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Scathing report says ‘overwhelmed’ MBTA neglected day-to-day safety, putting riders at risk – Boston 25 News

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BOSTON — The Federal Transit Administration on Wednesday is slated to issue a scathing report on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority that indicates the agency prioritized long-term projects at the expense of day-to-day operations, putting thousands of riders at risk.

The T’s focus left the agency with too few workers, too little training, and weak safeguards, according to an early copy of the 90-page report obtained by 25 Investigates.

“The combination of overworked staff and aging assets has resulted in the organization being overwhelmed, chronic fatigue for key positions in the agency, lack of resources for training and supervision, and leadership priorities that emphasize meeting capital project demands above passenger operations, preventive maintenance, and even safety,”” federal investigators said in the report.

The report added that poor employee training, poor supervision, and lack of preventative maintenance all contributed to the T’s ongoing transportation crisis.

“Transit riders shouldn’t have to question whether they will get to their destinations safely,” FTA Deputy Administrator Veronica Vanterpool said. “Safety is FTA’s top priority, and our role is to hold transit agencies and state safety oversight agencies accountable on behalf of transit riders and workers.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has been ordered by the FTA to oversee the implementation of four special directives issued to the MBTA that address findings in the report:

  • Category 1 – Managing the impact of operations, maintenance, and capital project requirements on the existing workforce
  • Category 2 – Prioritization of safety management information
  • Category 3 – Effectiveness of safety communication
  • Category 4 – Operating conditions and policies, procedures, and training

“DPU must take action to increase its technical capacity and its ability to oversee the MBTA’s corrective actions to address the pattern of safety incidents and safety findings concerning workforce management, prioritization of safety management information, effectiveness of safety communication, and operating conditions, policies, procedures, and training,” federal officials said.

Safety data showed the MBTA experienced a “higher overall rate of reportable safety events” and a “higher rate of derailments on both heavy and light rail modes” between Jan. 1, 2019, and April 2022.

The FTA launched its safety management inspection back in June after a rash of dangerous incidents on the MBTA, including the death of a Boston man who was fatally dragged after getting stuck in a Red Line door in April. In January, a Wilmington woman died when a commuter rail train hit her car. It was later determined that the crossing gate failed to close at the intersection.

The FTA later ordered the MBTA to implement safety policies related to operating control center staffing, general safety operating procedures, delayed critical maintenance, and lapses in staff safety certifications.

In July, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said the overhaul was going well.

“Following the FTA’s initial safety review, the MBTA was asked to implement changes to the system to improve the way it is run and operated,” said Poftak. “I am pleased that the MBTA has completed many of those updates and continues to make progress on many more. These recommendations will make the T safer and more reliable for both our riders and our employees. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to work closely with these safety experts to improve the MBTA system.”

Just days after Poftak’s remarks, a packed Orange Line train transporting commuters on a bridge that runs over the Mystic River in Somerville caught fire, sending hundreds of people scrambling for safety. About 200 people were forced to evacuate the train, including a woman who jumped into the river and others who climbed through smashed windows.

Later that month, the FTA ordered a “safety stand down” following a parade of runaway train incidents. The order forbade workers that had not completed a safety briefing from operating trains in MBTA railways and storage areas.

In response to the stand down order, the MBTA cut back service on multiple subway lines and subsequently shut down to the Orange Line for 30 days to implement track upgrades.

FTA Associate Administrator Paul Kincaid will address the media at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. Documents available for public consumption will be released following the press conference.

Read the full report below:

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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