Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Parking Tickets

This is strange ... last night when I got to the Grafton parking lot, I had a MBTA transit police ticket on my car. I know for a fact I paid my $4 parking fee last night, but my ticket was for $15 for "non-payment of parking fee." I'm not even sure how to contest it. Did anyone else have a ticket as well?

The P508 was slightly off schedule this morning, arriving at South Station at 8:26 AM, about three minutes behind schedule. Last night on the P 529 (the 6;15 PM departure from South Station), we had to wait about 15 minutes for "paperwork" until we could depart. We ended up getting to Grafton about 20 minutes late. So, sadly, not enough for reimbursement.

Interesting note about reimbursements, I'm still waiting for three of them from late trains back in September.

In other train news:

According to the Boston Globe, a commuter train at North Station hit a truck parked near the tracks this morning, but no one was injured, authorities said. The inbound train was arriving from Beverly and was making its final stop when it clipped the truck just before 9 a.m., said Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority spokesman Joe Pesaturo. Service was not delayed and passengers departed safely at North Station. The truck was parked to service a portable toilet nearby for rail employees. The driver was connecting a hose from the truck to the toilet as the accident occurred, Pesaturo said. “It’s been there in the past, but this time the driver parked too close to the tracks,” he said.

Last weekend, a Green Line train made a sudden stop, injuring some passengers. The incident happened Saturday night on the Green Line as the trolley departed North Station, heading toward Government Center. Officials tell the Boston Herald that a brake malfunctioned. WBZ-TV reported that least 10 people were hurt and four passengers were taken to area hospitals. Transit police Sgt. Bill Fredette tells the Herald that none of the injuries appeared to be serious.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa

A few days of bad commutes means the arrival of MBCR Rail Mail with their apologies


To All of Our Worcester Line Customers

Please accept our sincere apologies for the delays you have experienced this week on the commuter rail system.

We are aware that the reasons for these delays to your commute are of little importance when you simply want to reach your destination on time. We fully understand that what you are looking for is the restoration of reliable, on-time service.

Our plan to make this happen will include providing additional resources at Worcester to monitor and assist with mechanical reliability, and increasing management focus on each cause of delay for the foreseeable future. As always, we have reviewed each delay incident with our operating staff to identify ways we can reduce passenger impact for similar incidents in the future.

Please be assured that we will continue to work to restore the service to a level of reliability that meets your expectations. Thank you for the opportunity to provide you with this explanation and apology. As always, thank you for riding the commuter rail.


You know, I mentioned this last year around this time ... that there should be some staff either on site or on call in the Worcester area so when mechanical issues occur, we don't need to wait and wait until help arrives in order to even start working on the situation.

MBTA Riders At Risk

According to a report released by the governor's office, a decade of neglect and mounting financial problems has left the MBTA with public safety issues that are far more serious than previously revealed and swiftly growing worse. This report was obtained by the Globe yesterday. Among the most alarming items in the report is the fact that the MBTA has left more than 50 critically important safety projects unfunded because of a “mountain of red ink.’’

One delayed project highlighted in the report, which has been deemed critical to public safety, involves repair of a water leak on the Red Line between Alewife and Harvard stations. The $80 million project would replace a system of slabs and disks, designed to absorb train vibrations, that has been damaged by water leaks. In some areas, fasteners are corroding and the tracks are moving out of alignment, the report states, presenting “the possibility of train derailment.’’The system’s age and the lack of consistent repairs has also had a direct impact on service, according to the report.

A recent fire triggered by an old cable buried under muck on the Red Line shut down rush-hour service. It also forced some bus drivers to ferry those Red Line passengers, leaving parts of their regular routes uncovered and causing inconvenience across the system. The publicity forced the MBTA to agree to replace the cable, a $140 million project, “money that will be diverted from other projects such as overhauling vehicles,’’ the report states.

The 51 deferred projects deemed critically important carry a price tag of $543 million. But the T has a total of more than $3 billion in unfunded maintenance projects it considers necessary to keep the system operating smoothly, a list that is growing as trains and buses stay in service beyond their projected life and without crucial overhauls, according to the report.The agency spends $470 million a year on maintenance, but would need an additional $224 million to keep its backlog from growing, the report said.

“It’s fair to say that they are not keeping up with the safety standards that they themselves subscribe to,’’ said David F. D’Alessandro, the former John Hancock chairman who led the review. Governor Patrick and D'Alessandro will officially release the report today.

And although Dan Grabauskas was ousted this past summer, the report itself is not critical of MBTA management. Instead, it places most of the blame on a change in the way the MBTA was funded, a change approved by the Legislature in 2000. The idea at the time was to give the T a fixed annual subsidy, abandoning the unwieldy practice of using state money to pay off MBTA expenses at the end of each year. But the state underestimated the agency’s expenses by $558 million between 2000 and 2008, because of unrealistic projections for operating costs that were outside the T’s control.

For example, the original plan left no money for workers’ health care cost increases, even though they grew by 73 percent in the first eight years. The T, the state’s largest electricity customer, saw fuel and utility costs more than double over the same period. To balance the books, managers deferred debt payments, masking the size of the T’s problems. By 2013, the agency’s annual debt payment will reach $525 million.

Despite the agency’s financial woes, D’Alessandro recommends against raising fares after three increases in the past decade. Before adding still further to the burden on passengers, he wrote, “the riding public deserves to have tangible evidence that the MBTA is improving safety and service, not deteriorating further.’’

