Manhole Explosion Knocks Out Power Again In Back Bay

BOSTON (CBS) — Crews were still working to restore power to sections of the city Thursday, two days after a smoky electrical transformer fire in the Back Bay. NStar now says a connector cable filled with oil failed in the substation causing the fire.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino is demanding that NStar pay for the blackout and is calling for an investigation into why it happened.

“This is a very unusual event,” said NStar CEO Tom May. “In my 35 year history of this company there has never been a failure of one of these connectors.”

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Lana Jones reports

Photos: Back Bay Blackout

NStar says that by 3 p.m. Thursday, most customers had their power restored. Outages reached a peak of 21,000 Tuesday night.

Shortly after the power was restored, the sudden surge of electricity caused an explosion underground on Huntington Avenue. Three manhole covers exploded and there was fire coming from one and smoke from the two others.

That explosion on Huntington Ave knocked out power to 1,500 0customers, who just had their power restored. The street was closed while crews responded to the fire.

WBZ-TV’s Kathy Curran reports

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan has instructed the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to require NStar to submit a full report of the incident and analysis to ensure this type of event does not happen again.

Many traffic signals are now working at intersections around the Back Bay, but there are still some scattered outages.

The Mass. Turnpike through the Prudential Tunnel was open on Thursday, but officials said that tunnel will be closed in both directions overnight Sunday into Monday (12 a.m. – 5 a.m.) so NStar crews can restore permanent power to the tunnel, which is currently being ruin by a generator.

“As part of NStar’s process of restoring power in the Prudential Tunnel on the Massachusetts Turnpike, work crews must disconnect the generator currently providing power to the lights and ventilation system, then re-splice the wires to the power grid,” State police said in a statement on Thursday.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens reports

The Berklee College of Music, the Boston Conservatory of Music, and the N.E. Conservatory of Music remained closed Thursday because of power outages.

  • Greg

    I cant believe that a transformer can cripple a city. What kind of electrical system does Boston have where power can not be rerouted from other areas into the effected areas. and its strange that a huge amount of man power is going into restoring power to the richer neihborhoods but barely a presense in the poorer and college campus sections. We see where there prioritys are. . Northeastern has generators running the school from day 1 but nothing for student housing. And the school is running like business as usual while these young adults are struggling and are ordered out of there dormatories and housing untill power is restored. What would happen if it was Mid January durring one of our colder winters. This could have been a major disaster and as it is the City of Boston has allready lost 100s of millions of dollars in the past 3 days. Not including the mega millions in insurance claims. Why did,nt the Mayor call FEMA in to assist. Is NStar going to pay for the massive amounts of overtime for Police and Fire or does that fall on the backs of the residents.
    The Mayor should hold NStars feet to the coals when this is finally straightened out. Mr. Menino should also hire the best electrical engineering firm to make sure this can never happen again.

    • tsalnew

      Greg when you find the “best electrical engineering firm” that can guarantee a transformer will never fail – ever – please do spread the word. I would love to buy stock in that company.

      • gramps

        Without the schools, Boston’s tax base would be greatly increased….

        The city’s taxpayers are ‘subsidizing’ your now ‘homeless waif’s’ education…..

        Apparently you’re not confident with the job you did bringing her up?

        You ‘must’ have kissed everything & made it better….never let her learn from failure & fought all her battles!

        It’s 8PM do you know ‘what or WHO, she’s doing’?


      • Greg

        You do not get my point. Transformers go, that is a guarantee
        I am in the construction business and develop many back up systems with a lot of redundancy. I can not believe that there are no alternatives. What if this happened on Wall Street or in the financial district in Boston. A storm that downs thousands of power lines in Western Ma. or Cape Cod is a little different than one item or substation going bad.

        And as for the residents that live outside of the black out zone that are commenting on the helicopter parents should think about the fact that if your son/daughter or Husband/wife where attending a university in another state and paying 50-60 K per year in tuition you would be a little upset if all the school offered for help was a cot in the Gym. And without these students the City of Boston and all of its slumlords would be broke.

        Without the schools Boston would no longer exist. So talk your trash all you want about my spelling or helicopter parents . Remember this I do not live in Boston I have electricity, a back up Generator and alternative heat . But what happened in Boston is a Joke PERIOD.
        Its scary that a transformer failure can do this. I hope that terrorists are not watching this problem with interest.

        Do not bother commenting .

    • gramps

      Let me guess…..

      A ‘Helicopter parent’???


      • Art


        I would hope that he’s not a helicopter parent. His spelliing and grammar are giving the rest of them a bad name. I was going to go on, but he’s doing a wondeful job speaking for himself.

      • tsalnew

        couldn’t have said it better gramps – well done!

    • mike

      remember when the water was all tainted two summers ago because the entire city rain into one single pipe…..yeah they love boiling it all down to one thing.

