Train track repair to last three noisy months

June 3, 2011
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Giant machines will tear up and replace the Southwest Corridor’s commuter and Amtrak railroad tracks through Mission Hill in three months of overnight work starting June 11.

The work will not affect the MBTA’s Orange Line subway, but it will cause significant schedule changes to commuter rail. And the work may well mean a noisy summer for people living along the tracks between the Back Bay and Forest Hills stations.

“There may be some hammering and drilling, but not prolonged,” said Amtrak spokesperson Clifford Cole said in an email to the Gazette. “As the equipment comes down the track, noise would increase and then subside as it passes.”

The work will be performed 24 hours a day on weekends, and between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekdays, according to Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR) spokesperson Tom Halkin.

The work is necessary to replace decaying concrete railroad ties that Amtrak and the MBTA allege are faulty.

Amtrak and MBCR run trains on three tracks on the Southwest Corridor, parallel to the MBTA’s Orange Line. All three of those tracks will be torn up and new concrete ties laid for them.

One track will be replaced at a time, with each track taking a month to replace, according to Halkin.

Various commuter rail trains run on the tracks, which is “one of the busiest in the whole commuter rail system,” Halkin said, adding that the work will have a “heavy effect on commuters” due to the loss of a track.

Mission Hill’s Roxbury Crossing T Station has no commuter rail stop, but the nearby Ruggles Station does. All commuter rail routes through the area will be rescheduled, and some will be combined. Temporary schedules have been posted at MBTA.com and MBCR.com.

Amtrak schedules will be “minimally” affected, according to Cole. The Orange Line tracks are not part of the work and the subway should run on its normal schedule. MBTA spokesperson Lydia Rivera did not respond to a Gazette request for comment.

The work will be done “by a succession of machines, including the TLM, or Track Laying Machine,” said Amtrak’s Cole. TLMs are like gigantic sewing machines that crawl along the railbed, pegging down the ties. YouTube videos of TLMs at work in the Northeast show that they rattle and bang, and that the crews operating them often shout at each other.

The construction staging will be in Rhode Island, Cole said, with work trains hauling the new ties in and the old ties out.

The Southwest Corridor rail lines lay in a depression that runs along Columbus Avenue on Mission Hill’s eastern border and blocks much of the train noise. But houses sit within 300 feet of the lines in part of the neighborhood.

Other segments of track will need to be replaced in the future, but none are in the immediate Mission Hill area, according to Cole.

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