Although Bostonians tend to consider themselves a resilient bunch in the face of even the most brutal winter storms, last winter their transit system was anything but.
Commuters faced severe delays and cancellations during the record-setting snowfalls. This year, however, Frank DePaola, MBTA’s general manager, told Boston.com that 50 new snow removal machines will hopefully prevent another transit crisis. The $8.6 million machines are funded as part of an $83.7 million winter preparation plan Gov. Charlie Baker announced earlier this year. Of that, $22 million to $23 million is allocated for commuter rail protection.
Although New England has escaped snow so far this year, the MBTA plans to roll out the heavy-duty machines equipped with plows or snow blowers this winter. Ten of these machines — called “snow fighters” — are equipped with both snowplows and snow blowers. These particularly formidable machines will remove snow from the tracks and the surrounding area. Another 25 snow removal tractors will clear station platforms.
While commuter rail trains will still have snowplows like in previous years, the new machines will take care of the bulk of snow removal in off-service and low-service hours. “Affixing plows to our revenue vehicles,” DePaola said, “… exposes those vehicles to the stress of snow plowing, and we had a number of locomotives break down … using these heavy pieces of equipment to do the bulk of the work will help protect those revenue cars from that stress.”
Boston commuters can also expect to be better kept in the loop about delays and cancellations. Gerald Francis, the general manager for MBTA operator Keolis, told Boston.com that they have added 30 new employees to the communications team since last winter. Those staffers have already begun to steadily pump out information about stations and trains through social media, MBTA alert systems, call centers and the media. The team is particularly active on Twitter, and even hosted a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” forum today.
Of course, even $22 million doesn’t ensure that the trains will run smoothly all winter. DePaola said there is still a potential for reduced schedules or canceled routes, depending on the severity of the weather.
Kelsey E. Thomas is a writer and editor based in the most upper-left corner of the country. She writes about urban policy, equitable development and the outdoors (but also about nearly everything else) with a focus on solutions-oriented journalism. She is a former associate editor and current contributing editor at Next City.