It was pouring rain Wednesday morning, but MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas was standing on the bridge that carries his commuter rail line over the Danvers River explaining why it had malfunctioned recently. More importantly, there was a maintenance crew on site, dodging trains and marine traffic while fiddling with the ancient mechanism that drives the swing span.

Several weeks before, a barge carrying dredge material from Danversport had struck the bridge, and there had been problems ever since. Not surprising, considering some of the bridge's components date back to 1887, but still a major inconvenience for commuters on the Newburyport and Rockport branches of the commuter rail line who, when the bridge is stuck open, must get off the train and be transported by bus between the Beverly and Salem depots.

No more, Grabauskas insists.

"We've got parts, people and the attention being paid," he told reporters and legislators Wednesday.

This is indeed good news for the region for which, as state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, pointed out, the commuter rail serves as a "transportation spine."

According to Grabauskas and Jody Ray, the T's director of railroad operations, a maintenance crew is being kept at the bridge around the clock, going over every inch of the elaborate network of gears and shafts that drives the span, and replacing any that are broken or look worn. Better news is the fact that the transit agency has already commissioned the design of a new hydraulic system to open and close the bridge, which could be out to bid by this summer. MBTA officials say it will be installed with minimum, if any, disruption to commuters.

Given the age of the bridge, the fact that it has been required to open much more frequently than normal this winter to accommodate the dredging operation upriver and the size of the barges squeezing through the narrow channel, problems may have been inevitable. But the MBTA has made a convincing case that fixing the span and assuring commuters all along the North Shore of a smooth and on-time ride into Boston are priorities.

MBTA officials will be available to answer commuters' questions on the bridge repairs and other issues at a community meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Second Congregational Church, 35 Conant St., Beverly.

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