A visual essay on public transportation infrastructure and priorities in Greater Boston

Photos by Derek Kouyoumjian

It’s often noted that the trains which pump through tunnels underneath our feet downtown and barrel over bridges into Cambridge, Quincy, and beyond belong to the most ancient subterranean transit matrix in America. Aside from being a great historical first, the fact that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s earliest forerunner first rolled more than a century ago is sometimes used to rationalize the pitiful physical state of everything from T stations, to tracks, to bridges and the iron tortoises themselves.

More than just a little ink has been spilled by journalists and policy experts explaining the nightmare. It’s a doozy, rife with numbers and statistics that don’t seem to add up: For starters, state lawmakers know how much it will cost to bring things up to speed, but year after year neglect to make the appropriate changes. The rest of us, meanwhile, are expected to simply accept the fact that lines slow down or stop in extreme weather, and that chunks of platform overhangs may crash upon our heads at any minute.

There have been millions of dollars marked for noteworthy projects over the past year; among other fixes, the MBTA greenlit money for additional resiliency measures, like track upgrades and a new third rail for the Red Line, as well as “major signal improvements on the Green, Red and Orange Lines.” Still, the efforts more or less amount to an enormous box of bureaucratic Band-Aids. This as the women and men who work for the T, from repair shops to the tracks, are frequently maligned by mainstream news outlets and politicians on both sides of the aisle.

To illustrate this pressing issue in a new light, we asked ace Boston photographer Derek Kouyoumjian to spend a month over the winter snapping photographs of utterly dilapidated MBTA tracks, stations, and trains. We hope his images of so much beautiful decay scare the crap out of you like it did us, but not so much that you can’t join us for a live exhibit featuring these pics at Workbar Cambridge (45 Prospect St., Central Square) on Wednesday, June 28 at 6 pm. We have leading transit experts and activists joining us, now all we need is you.

A native of Dorchester living in Somerville, Derek Kouyoumjian is one of the most active and creatively agile photographers in Greater Boston. Having shot everything from breaking news, to portraits, to food and nightlife for publications including the Boston Phoenix, Boston Business Journal, Boston Magazine, and the Boston Metro, for which he regularly snaps cover photos, Derek’s versatile eye is complemented by his immense knowledge of the cityscapes and people of Mass. He also shoots abroad, including recent trips to the United Arab Emirates and Cuba, and has worked with private clients including the Gardner Museum and Huntington Theatre Company.