The Federal Transit Administration, “extremely concerned” with safety at the MBTA, has flagged four problems it wants the T to address immediately while federal officials finish their inspection of the agency, the T’s safety chief told board members Monday.
♦ The FTA told the T to adequately staff its operations control center, the logistical hub of its sprawling transit system, said chief safety officer Ron Ester. T spokesman Joe Pesaturo declined to release the number of open positions the control center has to The Boston Globe.
♦ The FTA told the T to put protections in place to prevent safety incidents at rail yards. Pesaturo declined to say how many safety incidents have occurred at the agency’s rail yards so far this year and how that compared to previous years.
♦ The FTA told the T to get its tracks to a state of good repair. Pesaturo declined to comment on the status of track maintenance.
♦ And the FTA told the T to ensure no employees’ certifications have lapsed. Pesaturo declined to say how many operators, if any, have lapsed certifications.
In a statement, an FTA spokesman said the agency will ensure safety is the MBTA’s top priority.
“Our safety management inspection is nearing its conclusion, and we are calling on the T to take timely corrective actions to ensure the safety of the employees and the passengers on MBTA trains,” the statement said.
Pesaturo said the T is working on fixing the issues raised by the FTA.
“The MBTA is developing immediate and long-term mitigation measures to address these matters, and the T will share its plans with the FTA shortly,” he said via e-mail.
This is not the first time the MBTA has heard some of the same safety advice.
In 2019, the MBTA’s former oversight panel, the Fiscal and Management Control Board, assembled an outside group of experts to audit the T after a series of derailments. They found the agency lacked a culture of safety and provided 61 recommendations.
The panel found the T was prioritizing its long-term capital investments “at the expense of properly maintaining legacy system assets and keeping them in a state of good repair.” The report called the training programs “data deprived,” and said, “it is unknown if all the required initial and recertification training is occurring or can be validated.”
But the FTA’s final findings and recommendations expected later this summer could show whether or not the T has adopted the safety recommendations from 2019 in a meaningful way.
Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets Alliance, said unlike the 2019 recommendations, the FTA’s will be binding.
“This is really a make or break moment for the T,” she said. “If we don’t get it right, that’s how you end up with service cuts.”
The federal agency first told the T it was going to “immediately assume an increased safety oversight role of the MBTA system,” in an April 14 letter to the MBTA, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, which is in charge of ensuring that the MBTA is in compliance with federal safety laws, and the MBTA board of directors, but authorities kept the news from the public.
The FTA inspection, first reported by the Globe last month, is only the second time the FTA has intervened on the local level in this way. In 2015, the agency conducted a safety management inspection of D.C.’s Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority that led to the federal takeover of safety oversight there for nearly three and a half years.
In its letter, the FTA cited a “pattern of safety incidents” at the T, including the April 10 dragging death of Robinson Lalin, whose arm got caught in a Red Line car at Broadway Station.
That pattern has continued since the FTA started its inspection in April with more serious safety incidents, including a Green Line collision on June 1 that sent four operators to the hospital.
At Monday’s meeting of the board of directors’ subcommittee focused on safety, the MBTA’s chief investigation and safety assurance officer Steven Culp said a Green Line train with passengers on it near Government Center “did not stop at a red signal” and struck a train that was entering service.
The train with passengers on it was traveling around 9 miles per hour, Culp said, slightly above the 6-mile-per-hour speed limit in that area. Both trains derailed.
This month’s Green Line collision was the second time in a year that two Green Line trains crashed — safety incidents that could have been prevented by a technology the federal government first recommended the MBTA install 13 years ago. In March, the board approved a plan to speed up the implementation of the collision prevention technology on the Green Line by one year, to 2023.
While the investigation continues into why the train ran the red light, the MBTA is reminding train operators about red signals, Culp said.
“What Green Line operations is going to do,” he said, “is send out a rule reminder reinforcing that people need to pay attention while they’re operating the train.”