Our decaying T

Photographer Derek Kouyoumjian spent a month snapping the rust and decay on the MBTA.



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      Wow, that has been in front

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      Wow, that has been in front of me every day and I never noticed. These pictures are very powerful. Good Work!


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      Too cold and trains don't run. Too hot and trains don't run. Good thing we're living in a time of public infrastructure austerity and unpredictable, extreme weather!

      Guess I'll continue to ignore the T as any kind of reliable option and bike everywhere.


      Sadly, our governor, legislature, and administrators are shameless. This won't be addressed seriously, much less solved, until people start dying.


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      We will see a massive investment in transit as soon as a Red Line train plummets off a decaying bridge and not a moment before. The MBTA martyrs who give their lives in this tragic accident will have a statue erected or a station named after them so voters will know how serious and passionate their politicians are about fixing the T.

      Time to get with the program

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      The T is getting like an additional half a billion dollars a year to spend on capital improvements. The T literally told the state not to give them any more money because they didn't have the personnel to spend it any faster. The problem is that the system has been almost totally neglected for 20 years because the T in its infinite management wisdom spent the money on salaries and pensions and benefits rather than capital improvements. It's happening - but we are in about year 2 of a 10 year program (and let's hope we can continue to fund it for another 8 years or so - because the state is stone cold broke).

      That isn't entirely true. The

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      That isn't entirely true. The T also got screwed by Forward Funding which directly limited its budget, and, it was always short of projections as it was based on the sales tax which never meets expectation (especially back then with the rise of e-tailers). Also, Baker's financial wizardry of the Big Dig and taking the legally required remediation work off of its budget and onto the (unfunded) ledger of the MBTA also hurt - it accounts for 1/3 of the MBTA's overall debt, and the service of it is destructive on the MBTA's budget. If it was shifted back to the state, the MBTA would actually be close to, or in the black. So, yeah, management sucks, the unions (and pensions) suck, forward funding sucked, and the big dig sucked, and just about everything else that created this perfect storm.

      Forward Funding Was Paid for 5 X over

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      Or something like that.

      First - you are talking about something that happened 15 years ago. When the sales tax wasn't enough - the state actually gave them at least two additional enormous annual infusions - and it still wasn't enough. Blaming the T's woes on forward funding is like saying the Big Dig is why Mass is broke today - sure it plays a historical (but small) role in the problem - but a lot of water and money has flowed under the bridge in the meantime. The biggest problem is that when the T got the new infusions, they didn't use them to service debt - in fact debt service as a percentage of the budget dropped steadily and they put most/all the new money into personnel expenses which continued to climb. It's only the past couple of years that the trend has reversed. All of this info is clearly available to anyone that wants to analyze the T's income statement.


      In Europe when considering public works they ask, "How long will it last?".
      In the US we ask, "Who's the lowest bidder?"

      The problem, IMHO, is that when the T finally spends money on something the construction is half-assed and falls apart within years when it should last decades. The problem isn't only about lack of funds, it's about how to projects to go bid, who oversees them, and what is expected from the contractor in the future.

      To solve these problems requires a rethinking of how projects are undertaken.

      The problem, IMHO, is that

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      The problem, IMHO, is that when the T finally spends money on something the construction is half-assed and falls apart within years when it should last decades.

      This is a very good serious problem, and anyone who doubts it should go visit North Station sometime. The subway station only opened in 2005, yet is in an alarming state of disrepair.

      North Station, Gov't Center, Wonderland, etc

      So many recent examples to choose from. I can't think of anything the T built between 2005-2015 which looks "new" today. In comparison an office building looks "new" for at least 20 years. The difference is that when an private building is constructed the owner tends to be much more demanding* of the contractors and takes into consideration what their ongoing maintenance costs will be.

      Look at it this way: If they can't even do basic maintenance and cleaning, how can we expect them to handle large scale construction and renovations?

      *MIT's Strata center is a good example of when a private building doesn't hold up as planned. MIT is suing to recoup their losses.

      The top picture of the orange

      The top picture of the orange line going over a bridge with the old hancock building and hancock tower in the background...I can't place where that picture was taken from for the life of me. The entire southwest corridor is below grade and the northern leg is far from the back bay. Any help?

      An important story poorly illustrated

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      Okay, so the first photo of "decay" turned me off- ice buildup on the third rail causing sparks is no a sign of anything other than a particular set of atmospheric conditions. That got me skeptical. He takes the same photo of one beam from opposite platforms and puts them in different parts of the page to make it look like 2 different problems.

