MBTA Puts Millions Into Winter Rail Readiness

With 65,000 riders a day counting on the MBTA commuter rail to get in and out of Boston, and 65,000 riders cursing the disastrous service during last winter's back-to-back blizzards, officials are committing to improvement.

"There's not a day that goes by that we don't think about snow," Gerald Francis of system operator Keolis Commuter Services said Wednesday.

Coming into this winter, Keolis and the MBTA have millions of dollars worth of new snow-clearing equipment that many riders may be shocked to know the T never had before.

"Very large, rail-mounted equipment - this is equipment we didn't have at our disposal last year," MBTA general manager Frank DePaola said at a media event Wednesday in Cambridge where Keolis and the T demonstrated the new gear.

As part of an overall $83 million winter readiness program for commuter rail and rapid transit, the T now has 10 Knox Kershaw "Snow Fighter" machines. Last year, they had zero. They cost $900,000 each. They've got a giant snowblower on one end and plows on the other that can clear out snow to ten feet from either side of the tracks.

Using a hydraulically deployed platform that lowers to the tops of the rails, the machines can also turn themselves around after plowing miles one way to clearly newly accumulated snow behind them on the way back. DePaola said they'll be pre-positioned all over the commuter rail's dozen lines.

"We will have equipment already deployed so that we can get right on the track, get them clear to maximise maintaining the schedule as closely as possible," DePaola said.

There are also six new Speed Swings, front-end loaders on wheels with special grooves in their loading bucket enabling operators to use them to dig out snow from between rails so it doesn't turn into ice that flies up into the underside of locomotives and cause maintenance problems. The T had zero Speed Swings last year. They've also bought 25 new tractors to clear station platforms and walkways.

DePaola says in an historic state-of-emergency blizzard, the commuter rail could still shut down. But overall, "We're preparing for a winter just like last year, and we're preparing to run through the entire winter."

"Last year we were overwhelmed by a number of large storms in a relatively short period of time," DePaola said. "We feel that with this equipment, we'll be able to manage that volume of winter precipitation and keep our system running."

With videographer Darrell Smith

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