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‘They should not be happening’: Subway trains got dangerously close to T workers on tracks four times in past month

Construction workers and T employees stood by tracks at a construction site in April 2022.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

In four serious episodes over the last month, the MBTA’s trains came dangerously close to workers on subway tracks because of miscommunication between dispatchers and construction crews, the agency told members of its board of directors Thursday.

The four close calls happened on March 13, March 21, March 24, and April 7, T chief safety officer Ron Ester told members of the board’s subcommittee on safety, health, and environment.

In a separate development on Thursday, another employee who was working on the overhead wires of the Blue Line was sent to the hospital injuries that were not life threatening, the T said. The agency shut down parts of the Blue Line starting Thursday morning and replaced train service with shuttle bus service into the afternoon.


The series of safety worker issues and close calls prompted the T’s oversight agency, the Department of Public Utilities, to send the MBTA an “immediate action letter,” Ester said. The DPU did not immediately respond to a request for the letter.

“We will be enhancing our observations that we perform at [the Operations Control Center], we are also doing audits to radio communications,” Ester said. “We have members of the safety staff that actually monitor, not only on a daily basis, but regularly monitor communications with [the Operations Control Center], and we’re going to put an emphasis on right of way access as a result.”

MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how many serious close calls of this kind the T typically experiences in a month.

New General Manager Phillip Eng said the T is focused on making sure its safety protocols are followed.

“These are avoidable, and they should not be happening,” Eng said. “It’s about employee safety, it’s about getting the work done safely, and making sure everyone who came to work goes home to their family at the end of the day. And then ultimately, that will result in improved safety for our riders, and the service and reliability that they all expect and deserve.”


The MBTA has long been warned about its failure to move trains safely and avoid threats to workers. Last July, the Federal Transit Administration ordered “an immediate safety standdown” at the MBTA, requiring safety briefings and retraining with hundreds of workers amid ongoing issues with runaway trains

During its safety inspection of the MBTA last year, the FTA found workers violated MBTA safety rules, a lack of effective safety checklists, and deficient radio quality at “several key locations,” contributing to safety incidents.

Meanwhile, Ester also gave an update on the T’s speed restrictions Thursday. The agency’s dashboard shows that the T’s subway tracks now have 233 speed restrictions, covering around 25 percent of the system, up from 71 speed restrictions covering around 8 percent of the system on March 8.

The agency is still not answering questions about how many previously unknown defects it has discovered since it lowered subway speeds across its entire system more than a month ago when officials could not account for all of the defects on its tracks.

A roundtrip on the Red Line is now more than 75 minutes slower than it would be if trains were traveling at full speed, up from around 40 minutes slower before the announcement, according to TransitMatters’ slow zone dashboard, which analyzes MBTA travel times. A roundtrip on the Orange Line is now around 22 minutes slower, up from around six minutes slower before the monthlong shutdown of the line for track repairs last year.


In response to questions from board member Robert Butler, Ester did not provide an estimated date for when the agency will be finished inspecting its tracks or when it will complete the necessary work to lift all speed restrictions.

“We continue to collect information and investigate,” Ester said.

Ester acknowledged that areas of the Orange Line that were worked on during the shutdown last year have speed restrictions in place today. Despite shutdowns of parts of the Red and Orange Lines in recent weeks, both lines have a higher percentage of their tracks covered by speed restrictions than they did a month ago, the T’s dashboard shows.

Pesaturo said in an e-mail, “validating defects is an in-depth process involving multiple reviews of both MBTA resources and third-party engineering firms.” He again did not provide information about how many serious track defects the T has discovered since March 9 that the agency hadn’t accounted for before or when the agency expects to finish verifying where all of its track defects are located.

Taylor Dolven can be reached at Follow her @taydolven.