The Federal Transit Administration yesterday demanded the MBTA take "immediate action" to correct safety problems it says are still endangering T workers ten months after it issued several urgent directives about safety problems on MBTA subway lines.
The order, which demands the T take a series of specific actions by Monday, or else face a ban on track work, comes after "an employee was seriously injured while working on the ROW [right of way] in a location where access had not been requested or granted – a major violation of MBTA’s ROW safety procedures" on the morning of April 13 and after the T had five other near misses involving trains and track workers between March 13 and April 14.
The order does not specify on which line the worker was injured. However, a worker was injured around 1 a.m. on April 13 while working on overhead power lines on the Blue Line at Revere Beach.
The order emphasizes the T's need to figure out what to do about deficiencies in the radio systems used to dispatch workers to work sites - and to develop a system in which workers do not fear retribution if they report problems. And it says that, effective immediately, the T can expect surprise visits by federal inspectors.
In a letter to new MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng detailing the order, Associate FTA Administrator Joe DeLorenzo demanded the T submit daily reports to both the FTA and the state Department of Public Utilities, starting Thursday, showing which T workers were on subway tracks, the authorization forms letting them do work on tracks, along with "name, badge number, access location start point and end point, and associated access start and end times" for the crews and "the work site hazard assessments completed" before crews were released to go on the tracks. Also, the feds want to see daily reports, signed by Eng and other top MBTA officials, "showing actual track access granted to work crews, by line, and documenting any identified deficiencies in ROW access protocols."
But that's only the beginning. DeLorenzo said that on Monday, he will order an immediate ban on MBTA track work unless the T submits detailed reports identifying what they learned from the recent incidents, an analysis of whether the T and its workers can safely support increased track work during service hours as it struggles to eliminate slow zones and problems caused by limitations in the T's radio systems.
This analysis needs to look at the effects of extra track work on a range of T workers, "including OCC dispatchers, Engineering & Maintenance department scheduling coordinators, operations superintendents, night trackmasters, operations construction supervisory personnel, flaggers, crew forepersons, and motorpersons."
DeLorenzo then set another potential work ban of May 5, should the T now submit a detailed report by then on how it plans to improve communications between track work crews, train drivers and dispatchers and to devise new training and testing for track workers.
At an MBTA board meeting this morning, Eng and other T officials said they are committed to working with the FTA and the state to solve the issue. He acknowledged that "near miss are avoidable and should not be happening," and that safety retraining for some 1,000 T managers has included a focus on the "breakdown of communications" that led to the recent incidents and how to avoid it.