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Technology upgrades in March mean MBTA delays

Written by on 02/23/2024

BOSTON — The MBTA is finalizing work on a long-delayed train safety system and that will mean shutdowns and shuttle buses along commuter rail lines next month.

The T is under a federal mandate to install the Automatic Train Control system on all of its commuter rail lines by this year. The technology uses antennae on locomotives, radio towers and track sensors to monitor train speeds and locations to prevent collisions.

So far, the ATC system has been installed on the Newburyport/Rockport, Lowell and South Side commuter rail lines, as well as much of the Fitchburg line, according to the transit agency.

The final work on the ATC system on the Haverhill commuter rail line gets underway next month, with the T planning to operate shuttle buses between Ballardvale and North Station during the weekends of March 9-10, March 23-24, and March 30-31.

T officials are also doing some final ATC work on the Newburyport/Rockport line, which will be suspended between North Station and Newburyport and North Station and Rockport during the weekend of March 23-24.

Service between North Station and Swampscott will also be suspended on the weekends of March 9-10 and March 30-31, T officials said.

“The MBTA understands how these service changes affect riders’ daily travels during this period, but we are committed to improving your travels long-term with more reliable, timely, and safe service,” the transit agency said in a statement. “We thank riders for their patience as we deliver this important work and for continuing to ride our system.”

The project is the second phase of a long-delayed federal mandate to equip the nation’s rail lines with the Positive Train Control system, which is designed to prevent train-on-train collisions, speed-related derailments and other safety issues.

To be sure, the Federal Railroad Administration’s mandate for railroads to install train control safety systems was delayed for years, not just in Massachusetts, but nationwide.

In 2008, Congress approved the mandate in response to a series of deadly train crashes involving speed and other rail safety issues.

Initially, the federal government set a 2015 deadline for freight railroads covered by the law to implement it, but under industry pressure lawmakers pushed the deadline first to 2018, and later to Dec. 31, 2020.

After years of delays, the MBTA finalized installation of the PTC system in August 2020. The technology in now in place along all 15 commuter rail lines, the agency says.

But the transit agency is also required to install the more advanced ATC system on commuter rail line lines to provide an additional layer of railway safety.

Similar to PTC, the system uses satellites and wayside radio signals to monitor trains. If any problems are detected — such as excessive speeds — on-board computers can take over to slow a train or bring it to a complete stop.

The National Transportation Safety Board says the technology could have prevented 145 railroad accidents, saved an estimated 300 lives and averted more than 6,700 injuries over the past 45 years.

Nationwide, the systems are being installed along nearly 60,000 miles of rail track, with 40 railroads, Amtrak’s passenger rail service, 28 commuter rail systems and five other freight railroads subject to the mandate, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Amtrak has had the technology between Boston and New Haven, Connecticut, since 2000, when it debuted its high-speed Acela.

Source:  The Daily News of Newburyport via Christian M. Wade , Massachusetts Statehouse reporter.