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Amid MBTA Repairs, Harvard-Area Workers Report Challenging Red Line Commutes

The MBTA Red Line, which stops at Harvard, services Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Braintree, and Quincy.
The MBTA Red Line, which stops at Harvard, services Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Braintree, and Quincy. By Aiyana G. White
By Jack R. Trapanick, Crimson Staff Writer

Workers at Harvard and around the Square say they continue to face difficulties in their daily commutes to Cambridge due to ongoing slow zones, increased wait times, and diversions on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Red Line.

In May 2022, the Federal Transit Administration opened a safety investigation into the state of the MBTA — an action taken only once before. The investigation concluded in August, with an order for the agency to address dozens of problems touching almost every aspect of its operations.

Last year, safety issues on the MBTA made headlines, including a death on the Red Line and a fire on the Orange Line as it crossed the Mystic River, which caused a passenger to jump to safety into the water below.

In mid-June, though the investigation had not concluded, the FTA ordered the MBTA to address safety problems. Service has since been slashed on some lines for repairs, including a monthlong shutdown of the Orange Line and other diversions and station closures.

After seven months of repairs, services throughout the MBTA — including on the Red Line — have not yet returned to normal. Slow zones — stretches of train track where cars must slow down because of structural deficiencies — have increased, resulting in an uptick in travel times between stations.

Workers commuting from the Greater Boston area to the Harvard station expressed frustration over the renewed trials of taking the T, saying delays and unpredictibility have resulted in late arrivals to work, decreased time with family, and changes to morning routines.

Cassie Hernandez, a staff member at the Harvard Mail Center, said that despite the months of work, “it seems like nothing’s really getting fixed.”

“No matter what time I get to the train in the morning, I always get here at the same time: around 8:10,” Hernandez said.

“Even if I leave my house earlier, I feel like I can never get a good time where I’ll get there at 8 o’clock, when I’m supposed to be there,” she added.

Julia A. Trogani, visitor services and shop supervisor for the Harvard Art Museums, described her commute as a balancing act. After work, she rides the Red Line for one stop from Harvard to Porter Square in order to transfer to the commuter rail, which comes once an hour.

“Sometimes I’m walking up or running up the stairs, and it’s just pulling away, and it’s just that close,” she said. “It does significantly change my day, the difference of 30 seconds.”

According to Transit Matters, a Boston-based public transit advocacy group that tracks the MBTA’s performance, the average wait for a northbound train from Harvard station has increased by almost 50 percent from February of last year. In February, the Red Line’s total slow zone delay time from one end of the line to the other was 24 minutes.

Hernandez, the Harvard Mail Center staff member, said that the impact on workers can be trying.

“It’s tough,” said Hernandez, who takes the Red Line 12 stops from Quincy Center to Harvard. “I would like to get home earlier. I have kids.”

Chase Culler, a bookseller at the Coop and lecturer at Boston University, said the Red Line has played a role in making him late for work “maybe once or twice a week now.”

“I used to plan it out pretty perfectly,” he said. “Time has not adjusted — I haven’t adjusted for the Red Line. Something has changed.”

In an emailed statement, MBTA spokesperson Lisa Battiston did not provide a timeframe for the return to normal service.

“To improve track conditions, MBTA crews continue to work nights and weekends on the Red Line. Rail replacement and other track maintenance work will continue this month during overnight hours while the MBTA works to schedule more weekend diversions to give crews more access to the right of way,” she wrote.

“The MBTA appreciates its customers’ patience while crews work to make the improvements necessary to allow trains to travel at faster speeds,” she added.

Adding to existing Red Line troubles, a car crashed into the Alewife station garage on Saturday, resulting in a weeklong closure and forcing shuttle bus service between the Alewife and Davis stations.

Still, Culler said he is sympathetic to the T’s plight.

“I don’t envy any person who is assigned to fix the Red Line the same way they fixed the Orange Line.”

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at jack.trapanick@thecrimson.com.

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