Four and a half days after the MBTA threw in the towel and shut down all rail service, a crew of 60 MBTA workers and contractors descended on the Boston College trolley yard to begin digging it out – not with power equipment, but with hand shovels and ice choppers.
As snow has melted and frozen into ice, it’s left hundreds of feet of depressed rail grooves that have to be chipped out. Still to come is the task of clearing off miles of mainline Green Line B-line branch track down the middle of Commonwealth Avenue from BC to the tunnel portal at Kenmore Square.
"I'm hoping that we'll get the T back soon," BC student Ben Lauer, from Tewksbury, Massachusetts, said Thursday afternoon as he waited for a shuttle bus to Kenmore.
Lauer and other BC students, however, were a little perplexed as to why it appeared so little progress was being made in getting the above-ground portion of the B line - which is used by 26,310 riders a day, according to the most recent T passenger counts – back into regular service.
"Looking at all the shovelers sort of in a line doing that, you think they could probably do it at some sort of faster rate, maybe get a snow plow out," Lauer said.
Ian Wyllie, a BC student from Duxbury, said as he watched crews digging out the trolley yard, "Whether they’re shoveling or plowing, it all seems kind of haphazard. There’s still snow all the way down the tracks, so it’s hard to tell what they’re doing."
In all, the T said, besides the 60 workers on the Green Line B branch. It also had 90 Corrections Department prisoners working to clear the Mattapan High Speed Trolley line, 200 T workers and contractors on the upper stretch of the Red Line Braintree branch north of North Quincy, and 220 National Guard members working between Quincy Center and Braintree. The T has said it plans to have Red Line trains running to North Quincy by Friday, to Braintree and Boston College by Monday, and on the Mattapan line by Feb. 27.
While some have wondered whether the T should be swarming the system with more people to get service up faster. But MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in a telephone interview the T has deployed the maximum number of people it can safely and effectively supervise as they work around switches, third rails, electrical power supplies and other hazards.
The National Guard members have made a particularly impressive show of force on the Red Line – but, ultimately, can only move as fast as 220 troops wielding 220 shovels can to chip out and move snow and ice off miles of track.
"It's going pretty well," guard member Nykkia Dentnoble, who lives in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, said in an interview with NECN’s Michael Rosenfield and Dan Smith Thursday morning. "We're all working together, working hard."
Lyford Beverage, a guardsman from Lawrence, said: "It's just nice that we're able to come out and help the MBTA and all of that, because I know it's important to the people here."
Very important – and riders like Jacqueline Batchelder of Quincy have lost all patience that, for a fifth day in a row, they're still on a slow, hassle-filled bus shuttle instead of a functioning Red Line.
"It's terrible. Terrible," Batchelder said. "I can't understand why they can't fix this problem. We live in New England!"