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Hour-Long Train Delay Caused by Cold Weather

The cold weather on Thursday morning was the culprit for delays on the MBTA commuter rail on the Newburyport line through Hamilton-Wenham station.

Thursday morning’s bitterly cold temperatures have been blamed for delays along the North Shore commuter rail line that exceeded an hour in some cases.

Train 154 left Newburyport at 5:50 a.m. headed to Boston when it experienced a dynamic brake failure at 6:09 a.m. at the Rowley station. The train was scheduled to arrive in Hamilton-Wenham station at 6:09 a.m., headed to North Station. But it ended up being about an hour late.

Two other trains behind it, train 156 that was scheduled to leave Newburyport at 6:30 a.m. and train 158 that was supposed to leave Newburyport at 7 a.m., both all experienced delays. Both trains were scheduled to pickup passengers at Hamilton-Wenham station at 6:49 a.m. and 7:19 a.m., respectively, and both of those trains were “delayed upwards of an hour,” said Rhiannon D'Angelo, a spokeswoman for Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., the company contracted to run the commuter rail for the MBTA. Additionally five more trains on the line experienced “residual” delays, she said. 

As the forecast calls for temperatures to be very cold through at least Friday, MBCR said it would have mechanical managers stationed in outlying areas. Additionally, crews will have extra generators and compressors on hand to combat the problems with trains as a result of the cold weather.

“MBCR has hundreds of men and women out in the tough conditions,” D’Angelo said. “They are doing everything possible to keep the trains running on time and we will continue to do so.”

Prior to Thursday, there had been no delays on commuter rail, MBCR spokesman Scott Farmelant said. Those delay-less days came as temperatures were into the single digits in the morning with old equipment, including locomotives with an average age of 25 years, he said.

“MBCR has conducted an ongoing, aggressive campaign to reduce chronic mechanical related breakdowns,” Farmelant said.

While a brake failure was the cause of this morning’s delays, the MBCR said that locomotive air drying systems on older equipment - 30 years or more in age - are not performing as designed in the cold.

The air dryers extract condensation from compressed air to prevent water-related issues such as frozen lines and electrical shorts.

The unexpected failure of air dryers, which are physically located on the exterior of locomotives and vulnerable in single-digit or subzero temperatures, requires an engineered solution that is MBCR is working on, Farmelant said.

In the interim, MBCR is using portable air compressor equipment. Over the past 18 months, MBCR purchased and installed compressors in outlying layover facilities at a cost of $200,000.

The delays continued on Thursday evening, including train 183 which was scheduled to leave North Station at 5:40 and get to Hamilton-Wenham at 6:26 p.m. which was 25-30 minutes late, according to the MBTA alerts. Again an hour later,  train 187, which is scheduled to leave North Station at 7:40 p.m. and get to Hamilton-Wenham station at 8:21 p.m. ran 15-20 minutes late because of “mechanical failure,” according to the MBTA alerts. Train 72, which was scheduled to leave Beverly at 7 p.m. was cancelled. The T provided substitute bus service.

Train 182, which was scheduled to leave Hamilton-Wenham at 6:12 p.m. headed to Boston, was 10-15 minutes late because of “mechanical failure.”

No further information was immediately available from the MBCR about exactly what the mechanical failure were that caused the evening delays.

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