delays, the T reports. Or as Chris Bentson explains at Kenmore:

Taking a fully packed D line train out of service at Kenmore? Told to board train on other tracks- which is also packed!



Free tagging: 


Roads packed... someone should get sacked...

I-90 EB from I-495 to the Expressway: 24 minute delays
MA-1 SB from Lynnfield Tunnel to I-93: 9 minute delays
I-93 Oneill Tunnel NB from Braintree Split to Exit 18: 14 minute delays
I-93 Oneill Tunnel SB from Exit 1 to Exit 28: 14 minute delays
I-95 NB from Exit 12 to Exit 25: 44 minute delays
I-95 NB from Exit 25 to Exit 45: 32 minute delays

I think the content is

I think the content is somewhat hyperbolic (as if the T is writing off trains every day rather than just getting them back to the yard, fixed, and turned out on the tracks), focuses on what are mostly blips across a system that in general gets you to your destination within about 10 minutes of the mean just about every day, and lacks any context.

In most cases of a "dead" train, a few hundred people lose approximately 15 minutes and within 20 minutes of the train moving again, no one would know the delay ever happened. Are there times it's worse? Certainly. And that's where the "compared to what" comes in...

Every day thousands and thousands of people are stuck in traffic due to congestion and crashes and rather than being "newsworthy" it's just a fact a life. Crapping on the T for "poor service" may be fun (and hey, I have my days too) but it's also a pretty narrow way of looking at the world. Plenty of cars don't start on cold mornings, cars break down and delay other commuters, people die in car crashes, and drivers face horrendous delays daily without the snarky quips.

Again, I'm not saying the T is perfect, that Uhub or others should ignore the T, or that we shouldn't try to improve things, but some perspective would be welcome and useful.

You're right, the trains are not literally dying

Nor are they being dumped off the coast of Delaware to create artificial reefs or anything, as cool as that would be.

I actually don't write about all the trains that are taken out of service, just the ones that do seem to happen either all at once or which cause problems that last throughout the rush hour. For example, as of about 15 minutes ago, people were still complaining about problems on the Red Line thanks to those infamous "residual" delays.

Yes, what I'm doing is more anecdata than anything else - I don't know if the problems are worse now than 10 years ago or how the T compares to systems in other cities. I admit it. But the T's problems with ancient (in subway terms) cars on the Red and Orange lines are pretty well known and I find it noteworthy when something affects several hundred or several thousand people at a time.




I appreciate your response even to an Anonymous Coward like me.

While I understand your point, I continue to disagree. "Residual" delays feel like forever when you're on a stopped or slow-moving train, but I'd argue they are <5 minutes for many folks and <10 for almost all, but since you don't know that it'll only be 5 minutes by the time you reach your destination, it makes it easy to complain/tweet/vent.

For example, I was at Park St. the other day when a train was sufficiently broken that they unloaded it to get it back to the yard ASAP. It had already been a while since the previous train so the crowds were looking pretty terrible on the platform and I saw numerous people taking pictures and overheard lots of people talking on the phone about how terrible everything was. Here's the thing, within two trains, the platform was pretty much empty.

But everyone calling, tweeting, and taking photos didn't know that they were only 10 minutes delayed when they complained, and then no one follows-up to say "oh, well, despite all that, i'm 5 minutes late to my desk" because they're no longer angry. Consequently, someone in your position never sees anything but the anger/intensity of responses at their peak, not the actual implications of any incident.

Was it fun to stand on a crowded platform for 10 minutes more than I normally do? Of course not and I'd prefer never being delayed, but basically no way of getting to work (other than perhaps walking) can be perfect on that measure.

Moreover, because drivers generally (thankfully) don't tweet while driving, the twice-ish a day cataloging of everything that goes wrong with the T makes it seem as if the alternatives are some sort of utopia and we're all just idiots for sitting on broken trains all day. To be clear, I don't think this is your intent, but I do think it comes off this way.

As for the old trains, yep, I agree. We need new ones. The MBTA and State agree too. They keep emailing about their capital improvement plan; I imagine ginning up some support for that could help insure the replacement program moves along quickly but for the most part, we've already won when it comes to convincing the MBTA and State they need to replace them.

Again, I appreciate the space to make these comments and for your thoughtful response.