    • Don L

      They had power But it went out again! My wife called at lunch and told me that they would wait to see if power came back. BMHC on the 6th floor ordered 30 pizza’s before they were told to evacuate a short time ago. She said it was getting cold fast. Maybe they’ll have better luck on Monday!

      • Don L

        The Pru also has Copley no power again as of noon FRIDAY.

  • Mary

    Try being one of the families who lost power in October after the snowstorm for two weeks- in the suburbs in freezing temps. We dealt with it. I think people in downtown Boston can manage for two days without power. Its one thing to be isolated in your home without it, but in the city you can walk to everything you need for goodness sakes. You walk a few blocks in any direction and you’ll find a place with power to eat, spend the day, etc.

    • tsalnew

      Mary – I was one of those families and had no trouble dealing with it because we not only were prepared but we had plenty of notice. It is just no big deal.

    • Matt

      No one lost there power for two weeks. Stop with the drama.

      • Casper

        Mary we functioned in the march 29 storm 1984 with a 3 yr old and 10 day old. That’s how I don’t get what the big deal is. It’s called being prepared. And there were shelters all over that would have taken them. And if not they should have a plan b. period. God grief how do younthink those in the tornado ravaged areas are coping. What we have had here pales in comparison.

      • tsalnew

        It also wasn’t freezing temps a good portion of the time – but Mary’s point is well made – it’s a few days without power – get a grip

      • tsalnew

        in a hotel??? For the average person, power outage should not be a big deal. For those with disability, elderly, etc, there are plenty of shelters.

      • Mary

        Yes, it was. Apparently you WEREN’T one of the families. Lucky you. My neighbors were, after the first week they had to pay out of pocket to be put up in a hotel. Don’t talk about something you obviously don’t know about.

      • Mary

        Yes in a hotel. Two weeks later on the Northshore there were NO shelters for a family of four to go. There was no way to properly function in one either. I don’t get how you think a family with a baby is supposed to function in a home without heat or electricity or warm water.

    • Greg

      Are you that stupid . A storm is one thing and I have been through many but this is ridicules. I was without power for 2 weeks in a blizzard in 87 hurricane Bob and The nor’easter storm last fall. And a dozen others in the past 20 years. THIS WAS NOT A STORM !!!!
      This is a homeland security problem. If you can cripple an entire city with one transformer what would happen with a storm like the storm in October, Boston and the State capital would be devastated.
      Hurricane Irene caused a 1000 times more damage than this in western and northern Ma into Vermont But this was no Hurricane. Do you understand, it’s time to learn from our mistakes or this will happen again.

      • Mary

        The point is it DIDN’T cripple an entire city. The Back Bay is only a portion of Boston. Your original post was mostly about “young adults struggling because they couldn’t stay in their dorms”. REALLY? If a 20 something can’t survive two days without a laptop or a hair iron and have to sleep in a cot, they need to grow up. It wasn’t as if they went hungry or were forced out on the streets. Not to mention the fact that the cause was an oil line failure, one which Nstar has said happened for the first time in 30 years. Essential facilities like hospitals run on generators, and those buildings with emergency generators functioned just fine in the Back Bay. The city was inconvenienced, not cripple. Get a grip.

  • blackbear1

    Way you go Greg..Your attitude under pressure is just LIGHTS OUT!!

  • Alice Hawrilenko

    You young folks crack me up. Did you ever hear of the baby boom 9 months after the blizzard of ’78? At least our generation knew what do when the lights went out.

  • sean

    I agree with Mary, must be nice that Nstar is hooking up numerous generators to give people power and calling in all available employees because companies are without, but when it comes to residents there didn’t seem to be this much of a response

    • tsalnew

      I’d say being in the suburbs without power for a few days affects a whole lot fewer people than being in the city. I thought the response in October was extremely good considering the damage. The problem wasn’t with the utilities it was with the people who just couldn’t deal with a slight inconvenience – for the most part because they didn’t prepare!

      • Casper

        Mary. Do you remember the elderly woman’s story. Her son left her in the house. She told him she was cold Thats whynthere are shelters It is not a danger and shame on anyone who does not have a plan b in the case of a power outage.

      • Mary

        A week or two weeks isn’t an inconvenience, its a danger. I think people forgot about the eldery woman who DIED after the power went out in her home during that storm? The suburbs are full of the eldery, as well as those with young children. Being in the “suburbs” is far more isolating than being in the city where other resources are more readily available, as well as access to public transportation.

  • Rob Cleary

    America is now the land of the Government dependent crybaby.

  • RJ


    What is this about restoring power to “the richer neighborhoods”? There seems to be this gross misunderstanding that people who live in Back Bay/South End/Commonwealth are all massively wealthy when the truth is, for the most part, we’re all young professionals or college students renting from building owners.

