The MBTA cut Orange Line service by nearly half this week — almost doubling scheduled wait times for trains — without any public notice, the latest in a long series of inconveniences for riders this year.
Wait times for Orange Line trains ranged from about 13 to 21 minutes during the morning rush hour on Friday, according to MBTA data analyzed by TransitMatters, a public transportation advocacy group. The MBTA operated only six of the 10 trains needed to deliver scheduled service, the group’s online train tracker reported.
The MBTA offered no explanation for the service reduction despite pleas for information from Orange Line riders on its social media pages during Thursday and Friday morning rush hours.
Several hours after an inquiry from the Globe on Friday, MBTA spokesperson Lisa Battiston issued a statement saying that the T had found a “failure in a power cable that may have created some electrical arcing with a nearby train axle” on one of the Orange Line cars during a recent inspection. Further inspections found the issue on nine cars.
Battiston did not respond to questions about why no notice to riders was provided.
According to the Federal Transit Administration, electrical arcing can happen when stray electrical current leaks from a power cable and “flows along a surface contaminated with carbon dust, rust particles, dirt, and grime, eventually finding a path to ground.”
Electrical arcing can burn cables and track infrastructure, cause explosions, damage railcar components, and endanger passengers with smoke in tunnel situations, according to the FTA. The MBTA attributed a 2019 Red Line derailment to electrical arcing that damaged an axle.
The MBTA statement said Orange Line riders “will continue to experience longer headways of about 15 minutes between trains,” and urged riders to subscribe to T alerts for up-to-date information. The T alerts website did not include any information about the reduced Orange Line service until late Friday afternoon.
“For a public agency responsible for moving thousands of people every day to not communicate about this is unacceptable,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets Alliance, a public transportation advocacy group. “They’ve already cut service so much that any further cuts dramatically impact a person’s ability to get where they need to go.”
Earlier this year, the MBTA was typically using 15 trains on the Orange Line with scheduled waits between trains of 6 to 11 minutes, according to its website. Then, in response to a finding from the FTA that the agency’s operations control center was dangerously understaffed, the T cut subway service on June 20. The T went down to 10 Orange Line trains with scheduled waits of 8 to 11 minutes.
At the time, the T said the cuts would be in place for the summer as it worked to hire more dispatchers, but the agency has since continued the reduced schedule.
The MBTA shut down the Orange Line from Aug. 19 to Sept. 18 for badly needed track repairs.
On Thursday and Friday, the agency used as few as six trains during rush hour, representing nearly half of the trains needed for the reduced schedule.
Battiston, the MBTA spokesperson, said the agency is working with state and federal safety officials on a return-to-service plan for the older model Orange Line cars if they are needed.
The MBTA has been using only new Orange Line trains since the end of the shutdown. The old cars entered service in 1979-1981 and never received a mid-life overhaul typical of subway cars this old. They reached the end of their lifespan in 2006, but the MBTA waited until 2014 to order their replacements. That order, from a new factory in Springfield, has been mired in safety issues and delays.
CRRC, the Chinese manufacturing company producing the cars, is scheduled to deliver the rest of the new Orange Line cars by summer 2023, the T said in September, about 17 months behind schedule.
Briah Cooley takes the Orange Line from her home in Oak Grove to her job at Massachusetts General Hospital.
After enduring the summer service cuts, the monthlong shut down, and lingering slow zones, Cooley, 23, thought the worst was behind her. Then she showed up to the station Thursday. Rather than endure a 20-plus minute wait in the cold, she opted for the commuter rail.
She is consistently running 10 minutes late for work, she said, meaning her patients have to wait longer than they should.
“It’s very stressful trying to get here on time when the T is not working,” she said.