MBTA's Safety Practices Under Federal Review After String of Injuries

The MBTA has come under fire in recent years for several incidents involving passenger injuries and a recent death

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The Federal Transit Administration is reviewing the MBTA's safety practices after several high profile incidents resulted in the death or injury of its riders.

Just last week, federal investigators determined that a passenger door on a Boston subway car did not function properly when Robinson Lalin got his arm stuck in it and was dragged to his death last month.

The MBTA has come under fire in recent years for several other incidents involving injuries, including a Green Line collision in the summer of 2021 that sent dozens of people to the hospital. An MBTA spokesperson said they fully support the FTA's goal to enhance safety.

A faulty door control system contributed to the death of a man who was dragged by an MBTA train, federal investigators said.

“Sharing the Federal Transit Administration's desire to make public transportation as safe as possible, the MBTA fully supports the FTA's review of the Authority's safety-related processes and practices and welcomes a constructive and collaborative process that focuses on making the T a transit industry leader in safety and reliability," an MBTA spokesperson said.

"This is a process that we are pleased to cooperate with the FTA on," MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak told reporters after an unrelated Fairmount Line event, according to audio provided by a Department of Transportation spokesperson. "I've pledged both externally to the FTA and I've made it clear to everyone at the MBTA that we want to engage and cooperate and collaborate in this process. If we identify any shortcomings related to safety, we will mitigate those immediately."

Officials from the FTA and MBTA held a meeting last month to initiate the process. The MBTA has ramped up infrastructure spending over the past several years in an attempt to make the system safer and more reliable. The MBTA’s major infrastructure spending went from $600 million in 2014 to a record $1.92 billion last year. The goal for the current fiscal year is $2 billion.

"The MBTA has invested over $8 billion in infrastructure improvements over the past five years, including new tracks and revamped stations as well as new buses and trains all to make the system safer and more reliable," a spokesperson said. "Unwavering in its commitment to its riders and employees, the MBTA has strong, well-funded plans for delivering safe, accessible, and reliable services for decades to come.”

A spokesperson pointed to safety projects including the Green Line Anti-Collision Program, upgrades on the Red and Orange Lines and positive train control systems installed on MBTA commuter rail corridors and vehicles.

Pointing to new workers hired since that report's release and an emphasis on capital spending aimed at maintaining, modernizing, and expanding the system, Poftak said the T has made "extensive investments in safety."

"It's not a question of resources, so having subject matter experts come in and take a look at the system -- if they identify gaps, we will solve those gaps, we will mitigate those problems," Poftak said.

"The MBTA is safe," he later added. "We are working every day to make it safer. I take the MBTA every day. My family takes it. The MBTA is safe."

Another federal agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, is already involved with the MBTA amid an investigation into last month's fatal Red Line incident. NTSB investigators said in a preliminary report last week that they found a "fault in a local door control system that enabled the train to move with the door obstructed" after Lalin became trapped.

"Obviously, the Red Line incident was a tragic incident and we offer our condolences to the family," Poftak said. "We've identified the problem. The problem was an anomaly, it was not in any other vehicle. We have put a mitigation in place so that problem can never happen again. We've also changed our inspection protocols, so we can't rule out everything, but we are doing a tremendous amount of work."

State House News Service contributed to this report.
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