    As one of the few remaining residents without electricity in my home, I say to you: grow up. We live in an urban area where we can walk to another neighborhood for food, where we can buy a few candles for a flashlight, and bundle up under a few blankets with a good book at night.

    Priority for restoring power should go to the areas with more small businesses since there are people who are currently not getting paid their regular income due to the outage.

    The mayor didn’t need to call FEMA in because this is not a massive natural disaster. There aren’t people whose homes were destroyed or who are facing chances of starvation or sickness due to lacking clean food and water. We’re just a bunch of people during a warm week in March without electricity.

    As Alice said, just calm down and live life. Get yourself a girlfriend (or boyfriend) and make your own heat.

    • bobfrommaine

      Come on boys and girls. The transformer that blew was handling 115,000 Volts! That ws a major power line and replacing the destroyed components is not a trivial job! When restoring power, the greatest effort is spent on providing power to the greatest number of people first, then dealing with the smaller populations in order until they get to the individual customers. Cudo’s to the power company. They had major compoonent of their distribution system self-destruct; The fact that they found sufficient generators of the proper voltage and enough cable to lay is amazing. Go out and buy them some coffee and give them a thank-you card. These guys are heroes!

      • Tsal

        Hey a voice of reason. Food for you. Thanking them is key. They are working round the clock. In October I stopped to thank every NSTAR person I saw. Sadly they looked dumb struck since most had been giving them a hard time. People are strange.

      • Tsal

        That’s GOOD for you. F too close to g on my tablet

  • billy

    If they did some actual reporting, besides relying on NSTAR’s word, they would tell you fenway and mass ave between huntington and boylston never got power back. It wasn’t knocked out by the manhole explosions. Plenty of people on twitter have been disputing the nstar claims all afternoon.

    • Tsal

      Then it’s not back. And there will be disruptions. And when the new transformer goes back on line there will be more disruptions. Time to put things into perspective. It’s just electricity

      • gramps

        37 years….

      • Tsal

        Gramps. One more hint. You know this is not a pole transformer………right? So again please do let us know what causes failures of transformers this size. Another hint. NSTAR had recent test records on this transformer. It’s why they were able to quickly say there was no toxicity in the smoke. No askarel in the oil.

      • Tsal

        Really. Then do answer the questions.

      • gramps

        Have ‘no’ intension of getting into a ‘Physsing Contest’ with you & your husband….

        It’s called ‘March Maddness’…..

        My comments were & are directed towards people who ‘count’ & can make NSTAR smarten up & hopefully in doing so…..

        ‘BURN the LINT out of their ‘Corporate NAVEL’s’!


        Harvard’s losing…

      • Tsal

        Gramps my husband is laughing at you and me. If you have really been in the buisiness for 37 years chances are you and I could have very well crossed paths. For sure you would know the company where I worked until I moved on and started my own buisiness. Not related

      • Tsal

        Gramps if you had the knowledge you’d be in a pi$$ing contest in a minute. I got my answer. Looks as if we never crossed paths. :).

      • Tsal

        Gramps it isn’t even a pi$$ing fight. It is about people who don’t know facts critiquing something Anything. I can guarantee the same people would not want bloggers who know nothing standing over their shoulders while they do their jobs.

      • Tsal

        Gramps. What exactly is your electrical engineering expertise. I know the answer from your comments but please do enlighten us. By the way and heres a hint single poles have nothing to do with this transformer failure. But keep copying and pasting the same comments Want to also explain what caused the failure of the transformer. I’d love to hear your theory

      • gramps

        It’s ‘poor management’ & lack of preventive maintenance in the name of improving the bottom line ‘quarter to quarter & year after year’!

        We’ve gone from ‘double poles’ to age’d buried plant that couldn’t handle the ‘load’ on Huntington ave……The Nstar Engineers should’ve known, these ‘young buck’ Engineers are a joke, just ‘yes’ men & women ‘hugging’ their sheep skins!

        Yet ‘tsal’ will continue to give them a pass!

        It’s time for NSTAR to ‘Pay the Fiddler’!


        What % of these temporary generators came from out of State?

  • Matt

    id like to add that i never got power back and i dont live in the prudential center. this is false. lots of back bay doesnt have it, for blocks around huntington and mass ave,none of us have power. my lights are still off.

  • Casper

    @Gregg will It in lncrease your paranoia and cause you to lose sleep if I tell you something as simple as a squirrel can cause a power outage

  • katie

    Hmmm, this is the week when colleges start notifying their accepted applicants for next year that they’ve been accepted, and there are three music colleges in the power-outage area (Berklee, Boston Con, New England Con)…wonder if Juilliard sent someone to torch the transformers and delay their rival schools’ acceptances! LOL!!

