August 7 was a hot Tuesday, and I was headed for a Somerville Homeless Coalition fundraiser after work. I eventually got there, but only after one of those Red Line commutes that make a person want to swear off public transportation - or perhaps just swear. Instead, I made efforts to contact MBTA personnel. Eventually, I received this email:
"Sent: Wednesday, August 15, 2018 2:33 PM
Subject: FW: Incident Follow up
Hi Representative Provost -
"I asked our Operations Team to provide me a summary of what happened the evening of August 7th. They informed me that at about 6:20 PM, Red Line train 1826 reported that it had lost its air departing Park Street northbound. On scene, they found a pulled emergency brake and worked to reset it. After resetting it, the train still would not move. There was an attempt to split the train but at the same time, a passenger tried to open a half door on the train causing a pilot light to go on and further delaying the officials.
Train 1841 arrived at Downtown Crossing, offloaded its passengers, and at 6:42PM prepared to assist the disabled train 1826. Due to the heat, passengers were offloaded train 1826 onto the platform and at 6:55 PM, rescue train 1841 departed Downtown Crossing and made a successful tack on at 7:06 PM to push the disabled train to Alewife. The disabled train and the rescue train were cleared from the mainline at 7:30 PM. This caused delays up to 30 minutes in service.
I have been informed that customers had been notified via T-Alerts, Station PA's, Twitter, and onboard announcements.
However, I certainly appreciate your feedback that there was not sufficient communication. I have passed along your concerns to our Operations Department. It is understandable that incidents will happen but when our customers feel they have not been properly informed is a concern. Operations Management informed me they will continue to monitor their communications to ensure accurate and up to date information."
Finding this response unsatisfactory, I sent this reply, on Thursday, 8/16/2018:
"Thanks for your account of the August 7 Red Line incident. I myself arrived at the Park Street Red Line platform at 6:21 pm, but other individuals on the platform informed me that the stuck train had already been in the tunnel for at least 30 minutes before I arrived - perhaps personnel on the train tried to solve their problem before reporting it? There were some announcements over the loud speaker, but these were mostly unintelligible - the only ones I could hear were about upcoming weekend shuttle service between [unintelligible] stations.
From the two visible cars not yet in the tunnel, it was clear that train 1826 was packed with people, sitting and standing. What is not clear is why the train was not evacuated before one of the gentlemen standing on the train became so overcome that he suffered a medical emergency. Seeing him pass out and fall prompted me to go upstairs and report it to the T employee in the booth; when I asked him what was going on downstairs, he said he'd report the medical incident, but only knew about Green Line operations.
When I went downstairs passengers were being evacuated from the stuck train. The platform, of course, had continued to fill with more people. A transit police officer appeared - the first T employee visible on the scene - presumably to oversee the evacuation, and to keep passengers on the packed platform safely away from the second train, which had pulled into the station.
I asked the police officer what was going on, and learned that the second train would be pushing the first out of the station. Passengers then flocked to me to ask what the officer had said; it was then that I learned about the man whose 94 year old father was among those stuck on the platform - I think it was only a stroke of good fortune that more people did not pass out during this ordeal. Please consider that the temperature must have been in the high 90s on the platform, and the atmosphere stifling.
Also, the math doesn't work for your claim that this incident 'caused delays up to 30 minutes in service.' According to your time line, the stalled train problem was reported at 6:20, and was cleared from the main line at 7:30 - by another train that did not open its doors for passengers. Trains offering service only came after the track was cleared.
So, even by your reckoning of events, there was a 50+ minute delay in service, with heat in the 90s, no T personnel to be found, and the electronic sign on the platform warning of "15 minute delays." If the 'alert' system you describe actually had functioned in any meaningful way, I don't think that Red Line passengers would have continued to pour onto the platform as they did. Those of us on the platform could not hear the on board announcements, the PA system was useless, the electronic board misleading - and I don't know about you, but it would never occur to me to check Twitter to found out what was going on with the Red Line.
My travel delay was an hour long, in unpleasant and rather alarming circumstances - hence my text message to you. Others waited even longer than I did for a train. Some, of course, gave up and found another way to travel, but still there were hundreds of people on the platform waiting.
How long a delay does the T have to anticipate before shuttle buses are provided? What about sending your Walmart greeter folks in the red shirts down to the platform, in a situation like this, to make announcements, check on the wellbeing of the elderly, and hand out little bottles of water? Or station then at the entrance to the Red Line, to warn passengers about what to expect? Why did you wait until a man passed out and fell before you evacuated the stuck train?
I am giving you this level of detail about that August 7 commute in the hope that you will pass it on to operations. The perception of many T riders is that MBTA does not care about its passengers, and what they often have to put up with. If I were running a transit system, I would not want to have this image."
To my intense surprise, soon after I sent this email, I received a phone call from my correspondent, thanking me repeatedly for my detailed account. I was told that this was important information, that it would be shared with Operations, and that the T would do better. I was doubtful about that latter claim, but appreciated the courtesy of the call.
Then, on August 27, 2018 I heard this then-breaking news story:
Amazing, right? The countdown clocks on the platform will no longer give misleading information about the status of a broken down train, and when it might be expected to arrive!
While I cannot know for certain this change was made in response to my complaint, I'm going to hang on to that belief. In future, when MBTA breakdowns leave me in limbo, I'm going to seek an alternate route. And others waiting on the platform will have the information they need to make an informed decision.
For a related story, see:The MBTA vs. Other Legacy Transit Systems: How Do We Compare? It observes: "Nearly half of Bostonians use alternative means to get to work, (and) Boston's subway cars and buses are very old, even when compared to other legacy systems," comparing our MBTA to systems in five other big cities. Another interesting data point was that, compared to these other systems, "Subway service has deteriorated fastest in Boston."