Commuter Rail drawbridges carry brunt of the blame

Aging Commuter Rail drawbridges, like this one at North Station, contribute to delays.

In the shadow of the sleek and modern Zakim Bridge, a rusted Commuter Rail drawbridge crossing the Charles River looks even more ancient than it actually is. The truth is the 101-year-old drawbridge is one of five Commuter Rail bridges built 90 years ago or more.  

In the wake of miserable cold-weather delays during this winter’s snowstorms, Commuter Rail officials said bridges are one of the worst culprits among its crumbling infrastructure to blame for poor performance.

Speed restrictions as low as five miles per hour on the bridges can back up trains system-wide.

“When they break, you can’t just walk into Home Depot and buy the parts, you gotta improvise them back in the shop,” said Bob Hartley, a senior engineer for MBCR, the company that operates the T’s commuter trains.

Hartley estimated the drawbridges open 5,000 times a year.  

“When they were built, they weren’t counting on all these pleasure boats,” Hartley said. “Who knew there’d be all these yacht clubs upriver?”

On Tuesday, $149 million for bridge repairs was included in the T’s Capital Investment Plan proposal,  according to Paul Regan of the MBTA Advisory Board.  


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