Orange Line riders are going to have to wait until summer for their eagerly awaited new ride.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said Monday that the first new Orange Line train in decades will debut in the summer, marking another delay for a project that transit officials have often described as a crucial service improvement. Once promised by late 2018, the first train’s maiden voyage already had been bumped to winter 2019 and later to “early spring” before the latest delay.
Officials said the problem won’t slow the long-term plan to replace and expand the entire Orange Line fleet by 2022. MBTA Deputy General Manager Jeff Gonneville even described a silver lining to the delay: By the time the T is ready to introduce the first six-car train, it will also be ready to introduce a second at the same time, and a third will soon follow. The previous plan was to introduce just one train at a time.
Gonneville acknowledged the delay is still a “setback” for the agency and its riders who are anxious to see new trains to address the breakdowns and overcrowding that often plague the line.
“We are still continuing with production. . . . We are still continuing with delivery,” Gonneville said. “This is a bit of a setback for us in terms of introducing these trains to service, but it is not a setback for us as it relates to the delivery of the cars.”
The holdup is a problem with a system within the car, manufactured by the French firm Alstom, that helps trains interact with the Orange Line’s signal system, which controls speed and vehicle spacing.
Gonneville said the MBTA, Alstom, and train manufacturer CRRC are working on a software fix to ensure the system works properly, especially as the T prepares to upgrade its signal system in the next few years. The software is being tested in a lab and won’t be tested on the cars until April or May, delaying their entry to passenger service.
The previous estimate of early spring was “based upon the information I had at the time,” Gonneville said.
Members of the MBTA’s board of directors said that the agency must prioritize safety.
“We’re all anxious to get the new equipment up and operating,” MBTA chairman Joseph Aiello said. “But the absolute right approach is to make sure that you are going through all the steps appropriately and not rushing anything, and to make sure safety’s first.”
The 152 new Orange Line cars are expected to be joined by 252 new Red Line cars in the coming years, completely replacing the fleets on the lines. Two dozen Green Line trolleys are also coming online, allowing the agency to keep frequencies steady when the Green Line extension to Somerville opens in late 2021. The first new Green Line cars have already entered service.
The T did have some good news for riders Monday: officials said they’ll put $25 million toward sprucing up stations over the next several months. The agency is planning to power-wash stations, improve landscaping, fix leaks, replace broken tiles, install brighter lights, and otherwise clean up some of its grimy stations.
The initiative will start at some of the busiest stations — Ashmont, Back Bay, Downtown Crossing, Dudley, and JFK/UMass — before expanding to other stops.
Officials said the plan has been in the works for months, but it comes after one member of the agency’s board, Monica Tibbits-Nutt, lambasted the T for allowing stations to fall into poor conditions ahead of the recent decision to hike fares. On Monday, she celebrated the improvement plan, but said the agency must ensure the stations stay in good shape after the project.
In a presentation to the board, the T noted that enhancing station conditions would help improve the experience for riders ahead of more “transformative changes” — like those new Orange Line cars.