MBTA: Orange Line Shutting Down for M/W Blitz (UPDATED)

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
The MBTA plans to shut down the Orange Line for 30 days to accelerate major track and maintenance work.

The MBTA plans to shut down the Orange Line for 30 days to accelerate major track and maintenance work.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) announced on Aug. 3 plans to shut down the Orange Line for 30 days to accelerate major track and maintenance work on the line—colloquially known in the rail industry as a ”maintenance-of-way blitz.”

Beginning at approximately 9 p.m. on Aug. 19 and running through Sept. 18, major revitalization work, including track replacement, upgraded signal systems and station improvements, will occur on the line to “improve service, safety and reliability on a faster timeline,” the MBTA says.

The projects will be delivered more than five years faster than originally planned, the MBTA says, which added that it will also be able to accomplish required track maintenance associated with Federal Transit Administration (FTA) directives as quickly as possible.

On July 14, the MBTA reported on its progress to address ongoing safety concerns raised during an FTA Safety Management Inspection (SMI) in June.

Over the past several weeks, the MBTA says it has implemented safety plans to address track conditions and maintenance, updated safety trainings and directives and addressed staffing shortages.

Projects that will be accelerated during the month-long shutdown of the Orange Line include:

  • Replacement of more than 3,500 feet of 38-year-old rail, and tie replacement work that will allow for the removal of speed restrictions, improving travel time for Orange Line riders.
  • Replacement of two crossovers that facilitate the movement of Orange Line trains, allowing for improved reliability and future capacity improvements.
  • Track repair, tie replacement, concrete work and more along the Southwest Corridor of the Orange Line, which will improve reliability.
  • Installation of upgraded signals and associated systems at Oak Grove and Malden stations, allowing for improved safety and reliability.

The plan to shut down the entire Orange Line during this 30-day period, the MBTA says, will “provide work crews with unencumbered access” to the entirety of the Orange Line’s 20 stations, more than 121,000 feet of track, and infrastructure, allowing a substantial amount of work to be accomplished. Following these 30 days, the MBTA says riders will experience faster trips and better service on a predominately new CRRC-built Orange Line fleet.

Service on the Orange Line, which, according to the MBTA, provides approximately 101,000 trips each day with ridership at approximately 49% pre-pandemic levels, is expected to resume on Monday, Sept. 19.

“We’ve listened to our riders, and we hear them loud and clear: Bold action needs to happen in order to improve the MBTA at the pace that riders deserve. This 30-day surge will allow the MBTA to accomplish major and expansive progress on a number of priorities at the same time,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. “Thirty days of 24-hour access to the Orange Line replaces more than five years of weekend diversions needed to address delays and slow zones. We can eliminate slow zones, prevent unplanned service disruptions and increase the reliability of our service. Perhaps most important, we will provide the quality of safety and service that our riders deserve.”

The MBTA is also planning additional upgrades and maintenance construction work this fall on the Green, Red and Silver Lines, and on the Commuter Rail.

Planning Ahead

The MBTA today released on Aug. 12 the Rider’s Guide to Planning Ahead as it prepares for the 30-day full closure of the Orange Line from Oak Grove to Forest Hills stations beginning at 9 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19, and the 28-day closure of the Green Line from Union Square to Government Center stations beginning Monday, Aug. 22.  

The Rider’s Guide, the MBTA says, is a tool to provide riders with alternative travel options and information to inform travel decisions, including how the MBTA is “ensuring accessibility during the shutdown, during this project.”

The Orange Line closure, the MBTA says, will be used to address a maintenance backlog and planned construction investments, all of which are focused on safety improvements and returning the system to a state of good repair. Thirty days of 24-hour access will replace more than five years of Orange Line delays and weekend diversions.  

The closure of the Green Line’s Union Square Branch will allow the T to perform final-phase construction work necessary to open the Medford Branch, which is now anticipated to open in late Nov. 2022.

Beginning Aug. 12, the MBTA will post detailed diversion information throughout each of the 20 Orange Line stations that depict alternative travel options for riders that need to traverse the transit system during the closure.

Transportation officials will hold a media availability on Aug. 15, at the State Transportation Building to discuss these travel options and answer questions.

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