Four Seasons at the MBTA: A Hot, Cold, Windy, Rainy Year

Year-round, extreme weather threatens the safety of our transit system and the people that rely on it

Illustration of MBTA red line train during the summer. Passenger experience dehydration and other heat-related issues.

Our transportation system already experiences the impact of extreme weather. The MBTA must prioritize climate resilience now. Illustration: Kit Collins.

When I moved to Boston in 2020, friends and family warned me that the cold winters would make it difficult to get around. I heard about 2015’s Snowmaggedon and how record snowfalls shut down roads, streets, and trains. While still learning my route to work, I survived my first winter taking the Orange Line. But I wasn’t prepared for what would come next: shutdowns and countless other inconveniences, not only in the winter but in the spring, summer, and fall, too. 

The truth is that year-round, climate change has made our weather unpredictable and more extreme. And the MBTA, already under fire for blatantly failing to provide safe and reliable service, has been unable to cope with the added reality of extreme weather. As a new MBTA chief tackles the job of reform, he must prioritize how the transit system will cope with climate change. 

Across modes of transportation, neighborhoods, and seasons, extreme weather threatens the safety of MBTA riders. Here’s how:  


Illustration of cold winter morning. On the background, bus riders await at a bus stop while shivering and hopelessly looking for updates on their phones, watches, and street signs. Crossing the street, a person on a wheelchair attempts to get on a snowdrift-covered sidewalk. On the foreground, across the street, passengers board and exit route 89 bus. Passengers inside shiver and cough. Behind the bus, a pedestrian coughs due to tailpipe pollution. Slush and snow cover paths, signs, and trees.
Harsh Boston winters make it hard for riders, who must already endure the cold, to safely and reliably access the transit system.

Frigid winter temperatures can make riding the T quite a saga. Coming from a much warmer climate, I assumed a city familiar with substantial snow and bitter temperatures would keep trains and buses running like clockwork. I was wrong. And during the coldest months of waiting for extended periods on train platforms, I developed the numb toes to prove it. In 2015, Greater Boston riders endured 56 days in which the MBTA failed to put all cars in service. But even without major snowstorms, every year, winters expose a frail transit infrastructure. For commuters like me, a winter’s day in Greater Boston means another frozen odyssey climbing through snowdrifts blocking access at bus stops and train stations. 


Illustration of purple commuter rail train at the Readville station during a windy spring day. The heavy winds have taken down a tree, which now obstructs the tracks ahead of the arriving train. On the platforms, a diverse group of people fight with the wind, holding to their umbrellas, and hats as they wait for their ride.
Extreme weather means stronger winds that take down trees and damage critical transportation infrastructure.

Spring has arrived – finally, some green. But soon, I realize that, in Boston, the season comes with new discomforts – like delayed trains due to fallen trees. Climate change has caused more powerful storms that damage trees and critical wiring, signal, and communication systems. The MBTA has been lax about pruning vegetation overgrowth and preparing itself for the inevitable damage storms will cause. And what does that mean for T riders like me? Getting to the office late. Again!


Illustration of hot summer day at the Charles/MGH station of the MBTA. On the train cars, passengers look sweaty and distressed from the heat. On the platform, people fight the sun as they wait for next train. The announcement boards announces a heat advisory and delays of 20+ minutes. And the train tracks have buckled and snapped due to the heat.
Beyond inconvenient, waiting for a train during a heat advisory can be dangerous.

In recent summers, Greater Boston has endured unprecedented heatwaves. Suffocating temperatures, sometimes soaring over 100 degrees, are more common. I know because I’ve stood on a sweltering subway platform, planted in front of a noisy giant fan, hoping to find relief. Sometimes, I’ve had to wait for a mysterious “20+ minutes” until the next train arrives. The reason? Overheated tracks buckle and expand. So, to avoid train derailments, the MBTA slows trains in summer heat to prevent accidents

But here’s the problem: Climate change will mean hotter, longer heat waves. We know that. And we deserve a transit system that doesn’t grind to a halt every time the mercury soars. 


Illustration of heavy rainfall at the Orient Heights train station in East Boston. On the puddle covered platform with bright orange cones, people wait for the train. On the train tracks, piles of fall foliage have clogged the drains. The tracks are now under water. Across the street, a shuttle approaches a stop. Ahead of the shuttle, an officer reroutes traffic away from a flooded street.
Heavy rainfalls cause floods that damage our transit system, leaving people stranded without a way home.

Fall is a season in which hurricanes and nor’easters often bring heavy rains. Even so, I would never have expected to witness a paddler pushing a kayak against the current on Morrisey Boulevard in Dorchester. While this should have been a rare sight, for me, it wasn’t. Over the past few years, floods across Greater Boston have submerged parts of the MBTA system – including streets and tracks – leaving people stranded without a way home. Recent storms have also caused major flooding in Aquarium Station on the Blue Line and near Fenway Station on the Green Line. 

As sea levels continue to rise, heavy rainfalls will pose an ever-greater threat to our transit and communities. And what’s the MBTA doing? The agency has already conducted vulnerability assessments for much of the system and put flood barriers in two train stations. But there’s much work left to be done. For starters, they haven’t fully implemented the recommendations from their own assessment. Critical flood prevention work needs to become part of regular safety maintenance instead of repair work.  

The Ride Ahead: The MBTA Must Prioritize Climate Resilience 

Climate resilience is no small concern – it’s a safety, economic, and social justice issue. For many, the lack of access to reliable transportation means losing a lifeline to critical resources, including schools, jobs, and healthcare. 

In fact, transit delays disproportionately reduce job access for riders of color, those with low incomes, and people with limited English proficiency. Preparing for the impacts of climate change can ensure that our communities can continue to access essential services and opportunities. 

CLF is calling on state regulators, legislators, and the MBTA to make the necessary upgrades to our transit system now so that we’re weatherproofed and ready for the worst when these extreme weather conditions hit. 

Climate change is already here. And it’s clear to those of us who use the T year-round that the MBTA is —quite literally— running late.  

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