NEWTON, Mass. — Riverside Station will likely be swamped later this week with Red Sox fans attending the opening day. But Monday afternoon, it was half-empty, as Governor Maura Healey introduced the new general manager of the MBTA, Philip Eng.
“I had a chance to talk with a lot of riders today,” Eng said. “And while they are frustrated they love riding the T.”
Transit advocates love the fact that Eng has a reputation as a ‘nuts and bolts’ kind of manager.
“I think we want someone who is going to do the boring, behind-the-scenes stuff,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets Alliance. “You can go to ribbon cuttings, you can make big announcements, you can talk about innovation. But what makes a system run is the stuff behind the scenes you never want to think about.”
But there are some crucial things behind-the-scenes that Eng will be forced to think about -- because they could stand in the way of making dramatic improvements.
“It’s important to note that as much as we like to complain about the T, it was born broken,” said Doug Most, author of “The Race Underground,” which chronicles the history of Boston’s transit system. “Back in 1897 when it opened, the tunnels were too narrow to accommodate the type of traffic we have today and the type of expectations we have today.”
Not only are the tunnels narrow, but they’re also not straight, as with other transit systems. And the many twists and turns force trains to slow down. They also limit train length, Most said.
“The system was born broken, the way it was designed, and because of that, fixing it is a monstrosity,” Most said.
The biggest challenge Eng will face, according to Most: making incremental changes that will satisfy the public -- while recognizing the big things are likely too costly and disruptive to change -- such as new tunnels.
“I think if people feel like there’s a consistency to their commute, that’s all they’re asking for,” Most said. “We haven’t had that for a long time.”