D’Alessandro, a bluntly spoken former corporate executive, also recommends against further expansion until the T can get its safety and maintenance problems under control. Simply controlling costs, he said, is no solution, given the magnitude of the agency’s problems and the need to employ large numbers of people to run the system.

In general, D’Alessandro recommends more transparency and more direct oversight of the MBTA by the new state transportation board, including a requirement that the T seek approval before it borrows any more money.

The strongest recommendation concerns safety. D’Alessandro implores the T’s new oversight board to conduct a high-level examination of what needs fixing. “With 51 projects classified as ‘a danger to life or limb of passengers and/or employees,’ prioritizing these projects against public safety needs is imperative,’’ he wrote.

*** Update 1:15 PM 11/04/09 ***

Governor Patrick announced during a press conference today that there will be no fare increases on the MBTA for the foreseeable future until these issues are hammered out. Thankfully, someone finally gets it. Riders have been lamenting this for years ... that the experience that we have almost daily on the T does not warrant additional fees to us until the agency gets its crap together.

This report didn't really offer anything new for those of us who take the T or commuter rail ... but hopefully it will get the ball rolling on solutions.

Switch Problems Wreak Havoc on the Worcester/Framingham Trains

Another morning, another 45+ minute delay on the Worcester line this morning. I got to the Grafton station at 7:03 and saw groups of fellow riders milling around by the pay boxes. They were all discussing the delays, it seems the p504 (departs Worcester at 6:05) was delayed over an hour and the p506 (departs Worcester at 6:30) was delayed over 45 minutes.

I looked on the MBTA website from my blackberry and it looked like the p502 had been cancelled and suggested that passengers seek alternate arrangements for transportation. The service alert attributed the delays to switch problems in Worcester.

At around 7:20 a train rolled into Grafton. As I went to get on the train, I asked the conductor if it was the p504 and he barked back at me "It's a LOCAL!" Um, thanks for the great customer service!

After Framingham, one of the conductors announced that our train was actually the p506, which is supposed to get to Boston at 8:11 AM. It was a local, making every stop all the way into the city, and we finally arrived at South Station at about 8:55.

One of my co-workers asked me if i thought the new MDOT agency taking over has anything to do with these delays. I can't imagine why that would be the case, but really, out of 5 commutes this week, 3 of them have been delayed by more than 1/2 hour. It's not even winter yet! I shudder to think what will happen if this is just the beginning.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Another Crappy Commute

Tonight's ride home on the p529 was delayed for upwards of 1/2 hour as we sat outside of Yawkey station due to a "police action" somewhere along the tracks. Both inbound and outbound trains were affected by the delay. So, out of four commutes this month so far, two of them have resulted in delays of 1/2 hour or more and thus, reimbursement requests.

Hope this isn't a sign of things to come!

Delays on the P508 and the PTIS

Not sure if the leaves are still wreaking havoc on the tracks or what, but we were about 10 minutes behind schedule this morning, arriving to South Station at 8:33 AM. At least this was somewhat "normal," as opposed to yesterday's awful commute.

I received some Rail Mail over the weekend touting the new Passenger Train Information System (PTIS). Funny, when I first read it, I thought it was called PITS. Here is the crux of the email:

The MBTA is pleased to announce that testing is in the final stages for the new PTIS (Passenger Train Information System). This upgrade will enable us to provide our passengers with real-time information generated directly from the train. Passengers will soon see train arrival information on electronic station signs ("Next train arriving in 10 minutes"). The system will also offer automated "next station stop" announcements on board the trains. Some of you may have experienced the new system during this testing phase and we ask for your patience while this necessary part of the process takes place. During this time there may be occasions when the electronic station signs could appear to be out of service. You might also experience testing of the on board announcement system, which could be misleading (naming stations that are not on that route). Please ask your conductor if an announcement is confusing. The PTIS technology will be introduced in phases beginning with the Greenbush and Old Colony lines. We anticipate that the system will be implemented on these lines by year’s end with a system wide roll out to follow. We thank you in advance for your patience while we make these enhancements. Thank you for riding the commuter rail.

My favorite thing about the email was "please ask your conductor if an announcement is confusing ..." yeah, because they're always so forthcoming with information! Regardless, it's sure to be an interesting roll out.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Not A Great Way to Start the Month ...

This morning's commute had to be in the top 10 worst of all time. I knew we were in trouble when I got to the Grafton train station and after paying my parking fee, noticed there weren't a lot of people on the platform. I took that as a sign of ominous things to come ... and I was right, because then the automated sign said that the p504 had been cancelled and all other trains were operating about 10-15 minutes behind schedule. The interesting thing, Commuter Alerts on the MBTA website said something completely different, that the delays were upwards of 30 minutes.

When the p508 finally arrived at about 7:30, it was pushing another train ahead of it. We traveled quite slowly through Westborough and Southborough, then spent about 20 minutes at the Southborough stop due to mechanical issues. We crawled along to Boston ... luckily, we were still an express, although for some reason the train stopped at Yawkey. We finally arrived at 9:45 this morning ... about 1 1/2 hours later than usual. Finally got to work around 10:00. Thank goodness my manager understands about the delays!

I talked to colleagues at work and they had similar issues on the Fitchburg line as well ... apparently the tracks were icy this morning and the trains had problems braking. Not a banner day on the rails.