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MBTA shutting down Orange Line for a month for upgrades, repairs starting August 19

Orange Line riders hope 30-day shutdown is worth inconvenience
Orange Line riders hope 30-day shutdown is worth inconvenience 04:05

MEDFORD - The MBTA announced an unprecedented shutdown of the Orange Line Wednesday for massive upgrades, starting August 19. It's expected to re-open to riders on Monday, September 19.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak made the announcement Wednesday afternoon at the Wellington station in Medford. Poftak said it's the first time the T has ever had a shutdown as large and long as this.

Baker said the unusual shutdown will enable faster track maintenance that would otherwise take five years on nights and weekends.

"The T's implemented shutdowns in the past across the system to accelerate infrastructure upgrades, so we know this method works," Baker said. "But this 30-day period will be the longest service diversion overseen by the T for an entire line so they can get work done faster so riders will see improved service, safety, and reliability in a much faster timeline."

"We know that any diversion, particularly like this, will be frustrating to riders. We appreciate their patience as the T implements the short-term work that can result in long-term benefits on a much shorter time frame and get to the place we all need to get to much more quickly," the governor said.

The announcement came hours after the T's Board of Directors unanimously approved spending up to $37 million for shuttle buses during the shutdown. Poftak said the contract would allow the MBTA access to up to 200 buses, though they're planning for about 160 buses at peak service times. 

"The idea here is that by shutting down a line in its entirety it allows us to do multiple projects, it allows us around the clock access," Poftak said.

The shutdown comes after several safety issues on the Orange Line and across the T system. It would speed up repairs to the line that runs from Oak Grove in Malden to Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain.

Government inspectors say there are miles of tracks with safety defects and, as a result, trains have to slow down in those areas.

The shutdown comes after a number of incidents including a train fire on the Orange Line two weeks ago. Riders were climbing over seats and out windows to escape when the train caught on fire on a bridge over the Mystic River.

Passengers evacuated the burning Orange Line train on a bridge above the Mystic River, July 21, 2022. Jennifer Donovan

The MBTA said a loose piece of metal on the train hit the electrified third rail and sparked the fire. Some of the passengers on that train are considering suing the MBTA.

Riders are worried how this potential plan will impact their commute.

"I completely get it but at the same time that's people's way of getting around, of getting to work," said Daria Shaw of Malden.

"They should just overhaul the whole thing," another rider told WBZ. 

"A shutdown of this scale will be tremendously stressful for the region," Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who is an Orange Line rider, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "But I'm hopeful that doing this necessary work now will save us years of disruption down the line."

The mayor said the city will work closely with the MBTA planning and monitoring shuttles and diversions, especially when the school year starts next month.

Shuttle buses will be free for riders. Poftak also said the Commuter Rail will be an important part of the diversions with passengers using their Charlie Cards or MBTA passes to get to certain stops.

The latest numbers show the Orange Line is the T's second busiest line, with more than 100,000 trips a day. 

For more information on alternative service, click here.

"We know these diversions can be frustrating for our riders and we thank them for their patience. There will be more work to do to improve the MBTA. But the work accomplished during these 30 days will put us on a track of transformation and building a better T," Poftak said.

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