MBTA OFFICIALS ON MONDAY said they have found a way to speed up their aging Orange Line trains as they wait for newer, faster vehicles to start arriving in late 2018.
Jeff Gonneville, the T’s chief operating officer, said a new turnaround policy at the Oak Grove station is allowing Orange Line trains to resume operations more quickly. If the same success can be accomplished next spring at the Forest Hills station, which is at the opposite end of the line, Gonneville said trains could cut a total of 30 seconds off their travel time, effectively increasing customer capacity by 8 percent.
Previously, a train operator would pull into Oak Grove, cut power, and then walk to the car at the opposite end of the train, turn the power back on, and then head out in the other direction. Gonneville said the T has been experimenting with having a second driver meet the train as it comes into the station. The first driver would follow the same routine, but the second driver would restore power and be ready to take off as soon as he receives the all-clear from the first driver.
Gonneville said the T would have to add at least one, and possibly two, drivers on the Orange Line to make the new turnaround process work.
The Orange Line currently has a total of 120 rail cars, of which 96 are used during peak travel periods. The cars, which date to 1979, have never been overhauled and reached their designed end-of-life in 2004. Gonneville said the T is preparing to spend $20 million on a limited overhaul of the Orange Line trains to make sure they last until new cars begin arriving in late 2018.
The T has procured 152 new Orange Line vehicles, which are expected to start arriving in late 2018 and enter service in 2019. All 152 cars are expected to be operational by 2022. The new cars have much better braking and propulsion systems that should allow the trains to go faster and stop more quickly. The interval between train arrivals is currently about 6 minutes. The interval should drop to 5.5 minutes if the new turnaround process works, and 4.5 minutes once the new trains are in place. The quicker pace should increase passenger capacity by 40 percent, Gonneville said.
T officials unveiled pictures of the Orange Line train model that will be shipped over to Massachusetts from China in January. The cars have very bright interiors and 64-inch-wide doors, which are about a foot wider than the existing doors.
Gonneville said the procurement of Red and Orange Line trains is currently on schedule, but the project is entering a critical phase as it moves from design to testing and construction. The rail cars are being designed in China, but will be assembled at a new factory under construction in Springfield. With some past rail car procurements, vehicles have been shipped to the T but then required extensive retrofits before entering service.
“We are at an absolutely critical period in this project,” Gonneville said.