By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — With upgrades to subway track infrastructure, wait times for transit could be dramatically reduced during rush hour, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday.
Baker said that with improvements wait times could be reduced from 3.5 to 5 minutes during rush hour to 1.5 minutes, reducing congestion on trains that are often packed during rush hour.
“The simple truth is the number of trains you can put through a station, the number of trains you can move through an area during rush hour is driven not so much by the trains themselves but by the tracks and signals and switches, and the third rail,” Baker said at a WBZ event at the Sheraton Boston. “It’s the actual power grid that runs underneath the trains that determines how quickly you can move them through the system.”
Bringing the MBTA’s track and signal infrastructure to a state of good repair would cost about $1.6 billion, according to the MBTA. In fiscal 2016 the state plans to spend a total of $62.3 million on track and signal upgrades.
Baker is attempting to free the T from required steps state government must take before privatizing existing services. Baker has said privatizing some of the track and signal work would substantially reduce the amount of time it will take.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the winter resiliency work the T is undertaking to avoid a repeat of last winter is a “good example” of using “outside forces to expedite third rail work.”
A $12.7 million project will replace third rail and switch heaters on certain portions of outdoor Red and Orange line track, with work on the Orange Line beginning Monday night, Pesaturo said. Another example is $43 million in work on the signal and other equipment on outdoor portions of the Red Line, Pesaturo said.
The T spent $43.3 million on electricity in fiscal 2014, with about 80 percent going towards “traction power” that makes equipment move, according to Pesaturo. The T has 3.5 megawatts of its own generating capacity in place or planned, meaning the T generates about 5 percent of its power during its peak demand, he said. Pesaturo said energy conservation efforts in the past four years have generated $2.75 million in savings.
A Chinese-owned manufacturer CNR-MA won a $556.6 million contract last year to assemble new Orange and Red line cars in Springfield.
Baker said track upgrades would be a positive shift for commuters.
“Upgrading that will take all kinds of parts of the system where you can only run a train every three and a half minutes or every five minutes and get us to the point where we can run one every 90 seconds,” Baker said. “Now I want you to think about the difference particularly in some of the more congested parts of the system.”
Baker, who has focused on making changes to the T after train service stalled out during the particularly harsh winter, said he is confident the system will be able to perform during the dog days of summer.
“I feel pretty good about the T’s ability to meet the traveling public’s expectations this summer,” Baker said.