FEDS REJECT T SAFETY PLAN
Federal officials rejected a corrective action plan submitted by the MBTA, saying that the “immediate risk” to worker safety on subway tracks demands more urgency.
In a letter to MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng, the Federal Transit Administration described the agency’s work plan, intended to address right-ofway violations that led to five near-misses and left one employee seriously injured over a one-month period, as “insufficient.”
“MBTA’s submitted work plan includes efforts to develop a long-term plan to strengthen protections for workers and contractors on the rail transit system, including items with completion dates into late 2023 and into 2024,” FTA Associate Administrator Joe DeLorenzo wrote earlier this month.
“Given the immediate risk to worker safety on the ROW, FTA requires direct and focused actions.”
The FTA ordered the MBTA to resubmit the work plan by June 5, with revisions that would address and implement right-of-way safety processes and procedures within 60 days, the letter stated.
Failure to comply with this requirement, or others outlined in an immediate action letter sent by the feds last month, will result in loss of access to the right of way, DeLorenzo wrote.
That initial letter stated, “FTA finds that a combination of unsafe conditions and practices exist such that there is a substantial risk of death or personal injury.”
MBTA officials said last month that the near-misses were largely brought on by a breakdown in safety communication between construction workers, their supervisors, and subway dispatchers in the operations control center.
T spokesperson Lisa Battiston said resubmittals are to be expected as the agency works to comply with federal directives issued as part of the safety management inspection, which concluded last summer following a months-long investigation of the region’s subway system.
“The MBTA identified a number of actions that will improve the protection and safety of workers accessing the MBTA tracks,” Battiston said in a statement. “The initial action plan submitted to the FTA included both immediate and longerterm actions to complete.
“The FTA has directed the MBTA to focus on the immediate actions only.”
At a board meeting last week, Katie Choe, the T’s chief of quality, compliance and oversight, said the MBTA has identified ways to improve the clarity of information provided to the operations control center, the interface between dispatchers and track supervisors, and test train procedures.
“Mitigations have been put in place, including setting limits on track access while additional analysis and process improvements are completed,” Choe said.
Further, Choe said the immediate action letter calls for retraining all employees who are certified to work on the tracks. Between contractors and MBTA employees, that number is roughly 10,000, she said.
The training has been enhanced to include a practical aspect, Choe said.
In a separate letter on May 19, the FTA stated its concerns with staffing in the T’s safety department, saying that it must expedite hiring, and fill the gap by using “detailees and embedded contractors” there, if necessary.
Focusing on safety staffing will “help alleviate the capacity challenges the MBTA is facing,” and enable it to better address the safety issues identified in last year’s federal investigation, DeLorenzo wrote.
The T’s operating budget for fiscal year 2024 includes an additional 644 positions for safety and training, which is more than four times the three-year average, a board presentation states.
A MBTA Advisory Board report released this month, however, estimates that at the T’s current pace of hires and separations, it would take eight years to meet the total headcount it budgeted for FY24, which stands at 7,643.
Battiston said the MBTA is actively recruiting for “a number of positions in the safety department,” and briefs the FTA each month on staffing there.