I Spoke too Soon

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Recently, I reveled in my freedom from automobiles and Boston drivers, but perhaps I spoke too soon:

At least 20 people suffered minor injuries ... when a fire that started shortly before 10 in a tunnel just north of the Downtown Crossing MBTA station shut down service on three subway lines and sent smoke billowing out of T stations and riders scrambling for safety.
Things like this can happen, so I wasn't too bothered by this news. But then, natural curiosity led me to catch up on the story, and learn in the process that the government has been badly mismanaging the T for ages.

From what I gather, this fire, which started near a platform I was using daily for a while, was due to a wet electrical cable short-circuiting. The cables were apparently overdue for replacement by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, the government agency that runs Boston's subways, what is left of its once-sprawling trolley system, its buses, and its commuter rail system.

That was troubling enough to hear about, but it is just be the tip of the iceberg, according to an external audit of the transit system published in November 2009:
One example of an unfunded project that received the maximum safety score of "10" is the floating slabs and tunnel leak repair project between Alewife and Harvard stations on the Red Line.

This $80M project involves the complete removal and replacement of the existing system of floating concrete slabs beneath the Red Line tracks from Alewife to Harvard stations. "Floating" slabs rest atop a series of rubber disks that are designed to absorb the vibration of a train as it travels along the track.

Water leaking through the tunnel walls is creating several problems:
  • The leaking water is deteriorating the slabs themselves, causing sinking and misalignment of some slabs.
  • The water is corroding the fasteners that attach the track to the concrete.
  • In some areas, the fasteners are no longer holding the track in place, causing track to move out of alignment and presenting the possibility of train derailment.
  • In addition, the water is corroding the signal system along the track and compromising the cable and wire conduits.
And, in the sidebar of that aesthetically-pleasing document:
The Alewife/Harvard Project has been proposed and unfunded for three straight years as conditions worsen. In addition to the potential of derailment, if the situation exacerbates, speed along that portion of the Red Line could slow to 10 mph. This will have a residual service impact with delays along the entire Red Line.
This project had the highest rating for a "critical project," meaning that there is "imminent danger to life or limb of passengers and/or employees" of the T. And remember: This is one example from that audit. Wouldn't it be interesting if the cable replacement project that was neglected long enough to start a fire weren't one of these "tens?"

Good thing the government runs this vital "resource," seeing how you never can trust those greedy corporations to do anything but suck money from the public so they can turn a profit! And isn't it nice that this one, centralized entity runs practically every economical mode of transport outside of walking?

Did I mention that this audit discusses the financial situation of the T, and even states that a corporation in its condition would "likely fold or seek bankruptcy?" Needless to say, under-funding is what will get the blame for the sad state of the system. Tax hikes and various forms of income redistribution will inevitably be suggested, but what really needs doing is privatization. And, if the T can't turn a profit, it should be closed before it closes itself.

Word is that the MBTA is "pretty sure" that old cables are the cause of the fire. Yeah. And I bet they're "pretty sure" that, once the investigation finds a suitable fall guy, everything will be just fine.

-- CAV


mtnrunner2 said...

But... but... the MBTA isn't motivated by private greed, it is selfless bureaucrats working in the service of the common good... how is this possible?? Gasp!


Just the section titles from the Table of Contents paint a pretty negative picture: "The Outlook Is Bleak", "Debt — The Faustian Bargain", "At Risk — System Safety & Reliability", etc. Yikes.

Gus Van Horn said...

That it does.

An alternate explanation occurs to me for the dire titles: Sensationalizing the state of the T to get more funding. (It is supposed to be an independent review, but maybe this review is "independent" like Fannie Mae is a "private" company. just throwing that out. Haven't looked into it.)

Is this a sober assessment, a way to get attention for money, or both? Talk about perverse incentives!

Jack said...

but don't you know private greed is what caused the oil spillage. we need selfless politicians to help us. your friend rob schumacher seems to agree.

I'm not opposed to oil drilling, but I am opposed to unregulated, uncontrolled drilling. And now we see what happens when you let company profits dictate what safety measures are taken, rather than government regulation:

then goes off to rant about record profits and the american people being screwed. I guess this confirms that most people seem to have a fallen view of man

Gus Van Horn said...

(Note to other readers: Rob Schumacher, a fellow submariner, is a leftist.)


The only way I can see that you think I agree on basic terms with Rob Schumacher is that you missed some of the sarcasm oozing from this post, and quit reading it midway.

From the end of the post: "[W]what really needs doing [with Boston's transit system] is privatization."

I also do not, for the record, have a "fallen" view of man.


Jack said...

Actually I was trying to be sarcastic with the opening sentences but as usual it doesn't work

I was just pointing it out because it was inline with your point about corporate greed.

but yeah profit is evil, american citizens rejoice.

Gus Van Horn said...


Chain yanked successfully, then!