The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. Chief Executive Steve Poftak is expected to make an announcement on “accelerating MBTA infrastructure upgrades” at Wellington Station on Wednesday alongside Governor Charlie Baker and Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler, according to the public schedule of the governor.
The MBTA board of directors has scheduled a last-minute meeting for Wednesday morning to review a contract with A Yankee Line, a company that often provides shuttles for the MBTA when it closes parts of its subway lines.
Former Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Jim Aloisi said if the T shut down the entire Orange Line for 30 days, it would likely be a first.
“There may be a little precedent, but nothing on this scale,” Aloisi said. “It’s a radical step.”
The Orange Line’s 20 stations provide an essential transportation option for entire communities. The average number of weekday trips in October 2021 was 104,000, according to an MBTA presentation from earlier this year. By comparison, average weekday trips on the Blue Line were 41,000, the Green Line 94,000 and the Red Line 125,000.
The Orange Line closure plan comes after a year of safety incidents on the MBTA.
Since a collision on the Green Line in July 2021, the T has been plagued with problems: an escalator malfunctioned at Back Bay station, causing a bloody pile-up and injuring nine people, a commuter train killed a woman in her car after a level crossing signal malfunctioned in Wilmington, two other Green Line trains crashed and derailed, injuring four people, and a man was dragged to death by a Green Line train red at Broadway station after his arm got caught in a subway door.
The death has drawn scrutiny from federal transit safety regulators who began a near-unprecedented inspection of the subway system in mid-April. The Federal Transit Administration is expected to release its final report on the T this month.
In June, the FTA said it found that the MBTA didn’t have enough dispatchers to keep its subway running safely, so the agency cut service on the Orange, Blue, and Red lines by more than 20 percent. Federal inspectors also said the T needed to repair and upgrade large swathes of its subway tracks.
The FTA found that approximately 10% of MBTA subway tracks are subject to speed restrictions due to defects, including a year-long slow zone on Orange Line tracks between Tufts Medical Center and Back Bay resorts. Track maintenance crews are using a 2 or 2.5 hour window to complete repairs overnight, which is nowhere near enough, the FTA said.
The MBTA has already made progress fixing a section of faulty Orange Line track that has caused the area to be sluggish for years, the agency told council members last month.
It’s not just the tracks that are the problem. The old Orange Line cars, put into service from 1979 to 1981, have never undergone a mid-life overhaul. Last month, one caught fire when a side panel fell and hit the electrified third rail, causing passengers to flee frantically.
In 2014, the MBTA selected a Chinese company that vastly underbid its competitors to build an assembly plant in Springfield and deliver hundreds of new Orange and Red Line cars.
Last month, the T received 78 of 152 new Orange Line cars and only 12 of 252 new Red Line cars, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said July 22. The T expects all new Orange Line cars to be delivered by summer 2023 and all new Red Line cars by summer 2025, Pesaturo said.
The company, CRRC MA, said the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues were causing delays.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu called for a more aggressive approach to fixing the T’s aging infrastructure during a radio interview last week.
“It’s time to talk about just ripping the band-aid off and taking drastic action,” she added during a July 25 interview on WBUR’s “Radio Boston.” She suggested closing sections of the Orange Line and said Boston would be willing to dedicate street space to shuttles.
Wu reiterated that pledge on Tuesday.
“We’re at the point with the T that we can’t keep kicking the road anymore,” she told reporters at an unrelated event. “We would work closely with the agency to make sure Boston is willing to help support any additional alternatives and to make sure the work is actually happening during this time to have real impact so we can see this improvement in the service.