At Hearing on Safety and Leadership, FTA Says No Federal Takeover of MBTA Is Planned

The hearing was presided over by Senator Elizabeth Warren

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The MBTA was once again under the magnifying glass Friday, this time during a senate hearing in Boston looking at the safety issues that have impacted the transit agency.

The hearing, held Friday at the JFK Federal Building, was presided over by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and featured several high-profile officials testifying and speaking. Sen. Ed Markey was also in attendance.

Nuria Fernandez, head of the Federal Transit Administration, said at the hearing that federal officials have no plans to take over the MBTA or withhold funds despite a harsh safety review released in August.

"The Federal Transit Administration does not have the legal authority to take over the day to day operations of any transit agency," Fernandez said, adding that even if it could take over the MBTA, the FTA would not have the capacity to manage the operations of the transit authority.

Some Beacon Hill lawmakers have raised the possibility of placing the MBTA into federal receivership. Fernandez said the FTA will continue its oversight of the MBTA to ensure that it addresses ongoing safety concerns.

The FTA report includes four "special directives," requiring 53 separate actions that the transportation authority must take, including addressing worker shortages, prioritization of safety management, safety communication, and operating conditions, policies, procedures, and training.

"The Federal Transit Administration is not currently withholding any funding from the state," Fernandez added.

The hearing focused on "examining the T’s failures to keep passengers safe and provide reliable service, and the urgent need to increase transparency and accountability at the T and the DPU," a media advisory from Warren's press office said.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, Chair of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Matthew Nelson were among those testifying alongside Fernandez during Friday's hearing.

Poftak was grilled on safety and his job performance.

"The system is safe, but we can and will do better," Poftak said. "Safety has been and continues to be our top priority."

Poftak also said that while there will be some nighttime and weekend shutdowns of portions of the MBTA, including on the Red Line, there are no plans to shut down an entire subway line.

The MBTA recently shut down the entire Orange Line for 30 days to complete what they said was the equivalent of five years of maintenance.

Nelson also faced criticism from the lawmakers.

"It is your job to make sure the MBTA is doing its job, and you are failing," Warren told him.

Released last summer, the report by the Federal Transit Administration said the T ignored maintenance in favor of capital projects. It found staffing and training inadequate, leading to collisions, derailments and even the death of a man on the Red Line. The Orange Line was shut down in August because of mounting safety concerns.

Senator Elizabeth Warren will lead the congressional hearing in Boston Friday.

"After an unprecedented 30-day shutdown of our busiest subway line, riders still hold our breath and cross our fingers when step into stations and look up when the next train will arrive," Boston Mayor Michelle Wu testified.

The head of the transit administration testified, saying the T is making improvements while dismissing reports of federal receivership.

Federal authorities will continue to monitor progress, but fixing the T’s is the state’s responsibility. And that’s why Elizabeth Warren says new leadership is needed.

"The current governor is leaving but the incoming governor will have an opportunity to step up and with a vision, a plan and a willingness to hold T management accountable," Warren said.

The state won’t have to go in alone entirely. It’s getting upwards of $580 in federal assistance to help with improvements.

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