The scene at Route 128/University Park Station can be chaotic. Broken escalators, elevators on the fritz. Commuters late for work and sick of the hassle.
"It’s just wrong. It’s just wrong," said Andrew Stockwell.
Legally blind, Stockwell takes the MBTA Commuter Rail from Westwood, Massachusetts to his job in Boston, but on this day, both of the station’s inside elevators are out and the escalator going up has been broken for weeks.
"Given all the bull---- that goes on with the T, it’s probably the least of my aggravation, but it is pretty aggravating,” he said, hoofing it up the stairs with his cane.
Westwood is a moneymaker for Amtrak. It’s a stop on the busy Northeast Corridor and the pricey high-speed Acela. Half a million riders use the station each year.
And though they share the space with the T and the Providence-Stoughton Commuter Rail line, Amtrak owns the building. The company is responsible for all building maintenance, including the elevators and escalators.
But that work never seems to get done.
"They’ll work for a day or two and then they’re out for week or two," rider Scott Sternberg said.
Jill Dennard, who had just gotten off the Amtrak from New York, agreed. "It’s beyond frustrating."
When the escalators are out, riders are forced to lug their luggage up stairs or wait for the one working elevator inside the station. Of the two, Amtrak admits one "...has been out of service for several years."
"I don’t really know why that’s a problem, why they can’t keep them fixed," rider Blanche Tessier said.
We asked that same question nearly three years ago. Amtrak told us at the time, "...there is a long lead-time required for engineering, fabrication and installation of specific components." but that they were “...actively working to address the escalator and elevator issues…”
Amtrak did address certain issues. It refurbished the escalators and an elevator that lead to the train platforms outside in 2016, but it left the equipment inside the station out of the plan.
Tim Vernon is blind. He said he’s missed his special needs van because he’s dealing with the outage obstacles.
"It certainly makes it a lot more difficult. We all like the opportunity to be independent and to get from point A to point B without having to face extra barriers."
"It’s a lawsuit wait to happen," added Sternberg.
So how does the equipment keep passing state inspection? Well, we looked at the certificates for the elevators and escalators, and every single one was expired.
We asked the state what was going on. A spokesperson told us they received a letter from Amtrak just two months ago. The company invoked a decade-old federal statute that says Amtrak is exempt from “...all state and local building, zoning…” or related laws and that the company would inspect their equipment themselves.
At what point, we asked state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, does the state put pressure on Amtrak to get the station in order?
"We’ve sat down and talked to Amtrak about Westwood station multiple times... since I’ve been secretary," Pollack said. "I’ve brought my own father - who was disabled - there. It’s not acceptable and we will step up our efforts with Amtrak."
But it’s been years of problems, we pressed. Has the state done enough?
"Again, in that station, there’s mixed responsibility between the T and Amtrak, and Amtrak has the maintenance responsibility, but we’re going to see what we can do to put pressure on them," Pollack said.
That response just not good enough for commuers like Stockwell. They say as ticket prices keep going up, service goes down, and the state needs to do more.
“Meanwhile you’re the jerk in the middle who has to deal with the thing. One side’s blaming the other and nobody wants to take responsibility," Stockwell said.
Through a spokesman, we asked Pollack to respond to Amtrak invoking its federal exception. They did not get back to us.
We also asked Amtrak why they chose this particular time at this problematic station to push state inspector out.
Spokesman Jason Abrams said over email, “We have no comment.” He did say Amtrak would be replacing the elevators and escalators this fiscal year, but when we asked for a timeline, he said, “I only received the years – not the specific dates or months.”