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Boston's Orange Line will be shut down for a month for repairs


The T, Boston's transit system, is about to go - is about to undergo two major shutdowns for maintenance. The month-long closure of an entire subway line starts tonight, affecting nearly a third of Boston's subway riders. But as member station WBUR's Simon Rios reports, riders are doubtful the shutdowns will fix the ailing subway.

MYSTIC RIVER RAMBLERS: (Singing) If you're in Back Bay and you got to get to Malden...

SIMON RIOS, BYLINE: A group of local musicians, newly named the Mystic River Ramblers, plays on an Orange Line platform this week a version of a Boston classic reworked for the shutdown. Boston's subway is the oldest in the country, and in recent years, it's been the site of a breathtaking array of bad events. One man got his arm caught in a closing door and was dragged to death. And just weeks ago, a car caught on fire on a bridge, leading one rider to jump into the Mystic River below.

MYSTIC RIVER RAMBLERS: (Singing) ...On the train.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Or learn to swim.

RIOS: Earlier this year, the Federal Transit Administration began investigating the T. Then state transit officials this month decided to shut down the Orange Line, giving just two weeks notice of the closure that starts tonight. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker says the shutdown is needed to fix aging infrastructure.


CHARLIE BAKER: Doing 24/7 shutdowns for 30 days will allow the T to speed up upgrades, and it will result in a smoother and faster Orange Line.

RIOS: Days after the Orange Line shutdown was announced, officials said part of another line would also close for a month of maintenance. Boston schools are about to open, and city officials are scrambling to ease the impact of the closed subway with dedicated bus lanes, free bike rentals and help for affected businesses. But many subway users are dubious about the benefits of a shutdown. Mela Bush heads the T Riders Union in Boston. She says even these month-long closures might not be enough.

MELA BUSH: What is it going to fix? We don't want to put a Band-Aid on it because this will just keep perpetuating itself. And, you know, we're tired. You know, we want to feel safe. There's so many safety issues on the MTA right now.

RIOS: Lots of riders also think the T should have shut down the subways during the pandemic, when ridership was way down, or at least before the start of the school year. But one thing officials agree with advocates on is that the T's problems are the result of decades of underinvestment. And the state's former transportation chief, Jim Aloisi, says Boston's subway could herald what's in store in other cities.

JIM ALOISI: As federal relief funding diminishes, as ridership is slower to recover and as agencies face the harsh reality that they cannot depend on fare revenue as they used to, it's a cautionary tale to every other transit agency and system in the country.

RIOS: And that tale, he adds, says we need to invest more in public transportation.


RIOS: Lucy Calado of Somerville rides the Orange Line to get to her job downtown every weekday. It's normally a straight shot, but now she's planning to ride shuttle buses for two hours each way. And together with the rising cost of rent in Boston, it's making her reconsider living in the city.

LUCY CALADO: With winter coming, if something like this were to happen again, again, I'm expecting. So I just can't really take that risk right now.

RIOS: Another daily Orange Line rider is Victor Martine. He says he's hopeful the shutdown will make the T better, and he's ready for whatever inconveniences come his way.

VICTOR MARTINE: (Speaking Spanish).

RIOS: If a soldier has to prepare to win a battle, Martine says, then we can ride shuttle buses to get to where we need to go. For NPR News, I'm Simon Rios in Boston.


Simon Rios
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