BOSTON – For red line commuters, the past few weeks have been especially frustrating. Like many, I assume, my daily routine now involves checking the MBTA's twitter while I eat my breakfast. I recently found out the red line is just going to be delayed until September, but I still don't really understand why. Thankfully, CommonWealth Magazine put together a report on what exactly is going on.
The article begins, "a team of roughly 50 MBTA employees are filling in for automatic switches and signals severely damaged during a derailment June 11 at the JFK/UMass Station." Okay, I've heard this whole "signal" business before, but I don't really get what that means. And why does it take so long to fix?
In order to get to the bottom of this mystery, you've got to go back to June 11. On June 11, a red line train derailed at the JFK/UMass stop. Yes, we've had a lot of train derailments in the past months, but this one was important. Why? Because it crashed into three wooden sheds which had all the signal equipment in them.
Normally, a train conductor waits for the signal, and moves forward. This is how they know which trains are in front of them, how fast they are going, and when they can continue. WITHOUT the magical wooden boxes doing all that work, human beings have to. And we're not as smart as these wooden boxes.
So you've got 16 employees (50 total for different shifts) doing the job of the magic wooden boxes. That's why everything is taking so long.
Okay, cool, got it. So why does it take so long to fix? Surely we have back-up magic boxes, right?
Two answers here. One is that because the broken signal box is in the JFK/UMass station, workers have to make sure they are safe and there's not too much traffic coming through. Second, apparently the signals are just really, really, old and kind of hard to fix, anyway.
Well, at least now we know why our commutes are 20 minutes longer each way, 40 minutes longer daily, 200 minutes longer weekly, and 800 minutes longer monthly.
Image via Flickr / MBTA