Federal transit agency orders improvements to Boston system

FILE — Investigators at the scene of a crash between two Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, or MBTA, light rail trains, July 30, 2021, in Brookline, Mass. Federal transportation officials issued a series of orders to the Boston area's troubled public transit agency Wednesday, June 15, 2022, to address what they called "longstanding issues" with the system's "overall safety program and safety culture." (Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via AP, File)
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Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — Federal transportation officials issued a series of orders to the Boston area’s troubled public transit agency Wednesday to address what they called “longstanding issues” with the system’s “overall safety program and safety culture.”

The Federal Transit Administration’s four ” special directives ” require the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to better staff its operations control center; improve track maintainance; address unintended and uncontrolled train movements in maintenance facilities and rail yards; and ensure that all employee training certifications are up to date.

The FTA started a review of the MBTA in April following several recent accidents that led to injuries or death.

The FTA issued a fifth directive to the state Department of Public Utilities — which is responsible for safety oversight of the MBTA’s rail transit operations — to enforce the other directives.

The MBTA — known locally as the T — is already developing a plan to implement the orders.

“Examining the actions required by the FTA, the MBTA is developing immediate and long-term mitigation measures to address these matters,” the T said in a statement. “The MBTA will share its plans with the FTA in the coming days and weeks.”

The T has made $8 billion in infrastructure and vehicle investments in the past five years in an effort to make it “a transit industry leader in safety and reliability,” the T said.

There have been several safety problems on the system in the past year, including a crash involving two Green Line trains June 1 that sent four employees to the hospital.

A 39-year-old man died in April when his arm got stuck in a malfunctioning subway car door and he was dragged along the platform. Nine people were injured in September when an escalator at a station malfunctioned, and more than two dozen people went to the hospital last July when a Green Line train rear-ended another trolley.

The T’s operations center, which houses the dispatchers and others who coordinate train movements throughout the system, is understaffed, and that staff is not adequately trained, the FTA said.

The lack of staffing has meant that dispatchers have had to work shifts of up to 20 hours, followed by only four hours off.

“Taken together, MBTA has created a management process whereby (operations control center) staff members are required to work without certifications, in a fatigued state, and often fulfilling multiple roles at once,” the FTA said.

As an example of maintenance issues, the FTA’s review found that a section of Orange Line track has been under speed restrictions since 2019 due to excessive wear and defects. The T was ordered to repair the track.

The FTA also found that since Jan. 1, 2021, the MBTA has reported five runaway trains in yards or during maintenance-related movements, including two that occured in May during the review.

“Failure to properly secure disabled trains, including trains with insufficient brakes or propulsion systems, and failure to properly secure disabled trains in yards and maintenance facilities is a significant safety risk,” the order said.

The T said as of this week, all rail transit employees, including at the operations center, will be certified.

The FTA warned that passengers should not take the orders to mean that they should avoid public transit.