Baker: MBTA ‘far better prepared’ for whatever winter brings

Printed from:

BOSTON — Standing in the cold drizzle Wednesday morning, Gov. Charlie Baker got an up-close look at some of the equipment the MBTA will entrust to keep the tracks clear and the trains running this winter, and said he expects to be involved in decision making at the T during major snow storms.

Soon after Baker was inaugurated in January, the T and commuter rail were paralyzed by a series of snow storms, leading to delays, cancellations and vows to improve service. Baker said he often jokes that last winter “scarred” him.

“I would expect I’ll be pretty closely involved in the process,” Baker said when asked if he plans to be part of the T’s decision-making process. “I want the people of Massachusetts to have the kind of capacity to get around that they need to have, whether it’s to get to work, to pick up their kids, get to school or whatever it happens to be. That’s something people should be reasonably able to expect us to deliver on and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we do.”

To that end, the state has invested about $85 million in winter preparedness, Baker said. Ten miles of new third rail has been installed on the Red and Orange Lines, snow-clearing equipment has been refurbished and put into service, and new internal and external communication procedures have been put in place to better communicate issues to riders.

“We spent a significant amount of time analyzing what happened last winter, the different modes of failure, what caused the system to break down,” MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola said. “We’re confident going into this winter that we’re much better prepared and able to handle storm events.”

DePaola said the T will be armed this winter with rail-mounted snow throwers, jet engine-powered snow melters (which he referred to as “Snowzilla”), specially-designed plows mounted beneath Red and Orange Line trains, and systems designed to spread anti-icing chemicals as a train moves along the tracks.

On Wednesday morning, Baker met in an underground training center in South Boston with officials from the T and the Department of Transportation to go over winter preparedness efforts, and said he feels “pretty good going in, no matter what the weather ends up sending our way.”

“I believe we are far better prepared for this winter than we were for last winter,” Baker said. “I believe people have done a tremendous amount of work to position us to be in a position to serve the public adequately when the snow starts to fall.”

He added, “But obviously, Mother Nature may have other plans and we’ll have to wait and see how that plays out.”

The T this year will also establish an emergency operations center where “executive-level people” will gather to make major decisions about the system, DePaola said. The subway and commuter rail systems will each have a “snow desk” staffed during snow storms and will produce weather and service updates every two hours and help push up-to-date information out to riders, he said, as part of an effort to keep riders more informed if train or bus schedules must change.

“We will employ additional customer service people, we have improved our T alert system, we started a campaign just a couple of weeks ago to inform the public on ways to get various modes of communication so they can be kept up to date,” DePaola said. “On the (commuter rail) side, they’ve hired an additional eight people to work on putting out T alerts and other customer communications so that our people who use our system are fully informed on a real-time basis of the status of the system.”

Given the close attention he has paid to MBTA operations since the transit system’s failure marred his early days in office, Baker said the work done at the T is enough to assuage his fears that last winter could repeat itself.

“Between the establishment of the emergency operations center, a whole set of new protocols with respect to communication between the transit folks, the bus folks and the commuter rail people, and a lot of additional external communications to the riding public, and a lot of the investments that have been made into the system … we’re going to be playing a much different hand than we were playing last year,” he said.

— Written by Colin A. Young

Copyright State House News Service