I think you're reading it wrong

The suggestion is not that MBTA riders are somehow missing a better way of getting around, but that the MBTA is a victim of egregious neglect and underfunding, with a dash of poor communication skills tossed in for flavoring. One has to wonder how many of those car commuters stuck in traffic might be more inclined to take public transportation if dead trains were not now a daily (and increasingly a twice daily) occurrence.

This neglect and underfunding are not going to magically go away. Our politicians and civic leaders need to be convinced that their constituents want the problem fixed, and to that end information is an important factor. Adam does it with flair and wit.

If you sooth yourself during delays with thoughts of how you'd otherwise be stuck in a car, that's fine if it works for you. For others the idea of doing something to get the problem fixed rather than passively accept it is an equally valid a way of coping.


Are you suggesting that an

Are you suggesting that an occasional thumbs-up on a blog that twice a day lists all errors is "doing something to get the problem fixed?" I agree that the MBTA has been neglected/underfunded and often is their own worst enemy when it comes to communicating what goes wrong.

And despite your sign-off, even you are buying into the idea that "if it was better on the T, those drivers would be with us there too." And it is exactly on this point where I have the issue with perspective. Cars crashing, breaking down, doing unpredictable things to cause congestion is also a daily occurrence those very same drivers put up with; but when every transit incident is magnified and every auto incident is just part of daily life, it diminishes the transit message when I'm pretty sure that for many, the transit option is more reliable (and for subway commuters, often faster and more resilient).

Adam says it's news, which strictly speaking, is true, though I'd argue news requires context and perspective. You say we list these things to "accomplish" something, but what? As I said before, we've more-or-less won on this point as they've announced a program to replace the old red/orange line cars and even the quite new Blue Line cars break down sometimes too... not because the MBTA or Siemens are idiots or jerks, but sometimes stuff breaks, especially when it's used 20 hours a day, every day, by thousands of people.

Excuse the rambling above. I don't really mean to trash Uhub, Adam, or anyone else here and I apologize if anything has an air of an ad hominem attack. The T is not a perfect organization, but I do think it's an easy target for whining because much like a sports referee, you only notice them when things go wrong and they get no credit for when things go right. I also do not think it helps the long-term effort to build support for improvements when regular T-users appear to hate the service and have no faith in the organization to ever do anything right/better.

I'm going to do my best not to get sucked into a "someone on the internet disagrees with me" day. I hope this is constructive criticism about Universal Hub, a site I otherwise enjoy a lot and I appreciate all those who have productive and useful conversations about many local/civic topics here each day.

car crash =/= trains breaking down from lack of funding

Someone crashing a car and causing massive delays on the highway is not the same as the lack of funding and maintenance for the T. If someone crashed everyday because of a pothole the state refused to fix, then that would be comparable, but that's not your argument. A car crash is generally caused my a few individuals, the T keeps breaking down due to maintenance issues.

I also commute via car each day, and some days an accident slows me down, but most days this is not a common occurrence. If the delays listed in a previous message mean a trip that based on miles and speed limits should take 15 minutes, but is planning to take 60 because of regular rush hour traffic, that's not a delay. That's life.


Unavoidable vs avoidable delays

Other news media sources cover the road and highway situation pretty well. I appreciate Adam's coverage of train delays: it helps to make up for the relative invisibility that T riders are subjected to by other media. I am interested to see just how long he can keep up the puns: Six years to go until replacement Red and Orange line cars arrive.

Also, the kind of delays which typically happen on highways are largely self-induced. Too many cars trying to go the same direction. Those kinds of delays are a natural consequence of fixed capacity and too-low a price for using it. There's really not much MassDOT can do about it, except maybe implement road pricing, and that's a whole other matter. It's just completely unreasonable to expect free-flow travel on such highways (without pricing).

Whereas the train delays are usually the result of the action (or rather, inaction) of a state agency. Or an emergency. So, like car crashes (often covered by UHub) or major construction (often covered by UHub), they tend to be more newsworthy, I think.

I do appreciate your thoughtful comments.


But everyone calling, tweeting, and taking photos didn't know that they were only 10 minutes delayed when they complained, and then no one follows-up to say "oh, well, despite all that, i'm 5 minutes late to my desk" because they're no longer angry.

And no one (to my knowledge) is actually collecting or disseminating real data on delays.

The T may or may not have actual data on this sort of thing, from the standpoint of how long a period of time was a dead car/train sitting around without a replacement for it. That isn't the whole story but it's part of it.

