Independent panel finds 'safety is not a priority' at the MBTA, report says

Safety not a top issue for MBTA, report finds

BOSTON — An independent review of the MBTA's safety systems, convened in the wake of the summer derailment of a Red Line train and growing frustration from riders, found numerous deficiencies and called the T's approach to safety "questionable," according to an executive summary of the panel's report.

"While the agency performs the necessary core functions to be considered a relatively safe system, many aspects of the T's approach to safety and operations need immediate attention," the summary of the Safety Review Panel states. "In almost every area we examined, deficiencies in policies, application of safety standards or industry best practices, and accountability were apparent." The summary concluded, "In essence, safety is not the priority at the T, but it must be."

[You can read the full report at mbta.com/SafetyReport]

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The full report is expected to be released when the T's Fiscal and Management Control Board meets on Monday, but the executive summary was released ahead of a morning news conference with Gov. Charlie Baker, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack.

"I do believe there are improvements that can be made and these improvements have been there the whole time," said Philmore Phillip II, an MBTA rider.

Amid dereailments, fires and consistent delays, commuters who take the MBTA on the daily have their fair share of stories to tell.

"The rails haven’t really changed much since - I don’t know, since I was a child - so I definitely think some new rails should be done and it’s time to kinda update the trains a little bit," said Julian Estevez.

The panel, comprised of outside transportation and transit experts, made six policy recommendations “to move the organization to a place where safety is a priority and is culturally integrated into every aspect of their mission.”

  1. Establish safety objectives, safety performance targets, and safety performance indicators that are aligned with industry best practices, closely monitored, and provided with sufficient human capital and funding to be carried out
  2. Identify all areas where deferred maintenance is occurring
  3. Ensure sufficient resources are devoted to expediting implementation of data collection systems, particularly in the maintenance-of-way, training, and medical departments
  4. Consider adopting Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) standards (that now govern commuter rail operations) for rapid transit as well, in order to provide standards and guidance for MBTA transit safety
  5. Build up the MBTA's leadership team, including by adding more seasoned transit professionals with operations and safety expertise and experience
  6. Petition the Legislature to reduce the mandated 36-times-per-year frequency of FMCB meetings, or make meeting preparation less burdensome on staff, because the large time demands on senior staff to prepare for the board meetings divert attention from operations and safety

According to the release, the MBTA is required by the Federal Transit Administration to have a written Safety Policy and Transit Safety Plan, a precursor to a Safety Management System (SMS), certified by the Department of Public Utilities by July 20, 2020.

The Commuter Rail “does not face many of the challenges that were identified on the transit side of the house,” the review found, "because of the clear safety structure provided by FRA regulations."

"The findings are significant, the recommendations are far-reaching, and the report provides a roadmap of the actions we need to take to ensure a best in class safety culture," FMCB Chairman Joseph Aiello said of the Safety Review Panel’s report, according to the summary.

“The MBTA has been working aggressively to improve safety across the board, and we have already implemented or begun implementing many of the recommendations of the Safety Review Panel," Poftak, the T's general manager said. "This has been a constructive and collaborative process that focuses on the highest priority of the T, the Control Board, and the SRP: Making the T a world leader in transit safety while we provide reliable, dependable, attractive service every day to our 1.3 million riders.”

“I always look at safety as like a plant," said Carmen Bianco, a former NY transit official. "If you don't water it every day, it will tend to wilt."

"There definitely needs to be a better top down approach, I feel like there’s a lot of loss of communication, there’s money being thrown at it but it doesn’t look like it’s being allocated correctly," said Estevez.