      Look, poor maintenance on the T is a huge issue. That some of the "decay" noted was either superficial or duplicative is poor presentation. Where is there a picture of an Orange Line train with rust all over it? The commuter rail platform at Ruggles is a no brainer. There's so much left out.

      Or the stairs up from the

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      Or the stairs up from the Alewife platform to the Lechmere platform at Park St - totally falling apart. Or anything in Downtown Crossing, JFK, etc.

      JFK is represented

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      There's a support column encased in brick. The brick is encased in wire to keep the brick from falling down.

      Ah, missed it while looking

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      Ah, missed it while looking through them on my cell phone while on the Red Line :) Point still stands though, that I agree there are many other places that are in terrible states of repair.

      Yeah, most of the pictures

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      Yeah, most of the pictures seem to be the brick columns at JFK, and one part of the ceiling at Central where there's water damage.


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      If the trains are on time, i can tolerate the crumbling cement, overflowing trashcans, indoor rain over Track 2 on Back Bay Station platform, icy stairwells (when the indoor rain freezes during winter)

      Gov Needs to Pull GLX

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      The Governor needs to pull the current Green Line Extension bid asap. Our bond rating went down because of faulty spending logic. We have a collapsing transport network, yet we are moving ahead with a 3 billion trolley extension. Baker must pull this project. I don't care how much Pollack or the CLF may scream at him or how much Pollack money he may lose, this is where leadership matters. You know what the MBTA could do with 1.3-1.4 billion? Cut down its debt, repair every issue in the photos, complete the ADA backlog {as someone who has trouble walking after a recent accident I can tell you how bad the T system is}, purchase the high-floor FRA complaint sole-source DMUs in California for the Fairmount Line, replace the museum-era North Station nostalgia trolleys on the Mattapan Line {anyone see the new tower mural}, and fix the faulty subway.bus lineups across the system. C'mon Baker

      *cracks knuckles*.

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      *cracks knuckles*.


      1) the projected cost of the GLX is less than $2 billion (half of which is federal money), and it is a VERY worthy project that we've needed since it was first proposed in the 1940s.

      2) Baker is Pollack's boss.

      3) $1.3-1.4 billion would only make a small dent in the MBTA's ADA backlog, given the number of stations that are currently not accessible systemwide. It certainly couldn't simultaneously do all those things you list. Maybe one, if we were lucky.

      4) DMUs are a red herring, and would likely be an expensive and difficult to maintain unicorn fleet that provides next to zero benefit in themselves. What the fairmount needs is fare equity and more frequent service, which is not dependent on DMUs.

      5) The Mattapan line still runs PCCs because most people WANT it to. They serve the line well enough, they're quirky and interesting, and it works. Upgrading the line to run modern LRVs would require significant investment to bring bridges up to snuff and reconfigure the Ashmont and Mattapan loops, for minimal to no benefit to the riding public.

      The T has many, many legitimate problems, but none of these things address any of them.

      Oh Naive DTP

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      Not quite

      Here's some reality for ya

      1) The projected cost after highway trust, finance ch, community add, etc etc etc is 2.89 Billion. If you're for it, you say 2 bil, if you're against it, you say 3 bil. Given labor costs in FY18, likely more than 3 bil, In a major recession, perhaps 2.5 bil, but not a flat 2 bil

      2) The Pollack clan gave a mountain load of money to the Baker campaign. Pollack is Baker's boss. Welcome to the real world

      3) Have you ever worked on a ADA com/up? Its more paperwork than cost. Do it in major batches instead of one by one, the cost is even less

      4) DMUs are not a red herring. In fact, they're quite universal, even in North America. Metros with modern DMUs, SF/OAK (2 systems), Austin, Dallas, Philadelphia, Toronto, San Diego, Ottawa, and on

      5) Its either PCCs or buses, my way or the highway. Mattapan choses PCCs

      Before you roll out Pollack talking points, take a good look

      1) Did you miss the whole

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      1) Did you miss the whole canceling and rebidding fiasco that was a direct result of the cost ballooning to $3 billion? They cut out elevators, shelters, the community path, etc and the official current cost estimate is $2.3 billion. Not sure where you're getting this $2.89 billion from. Also, that number already factors in future year changes in inflation and labor costs (and a generous contingency amount as well), so you can't add more on top.

