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Pandemic Adds to Delays for New Orange and Red Line Cars

A new Orange Line train at Assembly Station in summer 2019. Courtesy of the MBTA.

The COVID-19 pandemic is adding to project delays in the MBTA's effort to replace aging subway cars and alleviate crowding on the Orange and Red lines.

The MTBA celebrated the debut of its first new Orange Line train last August, and a second train entered service in September.

In the eight months since then, though, no new trains have arrived, and the new vehicles that have been running have been pulled from service several times to address mechanical problems.

The new Orange and Red Line cars are a key element in the T's ambitions to reduce crowding on its two busiest subway lines by putting more trains in service and reducing delays from mechanical problems.

The availability of new trains will take on even greater importance if, as anticipated, the economy begins its phased reopening this summer with increased physical distancing requirements on transit vehicles.

At a January board meeting, MBTA officials reported that the line's third new trainset could enter service “in late February.”

Instead, in early March, at the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, MBTA officials reported that the new trains had been pulled from service again to address ongoing issues with the "bolsters," which connect the train cars to its wheel assemblies.

The two new trainsets have since re-entered service. Transit advocates have reported sightings of a third new trainset in testing, but those vehicles have yet to open their doors to the public.

The agency has also taken delivery on the first of 252 new Red Line train cars that have been ordered from the same manufacturer: at a press event to show off those new cars in November, T officials said that the first new Red Line trainset could begin rolling this spring.

In response to a press inquiry this morning, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo wrote in an email that "like almost everything else, the delivery, testing and acceptance processes for new rail cars has been impacted by the pandemic... The MBTA vehicle engineering and operations teams are working closely with the rail car manufacturer to implement measures that allow the procurement process to continue while protecting the health and safety of everyone involved in this complex effort."

Pesaturo declined to answer a question about whether the manufacturer was still on track to deliver all 140 new Orange Line cars by the end of 2021.

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