The real problem is to figure out how often is someone's commute is hosed by train problems. I think to really assess this and be sure that what you indicate is true x% of the time, you'd have to have a cadre of real volunteers timing their trip from turnstile to turnstile using, say, their smartphone timer, day after day, week after week, to get some data on this. It would be a fun project for some data geeks (e.g., Industrial Engineering students at Northeastern U. would be great for this) but otherwise don't expect the T to have the bandwidth to attempt it, or publish it if it looked really bad.

Until you have real data, everything is anecdotal. That doesn't mean that anecdotal information is useless, just that it may not tell the whole or real story.

Until then, I enjoy reading Adam's adjective usage.

You lost me after...

.."I think the content is somewhat hyperbolic".

No, trains on the MBTA don't (always) literally die.

As a daily customer of the bus, Red Line & Green Line, I am going to go out on a limb and literally assume you do not utilize the MBTA system to get to work every morning based on "..mostly blips across a system that in general gets you to your destination within about 10 minutes of the mean just about every day.."

I am not claiming to carry a stopwatch with me each way I commute to work, but I'll be damned if I reach my destination within 10 minutes of whatever the mean is every day. The truth is, that scenario is a rare (and exciting!) occurrence each week. It's a fabulous work day when it takes less that 1 1/2 hours to travel 10 miles into Boston on the MBTA.

Yes, many things do slow down the daily rush hour traffic. The point is that the Red & Green Lines consistently break down far more often than the Orange & Blue Lines. As a former Blue Line commuter, I know this for a fact. And this happens throughout the year, whether the temperature is frigid or seasonably warm.

I love your cynical MBTA headlines (and all headlines, for that matter!), Adam. Keep 'em coming! If nothing else, your humor gives us all a good laugh while we all stand waiting for our delayed trains.

I think I get a point here

Every day, we read here about troubles on the T, but what about driving? Is it any better?

I do think what Adam does here is good and newsworthy, and this is a juxtaposition of the TV and radio stations that will tell us which roads are screwed up royally yet ignore public transportation, but if people read this day in, day out, they might think that T users are very much put upon, when all forms are affected by all sorts of issues.

The T needs infrastructure investment. The Red and Orange lines need new trains, and all lines need new signalling systems. This is no different than when the highway system into Boston, from the Tobin Bridge and Charlestown down to Braintree needed fixing. In the latter case, billions were spent to take care of bottlenecks to give us 6 or so hours of crawling traffic as opposed to 12 hours. Highway points all over eastern Massachusetts, along with bridges of course, need work. In the eyes of the T riders, we are overlooked when it comes to getting funds to be able to avoid constant delays.

I am a T rider, and I'm glad I don't have to drive. I shoehorn into a bus in the morning to sometimes shoehorn into a train, but I'll take that in a minute over constantly sitting in traffic standing still, for no apparent reason. So, yeah, I get the point.


References to Nancy Shaw are AWESOME!

My son loved Sheep Out to Eat and I read it many times to him a few years back. The headlines sounded so familiar and I knew the rhymes were from something I had read. It tool several weeks for the name of the books to emerge from the back of my brain though.

Thanks, it's always entertaining to check up on U-Hub.

City Council meeting on Leverett Connector signage

That reminds me, dd you catch the City Council meeting on Leverett Connector signage? Frankly, I was amazed at he borderline violent it was. The look that Pressley shot Wu when Wu suggested that signs be placed throughout the city noting when one should use the road was SCARY.

I was also surprised that Linehan called security in when O'Malley started at Baker. Please, we all knew it was settling down by the time he made that call.

Go Blue

The Blue Line seems to have the least amount of problems. Perhaps this is because the cars are somewhat newer than anywhere else on the system.

However, it's too bad that the Blue Line doesn't run where I typically want to go.


Gimme a B! Gimme a L! Gimme a U!

It would certainly be a massive improvement to have new equipment, especially of high a quality as what the Blue Line has. All prospective bidders for the procurement of new Red and Orange Line cars are due in by May 1st. I certainly hope Siemens or Bombardier win the bid and put forth another solid product. Please, MBTA, please, oh God, PLEASE don't go with another first-timer like the Ansaldo-Breda fiasco.


I know nobody is surprised This is a never ending story they raise the fares but we continue to get the same service of broken down trains and delays and rude train operators and bus drivers yelling at customers cause they are in a bad mood cause their train or bus is over packed dont figure