By Glen Johnson, AP Political Writer

BOSTON (AP) — Mother Nature, old equipment and a surprisingly inept website conspired this week to bog down commuter services in Greater Boston, prompting the Massachusetts transport chief to apologize and pledge to do better.

Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan told The Associated Press on Friday his staff is in discussions with MBCR, which operates the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s commuter rail services, about financial penalties for a string of failures that left trains running late repeatedly during a week of bitter cold and heavy snow.

MBTA General Manager Richard Davey ordered the immediate reassignment of the administrator of the authority’s award-winning website after announcements about service delays were themselves delayed for hours.

At one point, things had disintegrated to the point where the T was forced to revert to Twitter posts — and sending e-mail messages by hand — to keep riders abreast of delays.

“We’ve definitely got an issue with our website,” Mullan said. “We’ve discovered that there are portions of the website and text-messaging system that are just unstable, and that’s definitely exacerbated here at a time when people want more communication.”

On Thursday for example, the MBTA website had over 16,000 “unique visitors” from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. During a typical weekday, it gets between 5,000 and 8,000 unique visitors during that period.

The authority is adding a backup network server to prevent further problems.

As for commuter rail, the secretary said: “We’re had a pretty good run of on-time performance at the commuter rail — and we’ve had a very difficult couple of weeks.”

An MBCR spokesman was delicate in fielding questions about any penalty discussions.

“By contract, the MBTA holds MBCR accountable for a number of different reasons, and assesses penalties for any issue that is clearly within MBCR’s control, including failure to provide adequate equipment and staff levels,” spokesman Scott Farmelant said.

Mullan, a famously plainspoken leader, said it was “a copout” to suggest a transportation network that includes the nation’s oldest subway system inevitably fell prey to severe cold and a Top 10 snowfall month.

Nonetheless, he conceded the double-whammy posed challenges. Signals froze. Trains had locked brakes. Wheels slipped on frozen steel tracks until sand was thrown down for traction.

On Monday, when the temperature fell below zero, its lowest level in Boston in six years, the Red and Orange lines had six disabled trains each between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., while the Blue Line had three. Those lines make over 1,000 one-way trips during a typical weekday.

By Thursday, the situation had improved: the Blue and Red lines had no disabled trains during that timeframe, while the Green and Orange lines had just one apiece.

The commuter rail challenges are being addressed, in part, with a string of new equipment now on order, including new locomotives and double-deck passenger cars. But those deliveries are still years away.

“I think if I’m a customer, I have a right to be frustrated,” Mullan said as he headed into the Governor’s Office for a Cabinet meeting. “They should know the leadership understands the concerns and we’re working to remedy them as quickly as we can.”

Comments (9)
  1. Cynic says:

    You mean that the Commuter Rail has to take the rap for Mother Nature? She gets away clean?….No wonder there is no incentive for her to take ir easy with the Snow.

  2. AnnMarie says:

    i think thay should do a better work on the trains in franklin mass.
    My husband takes the train in to franklin to south station evry day.for work.
    I dont think they are doing a good job let people no if they are canceling the trains or be late.
    people do go to the station waite for the trains but let them waite for long time then never show up for hours i dont think this is not Fair for people that has to waite
    then fine out they have to go home because there is no train.
    dew to the snow storm.

  3. KF4766 says:

    Biggest DUH! sentence in this story – wheels slipped on frozen steel tracks until sand was thrown down for traction.

    Biggest load of baloney in this story – We’ve had a pretty good run of on time service at the commuter rail

  4. Jim Haines says:

    Frozen switches, signal problems, disabled trains, it’s a wonder I got to and from work all this week. It’s an accident on the MBTA if your train arrives on time. The time for the new equipment should have been 10 years ago! They show off new double deckers for the North Side in the fall, but you know darn right well, those new coaches will go to the South side and the North will be stuck with the South’s old junk! If that happens, the MBTA/MBCR will have a full rebellion of customers on the North side!

  5. Not Happy w/MBTA says:

    I waited and hour and a half for a train in Lowell one morning this past week. What happened to: if your train is over 30 minutes late then your ride is at no charge for the day.

    Then why did they request a ticket from me once the train pulled out over an hour and a half late.

    Thanks MBTA

  6. Annmarie says:

    not happy W/MBTA
    my hubby had the same thing happen to him
    he waited for 1 hour for the train and it broke down and he had to waite for 2 train to come in ,

  7. chickenparm says:

    Here is the problem. All you yuppies continue to whine and complain about the
    service. This has been the worst winter in 15 years. Of course the trains are going to have problems. The MBTA doesn’t force you to take the train so if you are unhappy drive to work.

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