MBTA to halt subway, bus, commuter rail service today

By L. Finch and Taylor M. Miles
Globe Correspondents / August 28, 2011

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With the powerful Hurricane Irene advancing toward Massachusetts last night, transportation officials concerned about the possibility of damaging winds announced the MBTA will suspend all subway, bus, and commuter rail service after 8 a.m. today.

Subway, bus, and commuter rail service will open at normal Sunday hours, around 5:45 a.m. in most cases, and stop at 8 a.m., with the promise to resume fully tomorrow, according to the transportation authority.

The decision marks the first time the T has ever preemptively shut down its services, Richard Davey, the MBTA’s outgoing general manager, said last night.

“We’ve been watching the forecast all day and determined we did not want to have our vehicles or our trains out in the system,’’ Davey said. “Given the severity of the winds, we thought it was prudent to take this unusual step.’’

T officials were particularly concerned about the safety of above-ground services in the face of tropical-storm-force winds, such as trains and trolleys, and buses running on overhead wires, he said.

Many bus stops throughout the area are unsheltered, Davey added, making for a potentially unsafe situation for customers and T employees. He said the T made its decision once officials were certain that Irene would hit this area.

The transportation authority initially announced a complete shutdown of services for today ahead of the storm.

But the decision was quickly amended after the medical community feared that the suspension would prevent some doctors, nurses, and hospital staff from making it into work, Davey said.

Only the RIDE, the T’s paratransit program, will make trips for medical needs after 8 a.m. today. Buses will be put on standby in case any evacuations are ordered during the storm.

Crews will begin work tonight to clear any debris and make any necessary repairs in order for services to resume tomorrow, Davey said.

Last night, commuters at JFK/UMass Station said they had mixed feelings about the T’s decision.

Kenya Brown, 35, of Quincy said he was not concerned about the cancellation because his work day was also canceled. But Brown, who said he normally takes the Red Line to work, said he wasn’t sure if the shutdown was necessary.

“We won’t know until the storm ends,’’ Brown said.

Julian Ganz, 24, and Anna Dietlicher, 23, who are from Switzerland and traveling around the country, said they woke up at about 4 a.m. yesterday to catch an Amtrak train from New York to Boston before they were all canceled.

With the shutdown of New York’s transit system today, they said they thought it would be a good idea to travel north to Boston. But it seems the public transportation situation could not be escaped.

“I think it’s nature, and you can’t do anything about it,’’ Dietlicher said.

Sonya Nesbitt, 19, of Dorchester, who works at a Shaw’s supermarket, said she is scheduled to work today at 5 p.m., but without the T she has no way to make it in for her shift. She said many of her co-workers were in the same predicament.

“I don’t think I’ll be coming in,’’ Nesbitt said.

L. Finch can be reached at; Taylor M. Miles can be reached at