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MBTA quietly ran trains for delegates

(The following article by Anthony Flint was posted on the Boston Globe website on July 30.)

BOSTON -- The MBTA quietly provided special Orange Line trains for people exiting the FleetCenter on all four nights of the Democratic National Convention, opening the otherwise closed North Station so that some 3,200 delegates, journalists, and others with convention credentials could be whisked to Back Bay Station, free of charge.

Five to six of the special trains were swept for bombs at a railyard and then pulled into North Station, starting at about 10:30 each night. The trains departed regularly, and each made an express run to Back Bay until about midnight, primarily as a security measure to clear the FleetCenter area quickly, said Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Regular trains ran in between the special trains, so there was ''no impact on service," Pesaturo said. People on the platforms at the five stations between the FleetCenter and Back Bay ''saw a train full of people go by, but there was a train right behind it" to pick them up, he said.

Still, word of the special service did not sit well with T riders who have had to put up with baggage inspections and forced transfers to shuttle buses.

''It seems like they've overlooked the people of Boston and regular commuters," said Susan McLay, 23, of Billerica, who takes commuter rail and the Orange Line to the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions in Charlestown. North Station has been closed to everyone but the conventioneers, she said, which has caused major disruptions in daily routines.

''That doesn't smell very good to me," said Julianne Ture, an Orange Line rider who took the week off. ''The whole convention has been such a fiasco."

Pesaturo staunchly defended the special trains and scoffed at the idea that regular riders were given short shrift.

''Anyone who understands public safety wouldn't be critical of this," he said. ''We did this to move people safely and quickly from the high-security zone to their hotels. We were pleased to offer it and pleased that our offer was accepted. We're a public agency, and if we could make a contribution to enhance security, we'll do it."

MBTA General Manager Michael Mulhern came up with the idea more than two months ago, and convention organizers readily agreed to it, Pesaturo said. The special service probably would have been canceled if word got out about it, he said, because a train full of delegates would have made too tempting a target for terrorists.

There was a dearth of information offered about the plan. Mulhern replied ''no, nothing" when asked by a reporter Monday if there were any special plans for the Orange Line.

The T came in for criticism in the weeks prior to the convention for not providing more services for delegates. The Massachusetts congressional delegation had asked Mulhern to provide free weekly passes to delegates, but Mulhern said no. The T also backed away from an early promise to provide shuttle buses for delegates.

Pesaturo said the special service did not cost extra because the Orange Line was ''running at rush-hour levels anyway." No extra personnel was put on the schedule for the service, he said.

The T did miss out on collecting fares from the estimated 3,250 people who took advantage of the special trains -- 750 Monday night, 900 Tuesday night, 1,300 Wednesday night, and another 1,300 expected last night -- which adds up to more than $4,000. But Pesaturo said that many of the delegates and others with credentials had purchased weekly passes, at a cost of $16.50.

''You can't put a price on safety," Pesaturo said. ''And no one's trip was delayed as a result of this service."

Jeremy Marin, a member of the Rider Oversight Committee, a watchdog panel of T customers, said he thought it was a good thing that the conventioneers were put on a train, because the alternative was to pile into shuttle buses, taxis, and limousines, which add to congestion and pollution.

But Marin said the T should be going out of its way for all its 1.1 million daily riders, making permanent the service improvements instituted for the convention, such as clearer signs.

''People who use the T every day want the best service possible, and that's not going to end tonight," he said. ''People want top-notch service, not just during the convention, but 365 days a year."

Friday, July 30, 2004

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