No doubt drunken St. Patrick’s Day revelers scrambled down subway station stairs this weekend cursing the last trains screeching by around 1 a.m. Meanwhile, dozens of MBTA maintenance crews waited to be dispatched to work sites along the nation’s oldest subway system.

“A lot of college students, maybe coming out of the bars a little disorientated, seem to get upset,” Edward Nave, a general foreman on the T’s overnight crew, said recently. “What people don’t realize is as soon as we’re able to, we get right out there. It’s very fast paced, very stressful at times.”

Unlike New York’s two-tracked system, the T can’t shut down one rail while another runs, forcing roughly 181 workers to mend the system each night between 1:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. — performing the T’s most important task in short order.

“There’s absolutely no doubt about that,” Nave said. “And it’s a sacrifice for your family. It’s a proven fact [shift work] takes 10 years off your life. But overnight is where the action is.”

Nave departed Boylston Street station after the last service train on a machine that literally bends rails back into shape. He passed a crew fixing a Kenmore Square signal directly below Fenway Park before arriving at a work site near BU East.

Four trucks and dozens of men and women operated heavy machinery while sparks flew from a welder sporting an American flag helmet.

Walking home, Andreas Panteli — a BU student and New York native accustomed to riding 24-hour public transit — marveled at the scene.

“I didn’t know there’s that much maintenance that goes on,” he said. “It’s important.”

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