5 min readBy Published On: December 9th, 2019Categories: News0 Comments on MBTA Panel finds that safety wasn’t really a top priority…

This is probably a surprise to no one who rides the MBTA but a panel found that safety was not a priority and tightening the budget/pushing through capital projects was.

The MBTA Safety Review Panel was organized after the Red Line derailment back in June and the findings suggest that a culture of not prioritizing safety has been cultivated and that the T’s “approach to safety and operations need immediate attention.”

See Press Release from the MBTA:

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and its Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) today accepted a report from the MBTA Safety Review Panel that offers 34 recommendations with 61 corrective actions to improve safety for MBTA riders and staff.

The panel, commissioned by the FMCB in June after a series of derailments and other safety incidents, comprises three nationally recognized experts in transit safety: former US transportation secretary Ray LaHood; former Federal Transit Administration acting administrator Carolyn Flowers; and former NYC Transit president Carmen Bianco.

“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 report states. “In almost every area we examined, deficiencies in policies, application of safety standards or industry best practices, and accountability were apparent.”

FMCB Chairman Joseph Aiello praised the Safety Review Panel’s 63-page report. “I want to personally thank Secretary LaHood, Carolyn Flowers, and Carmen Bianco for their diligent, thoughtful, expert work. 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.”

Chairman Aiello added: “For the past three years, we have been advancing safety through our investment in repairing aging tracks, signals, and power systems through the State of Good Repair program. It is, in a very real sense, a safety program. The Safety Panel’s report underscores that we also need to invest in the operating managers and workers who operate these systems to instill a culture that makes safety our highest priority.”

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said, “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. 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.”

Drawing on 100 interviews, six focus groups, and extensive site visits throughout the MBTA system, the panel makes six major safety policy recommendations intended “to move the organization to a place where safety is a priority and is culturally integrated into every aspect of their mission.” These recommendations include having the MBTA:

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.

  1. Identify all areas where deferred maintenance is occurring.
  2. Ensure sufficient resources are devoted to expediting implementation of data collection systems, particularly in the maintenance-of-way, training, and medical departments.
  3. Consider adopting Federal Railroad Administration standards (that now govern commuter rail operations) for rapid transit as well, in order to provide standards and guidance for MBTA transit safety.
  4. Build up the MBTA’s leadership team, including by adding more seasoned transit professionals with operations and safety expertise and experience.
  5. 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.
  6. The panel’s report notes that the MBTA has had nine General Managers since 2010 and states that this turnover “may be the overarching reason that we see the level of safety deficiency at the agency.”

Along with all other US transit systems, 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.

Defined as “a formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of the agency’s safety risk mitigation,” SMS includes systematic procedures, practices, and policies for managing risks and hazards and promoting safety.

“Every day, in every part of our organization, the T is steadily implementing and preparing to implement SMS policies and practices, and we are fully on track to meet or beat the federal government’s July deadline,” Poftak said.

The panel found that the MBTA commuter rail operation, operated by private contractor Keolis, “does not face many of the challenges that were identified on the transit side of the house” because of the clear safety structure provided by FRA regulations.

Concluded Chairman Aiello: “One of the panel’s observations that I could not agree with more is that while safety has always been our number one priority our execution on that priority has not always followed best practices and we clearly don’t have an acceptable safety culture spread across the entirety of the organization. While the FMCB has been committed to making the T world-class in safety and reliability, this report demonstrates that we and the board that will succeed us next year must become more consistent and rigorous in promoting safety as our core mission and ensuring every employee understands and buys in to that mission. The Board also thanks the men and women of the MBTA, its union leadership, and our business partners for providing full access and transparency that made this report possible. We would also like to thank the FTA, FRA, and Massachusetts DPU for their cooperation and leadership during this study.”

The executive summary of the report is available at mbta.com/SafetyReport.

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