Feds order MBTA to take ‘safety standdown’ after recent incidents of runaway trains

BOSTON — The MBTA is once again in the crosshairs of the Federal Transit Administration, with the agency ordering a “safety standdown” so the T can address incidents involving the “safe movement of disabled trains.”

The T has been under fire for trains rolling away on their own, including an incident in May when a runaway Red Line train rolled through Braintree station as passengers waited on the platform.

In a letter dated July 28 to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, the FTA’s associate administrator and chief safety officer raised concerns about continuing problem with the T.

“...there is a continued failure to sufficiently prevent unintended and uncontrolled train movements by disabled trains,” said Joe DeLorenzo of the FTA. “There have been three uncontrolled train movement incidents since May 28, 2022, including on July 25 when MBTA experienced an uncontrolled train movement at the Braintree Station. While no injuries have resulted from the recent incidents, uncontrolled train movements, especially on the mainline, are exceptionally dangerous, can result in collision or derailment, and pose a substantial risk of injury or death to employees in the path of the train.”

The T tells Boston 25 that the agency believes it can maintain passenger service at existing levels, with little disruption, despite the safety standdown.

DeLorenzo said a combination of unsafe conditions and practices exist “such that there is a substantial risk of death or personal injury.”

“FTA is requiring the MBTA to conduct an immediate safety standdown with all workers who may in the course of their work operate a disabled rail transit vehicle and all workers who may have cause to secure these vehicles.” said DeLorenzo.

The order from the FTA also forbids the MBTA from allowing such worker who has not attended a safety briefing to move any rail transit vehicles in the T yards or the T’s shops.

The safety standdown goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

The FTA says all workers must review and discuss the facts and causes of recent incidents, including an incident from July 25 when an uncontrolled trained moved from Caddigan Yard through Braintree Station, a May 30th rollaway on the mainline from Braintree Station and a rollaway on May 28 at the MBTA’s Cabot Yard.

The T is under orders to report its progress back to the FTA on Monday, August 1 and provide proof that workers signed in to the briefings.

In a statement provided to Boston 25, a spokesman said “The MBTA shares the Federal Transit Administration’s concerns over recent incidents of uncontrolled movements involving out-of-service rail cars. Having received the FTA’s letter yesterday, the MBTA is taking steps to execute the immediate actions required by the FTA. Fully supporting the FTA’s ongoing scrutiny of safety-related processes and practices, the MBTA is committed to providing the training and tools necessary for employees to create and maintain a culture in which safety is prioritized.”

The T says the planned safety briefings with its workers will take approximately fifteen minutes and that the briefings will take place at the starts of shifts and during breaks.

This most recent action by the FTA follows earlier directives for the T to improve safety.

In May, the FTA issued a series of special directives ordering the MBTA to correct major concerns, citing a lack of a safety culture at the T-- in part because there seems to be no “guidebook” on safety.

The T says it has met all the FTA’s deadlines and requirements to date in response to the special directives issued and continues to develop corrective action plans to address those directives.

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

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