SOLVING THE MYSTERY behind the slow zone takeover of the MBTA subway system is taking longer than originally expected.
The MBTA hired Carlson Transport Consulting of Woburn on March 13 to investigate what went wrong and gave the firm 90 days to get answers. That wasn’t enough time apparently because the T has now extended the contract until August 29, according to an extension agreement released by the transit authority on Monday.
Slow zones are crippling the MBTA, partly because they make trips longer than they should and partly because there’s been no explanation of what’s causing them and no timetable for eliminating them. Indeed, the percentage of track with slow zones has remained remarkably steady over the last several months despite successful efforts to remove slow zones on parts of the system.
On March 9, Jeffrey Gonneville, who at the time was serving as acting general manager of the MBTA, ordered a slowdown of trains across the entire subway system after he learned there was no documentation that track defects uncovered by scans and inspections had been repaired. Slowing trains down is a way to prevent accidents.
He then dispatched teams of engineers to find out whether the defects had been addressed, a process that allowed him to fairly quickly lift the systemwide slowdown and replace it with slow zones that currently cover 23 percent of the subway system.
Phillip Eng, who took over as MBTA general manager in April, has declined to say what caused the slow zone problem and when it will be eliminated.
The contract with Carlson Transport Consulting calls for the company to review track testing data and inspections for the last 24 months and interview past and current managers and staff of the T’s maintenance of way division, which is charged with repairing track defects.
“Evaluate all collected and reviewed materials and interview and provide summary of evaluation including opinion on root causes, failure modes, and lines of responsibility,” the contract states.
Carlson, according to the contract, will collect a fee of $300 for every hour of work. The original contract estimated Carlson would work 208 hours, which works out to $62,400, not including expenses for travel and other out-of-pocket expenditures.
The same fee structure applies for the contract extension, although the extension provides no estimate of how many hours will be needed. Ominously, the extension is called Amendment No. 1, suggesting the possibility that there may be more to come.
Back to the drawing board: House Speaker Ron Mariano said his branch’s gun legislation needs more work. After private talks with members last week and facing parliamentary maneuvering in the Senate, Mariano backed away from his push for quick passage of the legislation and promised to address questions and concerns raised by House lawmakers before a new bill is put forward in the fall. Read more.
No on nuke wastewater: Gov. Maura Healey’s Department of Environmental Protection rejected Holtec’s request to discharge treated wastewater from the now-closed Pilgrim Nuclear Station into Cape Cod Bay. DEP ruled that Cape Cod Bay is a protected ocean sanctuary under state law and dumping industrial waste into the body of water is illegal. Read more.
Newton commuter rail accessibility: US Rep. Jake Auchincloss, Newton Mayor Ruthann Fuller, Sen. Cynthia Creem, and Reps. Kay Kahn and John Lawn ask how long Newton will have to wait for accessible commuter rail stations. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Legislative staffers on Beacon Hill are making another push to unionize after their attempt last year was scuttled by House and Senate leaders. Staffers are touting support from top Massachusetts Democrats and labor leaders. (The Eagle-Tribune)
State Sen. Julian Cyr expects a bill that would address PFAS contamination in Massachusetts and ban the sale of PFAS-containing products in the state to be reported favorably out of committee. (Cape Cod Times)
Senate President Karen Spilka stops in Hatfield to announce her chamber is setting aside $20 million in a spending bill to help out farmers devastated by rain. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
New Bedford joins the no nip parade, as its licensing board votes to ban sale of the miniature liquor bottles. (New Bedford Light)
The Barnstable Town Council voted to keep a stricter rule for developers to receive zoning relief, rejecting a proposal that would allow a simple majority to approve the requests. (Cape Cod Times)
Marlborough is seeing a spike in migrant families, worrying municipal leaders about the city’s capacity to house and support them. (MetroWest Daily News)
Westport voters will decide today whether to approve a Proposition 2½ override of $3 million to keep services level. (New Bedford Standard-Times)
Globe columnist Joan Vennochi says Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara has some explaining to do – and voters have to decide whether she’s fit to serve.
Parents pleaded with UMass Memorial Health not to shut down the health system’s Leominster maternity unit in September. Without it, they will have to travel to Worcester for care. (Worcester Telegram)
State-funded shelters reach a new record – nearly 5,000 families. (WBUR)
Henry Santana, a 27-year-old Dominican Republic native who is running for an at-large Boston city council seat with backing from Mayor Michelle Wu, became a US citizen at age 17 but has never voted before. He cited past challenges of obtaining the documentation needed to prove his citizenship in order to register to vote. (Boston Herald)
Boston voters between Beacon Hill and Mission Hill will decide who will replace former District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok in a special election today – Sharon Durkan or Montez Haywood. (Boston Globe)
Former US Sen. Kelly Ayotte announces she is running for governor of New Hampshire, warning that the state is one step away from becoming Massachusetts. (New Hampshire Public Radio)
A Massachusetts woman whose home was foreclosed on over $2,600 in back taxes is at the heart of a federal lawsuit about the legality of these takings. (MassLive)
A community nonprofit completes the purchase of the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington. (Berkshire Eagle)
The rich get richer: A new study by Harvard researchers says applicants to elite universities who come from families in the top 1 percent of income were 34 percent more likely to get admitted than other applicants with the same SAT or ACT scores. Those in the top 0.1 percent of family income were twice as likely to gain admission as similar scoring applicants from lower income households. (New York Times)
Berklee College of Music president Erica Muhl, who abruptly went on leave a month ago, is out as the college’s leader just two years after taking the leadership reins, with no explanation thus far given for her exit. (Boston Globe)
Students and their parents voice frustration about Bishop Fenwick in Peabody being banned from all sports next year. (Daily Item)
The rain isn’t over for the Bay State. Heavy storms are expected before the temperature climbs toward 100 degrees in a late-week “dangerous” heat wave. (MassLive)