      2) Yeah, that's not how it works. Pollack may well have gotten her job by donating generously to Baker's campaign, but that's all it bought her.

      3) Yes actually, as a civil engineer I do ADA work all the time. My firm is even bidding on some ADA work for the MBTA right now.

      4) Neither SMART nor eBART have actually launched service yet. SMART has been repeatedly delayed, partially due to issues with the Nippon-Sharyo DMUs they purchased. They took delivery of them 2 years ago, yet they still aren't ready for service. UPX in Toronto is using a similar model of DMU, and haven't had major issues with it, but they were still an expensive beast with their share of problems (some of which derived from UPX's requirement that they be convertible to electric traction in the future). It's also notable that these are not subject to any FRA regulations, since they operate exclusively in Canada (this also apply's to Ottawa's O-Train). Yes, Austin's Capital MetroRail does use Stadler GTWs and hasn't had any major issues with them, but these aren't true DMUs, rather diesel LRVs, and (IIRC) require time separation from freight trains because they do not meet FRA crashworthiness standards. It's also worth noting that Austin's one line carries only ~2,000 passengers per day, compared to the MBTA's 129,000, and their vehicles are designed and sized accordingly. SEPTA doesn't use DMUs (unless by Philadelphia you're referring to NJT's RiverLine, which is diesel light rail, and legally cannot share tracks with actual railroads). San Diego's Sprinter service is also not FRA-compliant.
      So of the places with operating DMUs you listed, 2 of them have yet to actually carry a passenger, 2 of them are in Canada and thus not subject to FRA regulations, at least 3 of them are not FRA-compliant and thus can't intermingle with actual trains, which is useless for the Fairmount Line unless it gets its own terminal at South Station, so it doesn't have to share any tracks, and is disconnected from the Franklin line.
      But all this is moot anyway, since they're still a red herring. But based on your dismissal of that due to them being "quite universal", I think I need to explain to you what the phase "red herring" means. It means that something misleads or distracts from the bigger picture - which is precisely what both this administration and the previous one are doing with DMUs - they're waving them in front of us as an "oooh, shiny" to distract from actually implementing useful improvements, and mislead us into thinking that DMUs are the answer that will fix everything, which they're not.

      5) What? Yes, the T did propose replacing the line with buses, but responded to community feedback that they liked the PCCs and decided to keep them. Are you implying that the community wants something else?

      For the record, I'm no fan of Pollack's, and am not simply regurgitating her talking points.

      Wrong Again DTP

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      SMART is running in California. with FRA PT approval, full service this month. eBART is a good case study for the GLX, will save the Commonwealth Billions. DMUs have come on strong due to federal policy shifts, not because they're red herring tech.

      Good point about eBART. There

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      Good point about eBART. There's an abandoned third rail in Somerville from Wash St to Max Green. They could string the DMU along the line with two-track switches at certain points. The state would still need a waiver, but the process is getting easier. Mass doesn't have to rip up the existing tracks, widen the trench, electrify the line; stop existing service : they'll save billions. When Somerville mentioned they were open to DMUs, the CLF went ballistic. CLFers have been on an anti-DMU crusade since

      SMART is most definitely NOT

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      SMART is most definitely NOT running. In fact they don't even have a start date listed on their website yet!

      SMART will be announcing its start of service shortly.

      In your rush to point out how I'm "Wrong Again", how about you actually check your own facts?


      DMUs haven't "come on strong". The only places using them are minor new start services, the majority of which aren't even legally considered railroads and can't mix with regular rail traffic.

      And I fail to see how eBART is in any way "a good case study for the GLX", given they're completely unrelated.

      With Downeaster, GLX Isn't Worth It

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      A trolley in an active rail corridor that costs 2.3-3.1 billion wasn't worth it in 40s money, 50s money, 60s money, 70s money, 80s money, 90s money, 00s money, and 10s money. With the application of the Downeaster, it makes even less sense. You have to negotiate with Amtrak, NewHamp, and Maine to shut down service. Game over


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      I mean, since you are pontificating on the subject, do you know anything about it?

      Have a read and get back to us.

      (Negotiate with Amtrak? Geez.)


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      The Downeaster is a minority user of those tracks. Amtrak doesn't own them and doesn't have any say in anything. Also, GLX will not impact capacity at all, apart from a brief period during construction. No one has ever mentioned shutting down service, which is not necessary, and not going to happen.