  • jim

    Menino is an idiot. Another politician who has no balls. Nstar isn’t the problem. I work for a company in the area maintaining generators and telecommunication equipment. Has anyone seen the man power Nstar has in the area? They are doing the best they can. Things like this happen, get over it. Your restaurants lost 3 days of business, boo hoo. If you can’t handle that your not running your business correctly. Everyone in this world wants everything for nothing, and blames everyone else. suck it up people, its nobodys fault.. Feel lucky you live in a city that is doing the best they can, even though it has a sackless Mayor.! Menino, whats next? you gonna find the 70 year old mininum wage person who made that part in a factory that caused the transformer failure and blame him..?? You’ll blame the company that purchased the top-of-the-line equipment because it was the right thing to do for the city… This part that failed was internal to the unit and wasn’t something that anyone ( not even the best electrical engineer in the word) could test. Grow up everyone and stop blaming and be happy. Your all just looking for money . YOUR THE PROBLEM !!!!

  • jim

    Fyi I really don’t want Menino to find the guy who made the part. Just stating that I wouldn’t put it past him if he actually wanted to do that. This is why we have insurance, for accidents. People see big companies with huge insurance policies and see $$$$$$$. But then they will complain when there electric bill goes up $20 bucks a month…You know what, every business needs a good cleaning every once in a while. They could have used the downtime to have their employess paint, clean floors and light fixtures, and wash some windows. Think out-of-the box people. And for GRAMPS who complained about the WEALTHY getting power back first. You are the biggest idiot ever. You did know that the Pru just got power back at 11pm tonight and I’m pretty sure Ropes and Gray Lawfirm are loosing millions a day while paying incredible rent for 17 floors there. Its not about money, its about trying to get the most people online in the quickest time and in the safest way.

    • tsalnew

      for the record – and while I agree with all you have said – I don’t think it was gramps who made the wealthy comment.

    • tsalnew

      oops – should have said I don’t agree gramps is an idiot – he is just gramps and tends to grow on you. Not a bad person at all :) It’s the rest of what you said that I agree with.

  • jim

    sorry about the repeat post everyone. good night, have been up since tuesday night.

  • John Healy

    WOW! I just got power in my apartment building on Burbank St. ,and the first thing I did was wash my hands in hot water first time since Tuesday evening !! Then at 2 am put on a pot of coffee for the first cup of java since Tuesday morning! Dang that coffee tasted great.

  • zaug

    IT’S CALLED “killowatt ours” not HOURS

  • dan



  • FireGuyFrank

    You think this is bad, NStar is dealing with the problem to get power back in a day. Talk to folks in Maryland, especially whose power is supplied by PEPCO. Power would be out 7 to 10 days.

    Ah, infrastructure.

  • gramps

    Customers may absorb $160M power bill

    Experts such as John Sterman, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management who studies failing infrastructure across the country, said what’s happening in New England reflects a national trend.

    He attributes the increasing number of outages across the U.S. to a downward spiral of maintenance budget cuts by power companies in a bid to bolster bottom lines, followed by more expensive outages and more cuts to make up the difference.

    An NECIR investigation has found:

    A quadrupling of major power outages in Massachusetts over the past five years as major blackouts, once somewhat rare, have become annual occurrences.

    Too few frontline repair crews at the major power companies.
    Growing concerns over whether the state’s electric grid, including aging infrastructure and trees looming over lines, is being adequately maintained.

    National Grid, which has 725 field personnel, would have to an hire 336 additional linemen to match levels at the 11 town- and city-owned power companies reviewed by NECIR.

    WMECO, which has 80 linemen, or a 1.6 ratio per 10,000, would need to hire another 108 linemen.

    NStar, with the highest ratio at 3.08 linemen per 10,000 people, would have to hire another 169 field personnel.


    • tsalnew

      gramps – since you are cutting and pasting, I’ll do the same – saves time …but this was my response on the other topic where you posted this link.

      gramps – interesting article and thanks for posting it. My question would be what business do you know that is not cutting back on costs. And what would our electric bills look like if the utilities staffed to outage levels? That being said my guess is that they could staff somewhere in between what they have and what they need for a serious outage since there is no question they have cut back.

      The article cites the municipals I grew up in Belmont. On of my responsibilities when I was still living at home was to pay the electric bill. In the 1960s the electric bill in our home was $180.00 per month on average for electric only – not heating. I can’t even imagine what it would be now. And I will tell you we did not leave so much as one night light on that wasnt necessary. I’d rather go without power for three days than pay twice the monthly bill I currently get.

      In the meantime, the article is referring to the weather related events we have seen – which were out of the ordinary in every single case for this area – how does it apply to this specific instance?

      • gramps

        The cut’s they made in staffing only allowed the ‘Chiefs’ to keep their job’s & or increased the size of their ‘BONUSE’S’ !

        They put any ‘rate payer relief’ in their own pockets….


      • Tsal

        Stick with me gramps. You’ll figure out that’s what the right is encouraging and supporting for all big buisiness. Good for you!!!

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