MBTA finishes safety inspections of its tracks, a key step toward trains returning to normal speed

MBTA officials say they have completed a systemwide inspection of subway tracks and identified nearly 300 defects that need repair. The review is a crucial step to eventually operating trains at normal speeds again after several weeks of enforced slowdowns.

In a series of tweets, officials said they now have a clearer picture of the problems on the subway system’s deteriorating tracks almost two months after a state oversight agency discovered several safety concerns and demanded immediate fixes.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo on Friday said the inspections had confirmed 283 defects requiring some level of repair, with 100 of those on the Green Line alone. The fixes, he said, could range from adjusting segments of track to fully replacing parts such as rails, ties, and insulators for the third rail.


He did not answer questions about how many of those defects had not been previously identified.

As of Friday, more than 31 miles — or 23 percent — of the T’s subway tracks were still speed-restricted, with more than one-third of those restrictions on the Red Line, the T’s busiest branch. The Blue Line, once the system’s most reliable section, is still covered by speed restrictions along 43 percent of its track as of this week.

The completed inspection of all four subway lines is good news and unusually transparent for the agency, said Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets Alliance. But she also urged the agency to soon release a detailed report of what the inspection found.

“We want to understand: What did they discover?” Thompson said. “Were there problems that weren’t noted before? What were they tracking?”

The T’s review began after inspectors for the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, which oversees the transit agency, found track problems on the Red Line and other safety issues and notified transit officials in early March.


The agency “identified concerning conditions and violations of track standards that required immediate corrective action,” a DPU spokesperson said at the time.

The findings prompted the T to briefly drop top speeds for the entire system to 25 miles an hour — down from 40 miles per hour — because the agency didn’t have proper documentation to verify the condition of its tracks to DPU.

Now, two months later, nearly a quarter of the MBTA’s track system still faces speed restrictions despite the removal of some slow zones where they were not needed. By contrast, at the end of February, just 7.5 percent of tracks were subject to speed restrictions.

Riders are still feeling the crunch, according to a dashboard of MBTA travel time data by the transportation advocacy group TransitMatters. As of this week, an end-to-end round trip on the Red Line was almost 80 minutes slower than it would have been at normal full speeds; before the slowdowns began in March, that typical delay was closer to 40 minutes. Similarly, a round trip on the Orange Line this week was about 16 minutes longer than normal full speeds, and a Blue Line round trip took roughly an extra 10 minutes.

In response to questions about why some problems had not been properly documented, Pesaturo said the T is waiting on the results of an outside review of its track safety procedures and implementation of repairs. The engineer conducting the review has until late June to finish his work, Pesaturo added.


The T said in a tweet Thursday night that some of the needed repairs are underway on the Red and Blue lines, which have had weekend and weekday evening closures at various points in April to allow time for track work.

The frustration for commuters is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Just this week, the T announced more diversions to fix parts of the Red, Green, and Blue Lines, including more shutdowns on weekday evenings on the Blue and Red lines and weekend closures on parts of the Red and Green lines.

The repairs, according to the T’s news release, should replace about 10,700 feet of rail and 3,400 ties, as well as tamping about 17,350 feet of track.