The Federal Transit Administration has stepped into the MBTA’s affairs, ordering the beleaguered agency to act fast to keep employees out of potentially deadly situations.
In a letter sent to MBTA General Manager Phil Eng Thursday, the feds said that “immediate action” is required to prevent trains from colliding with track workers, as they apparently nearly have several times in the last month.
“Over the last month MBTA has experienced four additional near miss events, including two incidents on the Red Line and two on the Green Line. The MBTA also failed to report these near misses as required by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU). Based on these incidents, FTA has determined that a combination of unsafe conditions and practices exist such that there is a substantial risk of serious injury or death of a worker,” they wrote.
The letter cites five other near misses they warned the MBTA about in April, before going on to issue a set of demands.
“FTA deems it necessary to outline additional actions that MBTA must undertake immediately to ensure the safety of transit workers working on the (Right of Way). Failure to comply with these requirements may result in suspension of all activities that place workers on the ROW, including maintenance and inspection, until FTA is confident that the MBTA can ensure workers are adequately protected from collisions on the ROW,” they wrote.
Effectively immediately the service is to report all “near misses” to the FTA within two hours of the occurrence and provide, in the next four business days, an explanation as to why previous incidents were not reported in a timely manner. The FTA gives the MBTA a week to analyze the incidents and explain what actions have been taken to prevent more.
Additionally, the FTA says the MBTA is required to provide training to all Operations Control Center dispatchers and supervisors on the procedures for crews entering the train right of way and prove they have done so to the federal agency in the next five days. They must ensure train operators are briefed on the location of maintenance crews at the start of each shift, and report having done so within the next 10 days.
“FTA, in collaboration with the (Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities), will closely monitor MBTA’s implementation of these actions in addition to continued monitoring of MBTA’s implementation of the previously required actions. If necessary, FTA will require additional action to address near misses,” they write.
The letter comes as a new report by Carlson Transport Consulting LCC and following an internal review by the MBTA Safety Department was released Thursday on the failure of the MBTA to keep up with track inspections
Eng said that the report showed what he expected to find at an organization known for a culture of ignoring maintenance needs.
“These reports validate what I anticipated and observed since I first joined in April, and having seen similar challenges over my career across other agencies striving to change longstanding practices, I know the changes we have made to date are the building blocks to the organizational changes needed here,” said MBTA General Manager and CEO Phillip Eng.
Last year, after several high-profile incidents on trains or MBTA properties, the FTA took the exceedingly rare step of descending on the state to investigate what was causing so many problems.
The federal agency, soon after arrival, said the service must increase control center staffing levels, work to improve the safety of train operations at yards, focus on track maintenance, and employee certifications.