Top T official bullish on winter preparations

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DORCHESTER — Showing off new third rails that will run along the Red Line and touting a new approach to major snowstorms, Gov. Charlie Baker and transit officials spent part of the first day of fall telling reporters they will be ready for winter.

Ahead of next winter the MBTA plans to run new third-rail power systems and new third-rail heaters on the outdoor Red Line track as far south as Quincy Center, and the T plans to replace all the third-rail heaters on outdoor stretches of the Orange Line, officials said Wednesday.

With memories still fresh of the many failures of the MBTA last winter, a reporter asked T General Manager Frank DePaola whether he could guarantee that people won’t experience a repeat.

“I guarantee, otherwise he fires me,” DePaola said, pointing back at Baker. He said, “We’re preparing for a winter just like last one.”

Stopping by a yard connected to Red Line track where heavy machines with names such as ballast regulator and swingmaster sat idle, Baker talked shop about the new plows that will be affixed to Red and Orange line trains for snow runs and the shape of the new third rail that will be less susceptible to ice and snow accumulation.

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Baker said this year’s $85 million package of winterization upgrades constitutes the “first time anybody’s spent any serious money on winter resiliency in a long time.”

The T plans to replace 50,000 feet of third rail on the Red Line by Dec. 15, though the T is unable to make replacements south of Quincy to Braintree because of limitations on the amount of third rail available from the manufacturer, officials said.

The MBTA is also building new snow plows to affix to subway trains, an upgrade from the more recent system of merely allowing the front of the train to push snow off the track. The goal is to have 20 plows each for the Red and Orange lines. Baker said the plows would protect the traction motors on the trains.

The Red and Orange lines experienced some of the worst problems from the snow earlier this year. The Blue Line fleet already has plows, according to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo, who said the Green Line cars have a “pilot bar,” which can push snow off the tracks.

The stock of traction motors that drive the subway cars will also be greater this winter. The MBTA already has more traction motors in inventory now than it had ahead of last winter, and T workshops continue to construct them, Pesaturo said.

On commuter rail switches that need to operate more rapidly, more powerful heaters will be installed, DePaola said.

DePaola said he is also initiating a new protocol for snowstorms, with an “incident command structure,” fixed assignments for workers, and outside contractors to clear bus and train yards, platforms and busways. The outside help will allow MBTA employees to focus on clearing tracks and providing service, he said.

Noting that contractors already work with T employees to make track upgrades, DePaola said the T will conduct snowstorm drills this fall.

“It’s been somewhat seamless and I expect the winter to work similarly,” DePaola said.

Wednesday morning unionized MBTA employees protested the Baker administration’s interest in privatizing T service – which so far has been focused on potentially privatizing certain bus routes for a net increase in service. The workers carried signs reading “MBTA Privatization = A Baker Scam.”

DePaola said during storms the MBTA would issue regular service updates and find ways to keep customer service in operation even if T workers have trouble getting to work.

DePaola said it would be difficult to estimate the cost of bringing in workers during a storm next year, and said last winter he thinks the MBTA spent about $37 million responding to the six weeks of intense weather.

Asked about new revenue for the MBTA, the governor noted the T will seek to raise more revenue on its own while providing more efficient service, and said each year state government will “make the math work.”

“I’m not talking taxes, period. Not talking taxes, because as far as I’m concerned we have a long way to go here to demonstrate to the public, to each other and to everybody else that this is a grade-A super-functioning machine that’s doing all the things it should be doing,” Baker said.

While winter is mere months away, the visit took place under the hot September sun.

Among his stops around the site near Neponset Circle in Dorchester, Baker spoke to Steve Maher, a general foreman, and Tom Russo, supervisor, for contractor Barletta. Russo told the News Service they talked about high school football.

— Written by Andy Metzger

Copyright State House News Service