Federal authorities are stepping in after the MBTA’s pattern of crashes, derailments, speeding and signal issues prompted major safety concerns.
The latest incident happened on the Orange Line on Wednesday, when a rider noticed one of the end doors to a car was wide open while the train was still in motion at the Sullivan Square stop. It stayed that way for at least 10 stops. The night before, passengers on the Green Line had to get off at the Government Center T stop and walk through the tunnel after an accident.
The MBTA was ordered on Wednesday to immediately fix safety issues in four areas, with Federal Transit Administration (FTA) officials highlighting issues with staffing, safety procedures, capital improvement projects and employee certification credentials.
Among the "emergency safety issues" flagged by federal overseers is that some MBTA employees at the transit agency's operations control center work 20-hour shifts and get only four hours off before they return to duty, the result of a staffing shortage. The MBTA said Wednesday it would be sharing mitigation measures with its federal partners soon.
The FTA began investigating the MBTA in April after a recent death and several incidents that caused injuries. The directives issued by the federal agency Wednesday require the MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to collaborate on fixing the issues and improve the culture of safety at the MBTA.
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At one point, officials said Wednesday, 80% of the MBTA's heavy rail subway dispatchers had lapsed safety certifications. And since 2021, the MBTA has reported five "runaway train events" in rail yards or during maintenance, in one case causing three injuries.
Each directive carries its own deadline of between 24 hours and 30 days for the two state agencies -- which are overseen by the Baker administration -- to respond and act.
The FTA gave the following areas of concern for the MBTA:
- Operating Control Center staffing;
- General safety operating procedures;
- Delayed critical maintenance; and
- Lapses in staff safety certifications.
The Department of Public Utilities is being required to address seven outstanding safety issues from an October 2019 audit, covering these issues the FTA outlined:
- hazard management;
- accident investigations;
- corrective action plans;
- and rules compliance.
All of the MBTA's active rail transit employees will be certified by this week, according to the agency, and all employees in its control center have been certified for nearly a month.
The MBTA said that problem has been fixed. T riders say it’s about time that someone stepped in and required these changes.
“I feel like a lot of the money that’s being spent on infrastructure isn’t being allocated where it should be," Javier Reyes said.
“I read the four bullet points of what needs to be done and that seems like a no brainer," Lawrence Roberts said. "They should be doing that constantly -- on a daily basis.”
“Examining the actions required by the FTA, the MBTA is developing immediate and long-term mitigation measures to address these matters. The MBTA will share its plans with the FTA in the coming days and weeks," the MBTA said in a statement.
The federal inspection is expected to wrap up later this week and the FTA is expected to give the T additional recommendations in August.