Federal transit officials order MBTA to correct 4 major safety concerns

BOSTON — Federal transit officials on Wednesday issued a series of special directives ordering the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to correct major safety concerns.

“Today the Federal Transit Administration issued four Special Directives to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and one to the Massachusetts State Department of Public Utilities,” said Paul Kincaid of the Federal Transit Administration, “As a result of continuous safety violations and a failure to take urgent corrective actions.”

The orders require the MBTA to take immediate action to fix issues involving operating control center staffing, general safety operating procedures, delayed critical maintenance, and lapses in staff safety certifications, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration.

“A Special Directive is an order from the federal government that requires an FTA-regulated transit agency or organization to take immediate action on safety issues identified in this specific period,” Kincaid said.

The MBTA’s troubles with the feds began back in March when, after a series of safety incidents, it engaged in meetings with FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez, along with the state Department of Public Utilities -- the safety oversight agency for the T.

“She explicitly discussed the need for the agencies to raise the bar on safety,” Kincaid said. “Following those meetings, there were four major incidents, leading the FTA to launch a Safety Management Inspection or SMI.

Launching an SMI is an extreme step. In fact, it’s only happened once before, Kincaid said -- when the FTA investigated Washington’s Metro system in 2015.

Among the findings of the SMI so far:

Inadequate staffing at the MBTA’s ‘nerve center’ -- also known as the Operations Control Center.

“Employees are working excessive hours,” Kincaid said. “Including 20-hour shifts with only four hours off between shifts.”

Kincaid also said there’s a lack of a safety culture at the MBTA -- in part because there seems no ‘guidebook’ on safety.

“Not having written rules, leads to a lack of understanding,” he said. “The MBTA recently had two trains break loose at their maintenance yard. These runaway train incidents are serious. They resulted in injuries to workers.”

Also in shocking need of an overhaul, the feds said, the MBTA’s growing backlog of maintenance issues.

“This has resulted from a policy of prioritizing train schedules over temporary but necessary shutdowns for maintenance,” Kincaid said. “The only maintenance train for the entire Green Line, and an important part of an effective maintenance program, has been out of service for eight months.”

The FTA’s safety management inspection of the MBTA began on April 14, 2022, following several incidents that resulted in one fatality and several injuries to passengers and employees on the MBTA’s transit rail systems.

“Safety is our number one priority and must be the primary focus for the MBTA and the DPU,” FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez said in a statement. “Every transit passenger deserves a safe ride. Every transit worker deserves a safe workplace. The MBTA must immediately take action to improve its safety procedures for its passengers and workers.”

Each directive includes specific timeframes that range from 24 hours to 30 days for the MBTA to provide responses and take action.

In a statement, the MBTA said that it’s “developing immediate and long-term mitigation measures to address these matters.”

The MBTA noted that it will share its plans with the FTA in the coming days and weeks.

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

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