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Boston-area commuters are facing a slew of new slowdowns and service disruptions on the T as a regular state inspection of the Red Line track in early March led to emergency system-wide speed restrictions.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has warned commuters of delays of up to 20 minutes on all metro lines due to ongoing inspections to verify the documentation of track defects and repairs. Speed restrictions will then remain in place on defective parts of the track until the sections are fixed or entirely replaced.
The T imposes speed restrictions of 10 to 25 miles per hour — creating what is often referred to as “slow zones” — to minimize damage to vulnerable stretches of track, whether because of defect, age, or weather conditions, according to the MBTA website.
“If you don’t catch the train that’s on its way, you have to wait at least 15, 20 minutes for the next one,” said Claire E. Myers, a Brandeis University student working at Clover in Harvard Square. Myers added she is often late for work due to the T.
According to the MBTA website — which recently launched a service for tracking slow zones by location, underlying cause, and distance — 172 speed restrictions have been opened over the last month. In total, 27 percent of all MBTA subway tracks are currently under a speed restriction, more than triple last month’s total.
“The dashboard delivers information that is clear and will assist riders in better understanding why they are experiencing slower conditions while riding the T,” said MBTA Interim General Manager Jeff Gonneville in a March 23 press release. “As we continue to validate and address track deficiencies, we also expect that over time, this platform will demonstrate the progress we’re making to remove speed restrictions.”
“We know these restrictions impact riders’ daily commutes and we will continue to be transparent about the ongoing, daily work to improve our transit system,” Gonneville added.
The new restrictions add to a deluge of disruptions and service changes faced by T riders since an investigation into the system was launched last May by the Federal Transit Administration. The FTA ultimately forced the T to form a plan to address findings that included overworked operators, high accident rates, and numerous other safety violations.
With the dramatic increase in slow zones across the metro system, riders have complained about delays in their commutes. The current total delay from slow zones on the Red Line is more than 30 times greater than it was one year ago, according to TransitMatters, a public transportation advocacy organization.
The MBTA has begun offering commuter rail as an alternative to some of its metro lines, including the Red, Orange, and Green lines. The ferry is also available as an alternative to the Blue Line.
“As we work to lift speed restrictions & plan repairs, we’re providing alternate transit options for all subway lines,” the MBTA tweeted on March 26.
Commuters are also dissatisfied with inconsistencies in the T’s running speed, as the landscape of slow zones changes near-constantly.
“Between Porter and Harvard, it can take anywhere from the normal two minutes to five, eight minutes,” Myers said. “That inconsistency is really an issue for me.”
This weekend, shuttle buses replaced train service on the Red Line from Harvard Station to JFK/UMass in a shutdown planned prior to the Department of Public Utilities’ site visit and subsequent speed restrictions.
The Red Line also received criticism over a falling ceiling panel that nearly struck a commuter earlier this month.
Seth Kaplan, a software engineer and volunteer at TransitMatters, said the T has become “exponentially worse” since 2022.
“The MBTA is in a crisis,” Kaplan said. “It’s just not functioning.”
“It’s been almost debilitating,” said Clyve Lawrence ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor who regularly takes the T.
Lawrence, who worked in Boston City Hall during the fall semester, said the delays are “frustrating” because they indicate a lack of attention from government officials.
“It shows transit isn’t a priority for our government,” he added.
As disruptions, accidents, and delays mount for riders, Kaplan said the effect is beyond a daily inconvenience.
“The MBTA and its leadership are failing the people of Boston,” he added.“It’s pushing people off the T and into cars, into Ubers, and it’s hard to gain those people back once you lose their trust.”
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