HAVERHILL — MBTA leaders say the problem is simple.
Local rail commuters will have delays as long as there are stretches of the Haverhill-to-Boston line with single tracks, which means only one train can pass at a time.
Facing repeated commuter complaints, MBTA officials said they hope to get $20 million in federal stimulus money to double up single tracks in various locations along the line. The longest stretch is six miles between the Reading and Ballardvale stops.
"If we double-tracked that, it would be a big benefit," said Richard Davey, general manager for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, which operates and maintains commuter rail service for the MBTA.
Yesterday, Davey met with The Eagle-Tribune Editorial Board to explain what his organization is doing and how it plans to improve on-time performance, particular for the Haverhill line, which links the Merrimack Valley with Boston.
"For Haverhill, double tracking is key," Davey said. "The Haverhill line is where we have the most single line (track)."
If the stimulus money becomes available, Davey said his company could add six miles of track, ties, signals and upgrade signals at crossings between the Reading and Ballardvale stations as early as this summer.
But rather than wait to improve local train service, he said his company has been making changes that in the last month alone have resulted in better on-time performance. Those range from upgrading signalling equipment to working more closely with other railroad companies that share the same tracks.
The Haverhill line has been performing poorly this winter, drawing complaints from riders suffering delays of a half-hour or more on some days. Train breakdowns and other equipment malfunctions have forced the MBTA to sometimes take commuters off trains and bus them to their destinations.
Last month MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas promised that service would improve and called for the necessary changes.