      New Hampshire has zero stake in the Downeaster anyway, and Maine has no say over anything beyond the NH/MA state line - that's all up to the T.

      Please at least read the Wikipedia article before chiming in on something.

      Wow, Really?

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      A brief period during construction. Wow

      Yes, a brief period during

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      Yes, a brief period during construction. The Lowell line will be single tracked through the work zone, but service will continue almost uninterrupted for the duration of the project.

      And even if they do have to do a weekend service outage or something, the Downeaster can detour via Reading & Malden - just like it already sometimes does. I doubt there will be a single canceled Downeaster resulting from GLX work.

      What part of ...

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      ... do you not understand?

      MA has no choice. The never had a choice here. Other than making Bechtel pay for the overruns on the Big Dig. Other than BUILDING WHAT THEY PROMISED AS MITIGATIONS IN THE CONTRACT in the first place, that is.

      Please learn something about how federal contracts work, and try again.

      What part of "doesn't matter"

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      What part of "doesn't matter" don't you understand. The GLX to Forest Hills was also a legal mandate, Foy killed his own project under Romney. Pollack is killing her own project under Baker


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      You have some b's

      The Green Line Extension to Somerville under normal circumstances, meaning a 5-year old perm child doesn't have the governor and state hostage, would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever be built. Period

      Then why was it initially

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      Then why was it initially proposed 70 years ago, and why has it been talked about intermittently ever since?

      Maybe because it is a worthy project no matter who the governor is.

      Erm, we had both more

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      Erm, we had both more suburban commuter rail AND more intercity rail in the 40s than we do today.


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      Train service to Maine ran on the Reading Line.

      (Not that the anon isn't insanely wrong, but still.)

      Depends on which railroad,

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      Depends on which railroad, and which specific time period.

      Service to Maine isn't the point though, service on the Lowell Line is - and even when Maine service used the Reading Line, service to New Hampshire, Vermont, and on to Montreal used the Lowell Line.

      Look again

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      Someone makes a valid point about the sub-urbanism shift on the rail lines, and you immediately jump to the conclusion that it means something about traffic levels. Read, review, mull.

      Er, take another look

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      The silly anon is throwing things out there Willy Nilly. DTP has read the proposal (at least I assume he did) and knows that long term there is no impact on commuter rail or Amtrak service, and short term the impact will be minimal. The Haymarket North extension was built in the 1970s without shutting down the commuter rail, so why would this be any different.

      Answer Wildcat

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      For starters at least.

      For you and your GLX pal DTP

      1) never ever use Wikipedia as your source material
      2) ask yourself why the project has been delayed for 70+ years, by Dems and GOPers
      3) you guys, or gals, seem to be joined at the hip. Even when it comes to writing

      A to your Q, GLX: LOW RIDERSHIP

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      No 1. Existing low bus ridership in the existing GLX corridor; compared to Roxbury, Allston, Mattapan, and others

      No 2. Projected low GLX ridership if completed: Conclusion, it doesn't merit 3-4-5 billion dollars

      GLX: Low Ridership, its what Pollack, DTP, the CLF, and others intentionally avoid talking about

      I've only avoided talking

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      I've only avoided talking about ridership projections because this is the first time ridership has been brought up. I'm not "intentionally avoiding talking about" it.

      The current official ridership projection according to EOT is 45,000 a day. For 6 new stations. That's damn impressive! The entire Blue Line only carries 67,500 a day. Where are you getting this "projected low ridership" from?

      As to existing bus ridership - again, I live along the proposed route. I ride these buses. Hop on the 89 or 101 sometime - if it doesn't pass you by because it's already packed to the gills. I did a ridership analysis of these routes in comparison to the Key Bus Routes a while back, and per Blue Book data, the 89 and 101 are pretty close to the Key routes. If you combine ridership, which you really should because they share a significant part of their routes (Broadway), it pushes them above several Key Bus Routes.

      I'm not saying Somerville doesn't have lower bus ridership than Roxbury, Allston, or Mattapan. It probably does. But that doesn't mean it doesn't still have bus routes that are overcrowded.

      And finally, for the umpteenth time, you are the ONLY person claiming the GLX will cost $5 billion. The official project cost estimate is $2.3 billion. The engineers designing it, and the contractors planning on building it think it can be built for that price. What are your qualifications to claim they're off by more than 50%?

      Go away

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      Citations from reputable sources or stop spreading rumors.

