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MBTA’s commuter rail sets record for February efficiency

This month, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail may have performed more efficiently than it ever has in Februaries past.

The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company will have recorded the highest rates of punctuality for any February at the end of the month if current trends continue, according to the MBCR.

“In February, trains have operated at 95 percent on time for the month” thus far, said MBCR Spokesman Scott Farmelant. This will “establish a new performance record for the month of February.”

The MBCR, the company contracted by the MBTA to run the commuter rail, also recorded higher-than-average rates of punctuality in January, with 93 percent of trains arriving on time, he said.

The commuter rail’s increased punctuality during the year may be a result of the relatively mild weather, Farmelant said, in addition to the MBCR’s increased attention to the commuter rail’s operation.

Last year, commuter rail trains arrived punctually 73 percent of the time in January and 76 percent of the time in February, according to MBCR records.

“The winter of 2011 was one of the harshest winters on record. Unlike many rail lines across the USA, the MBTA and MBCR continued to provide service during the worst weather,” Farmelant said in an email. “Unfortunately, the cumulative effect of the weather resulted in [an] unacceptably high level of delays.”

“Deferred maintenance, overwhelmed system infrastructure and high levels of failures on aging locomotives and coaches” also contributed to last year’s winter delays, he said.

But this year the MBCR and the MBTA invested in technologies that deal directly with snow removal or help to prevent problems that originate from freezing weather, such as “jet-engine powered snow blowers” and protective coverings for equipment that links coaches together, Farmelant said.

The MBTA also constructed a “Truck Stop” for commuter rail trains, he said, which repairs “the wheel chassis structures underneath commuter rail coach cars.”

The measure has reduced the amount of time commuter rail coaches spend in mechanical shops by about nine days, Farmelant said, improving the overall performance of the MBCR.

As a final measure, he said, the MBCR realigned its management structure and hired new conductors and engineers to decentralize management and “create direct oversight and accountability for each commuter rail line.”

To reconcile the increased manpower, the MBCR executed safety programs that placed the commuter rail second in the Federal Railroad Administration’s national rankings for the lowest amount of workplace injuries in a passenger railroad.

Statistics from the FRA show a 58-percent decrease in workplace injuries over the past year, he said.

“This campaign, which has focused on additional training for every conductor, engineer, track worker and mechanic, has produced positive results,” Farmelant said.

The measures taken by the MBCR “will obviously allow them to address their needs within the facility,” said Lydia Rivera, MBTA spokeswoman. “That will allow for improvements to performance.”

She said the difference between last year’s commuter rail performance and this year’s performance is a positive change.

“Last winter, it was pretty severe,” she said, adding that the winter weather had what she called a “dramatic impact” on the commuter rail’s 13 lines.

But this year, Farmelant said, the “MBCR remains cautiously optimistic that customers will continue to enjoy high levels of service.”

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