Will Fewer Trains Mean Better Service?

By Sarah Birnbaum

Nov. 4, 2011

mbta commuter rail map

The MBTA is trying a new strategy to improve storm maintenance and reduce disruptions in commuter rail service. (MBTA)

BOSTON — Last winter was a nightmare for many commuter rail riders. Hundreds of trains were late or canceled. Some trains broke down on the tracks. And commuters described standing on platforms for hours in the cold waiting for trains that never came.

The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, which operates the commuter rail, wants to avoid a repeat of last year. It’s taking what seems like a counter-intuitive move: The agency plans to run fewer trains during severe weather. Under the new policy, 23 percent of commuter rail trains will be canceled in advance.

Hugh Kiley, general manager of the MBCR, explained that ridership actually goes down during snowstorms — so commuters shouldn’t feel the pain. And, he said, if there are fewer trains in motion, the staff will have more time to focus on mechanical issues.
“This will allow us to adjust the schedule to meet the demand [and] at the same time maintain our equipment, which we were not able to do last year.”
Another benefit, Kiley said, is that extra trains will be available to rescue ones that hit snowdrifts or break down. 

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