      I'm guessing that you were last in Somerville in 1978 - if ever. Low ridership is do to it not yet existing, dummy.

      I don't know the area well

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      But the 80 looks like the worst bus in the area to compare to possible ridership figures. The 88, 89, and 90 look like better comparables, and there's a lot of overlap with other buses. The 80 looks like the bus one would take to get to the Galleria.

      I mean, the state did studies and have made ridership projections, but whatever.

      I agree. Even though it stops

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      I agree. Even though it stops at the end of my street, I've never taken the 80, mainly because it goes to Lechmere. I'd rather walk to the other end of my street and take the 89, since it goes to Sullivan. It's all about transfers... if I have to transfer anyway, I'd rather transfer to the Orange Line than to the Green Line.

      And I think these anons have clearly demonstrated already that they don't care about any actual facts.

      I actually did take the 80 in

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      I actually did take the 80 in to Lechmere yesterday. It was empty enough that I got a seat both ways, but not completely empty, even though both trips were midday.

      Yes! Remember The Greenbush Line

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      Yes! Whenever Pollack speaks, a sign should flash "Greenbush. CLF Pollack was the architect of the Greenbush Line, the biggest transit disaster in Greater Boston history. Now she's in charge of the GLX. Remember the Greenbush

      OK. I'll bite

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      the Greenbush Line, the biggest transit disaster in Greater Boston history

      For a little perspective

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      Putting delays and all those headaches aside for a minute, the T is vastly better than the MTA. Maybe it doesn't get you to as many places, nor does it run all night. But it's cleaner, safer, and just a generally more enjoyable experience then some other subway systems out there.

      So, the grass isn't always greener?

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      What you say can be said across America, or at least the parts of America with older rail transit. SEPTA has issues. WAMTA is screwed to a level the T will hopefully never get to. My last trip to San Francisco (admittedly a long, long time ago) the MUNI had its issues. I'm sure in a decade or 2 all the shiny new systems in Seattle and Denver will be similarly run down. Of course, go to Europe and the griping will be the same in different languages.


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      And a reminder to keep in mind things can always be worse. Nothing is perfect and the T is mismanaged to the nth degree, but its a pretty common problem since America's infrastructure is so old.

      Yes and no. The three worst

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      Yes and no. The three worst transit agencies in the country based on recent reputation, according to almost anyone in-the-know, would consistently be WMATA, SEPTA, and the MBTA. And the only reason I'd agree with you about WMATA being worse is because they've had worse luck (they've actually killed people recently - something we've been lucky enough to narrowly avoid), and their failures tend to be more noticeable, being in Washington.

      Sure, other systems have their share of problems, but they're much more minor, and usually center around growing pains, being TOO successful, or politics.

      I frequently travel to Chicago, and the CTA is miles better than the MBTA in every way imaginable, despite also being an older, legacy system. My experience in NYC has been similar (but more limited).

      Remember this about Chicago

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      Over the past few decades, they've essentially rebuilt the network. And of course, the implication is that the CTA put coin into infrastructure to have a well run system.

      Beyond Boston, New York, Philly, and Chicago, most of the systems are Nixon era and beyond, so in my mind they are relatively new.

      Oh the rebuilding is

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      Oh the rebuilding is constantly ongoing - look at what they're doing to the Red Line right now.

      And that right there is the difference. The CTA is constantly investing billions into regularly renewing their network instead of deferring it for decades. And somehow they manage to sneak in a few extensions and infill stations at the same time.

      That's not how this works.

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      That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works!

      Operating and capital funds are normally independent, which means the pension funding shortfall is unrelated to expansion projects.

      The GLX has been proposed since the 40s, and was legally mandated after the Big Dig, both of which were long before Pollack. She's only recently come into the picture, and the GLX was largely designed long before she showed up. Hell, at one point the target opening date was October 2015, and she's only been in office since 2015.

      The GLX is currently estimated to cost $2.3 billion, NOT $3-4 billion.

      The state's bond rating has nothing to do with one transportation project.

      Pollack Threats Since the 90s

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      CLF Pollack made the initial GLX marker streak in the 90s. Dukakis punted, everyone since has punted, because it's a terrible project

      Not unique to Boston

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      Same in cities in America and elsewhere that have large transit systems that originate from 50,75,100 plus years ago. Even D.C.'s and the SF Bay Area systems, which originally date from only the 70s, are in disrepair.