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New records show the close calls on MBTA tracks that prompted federal safety demands

The transit agency has until Monday to submit a revised safety plan to federal regulators

A construction worker on the night shift walked the tracks with a flashlight during last year's MBTA Orange Line shutdown.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

In April, a lineman was injured by a 2,000-pound weight on the Blue Line. The next day, a Green Line operator ignored a signal and didn’t stop for contractors working between Boylston and Arlington stations. In an earlier incident, workers gathered without permission on Orange Line tracks being used by a nearby test train, putting themselves in potential danger.

Redacted MBTA records released Thursday in response to a request from the Globe show those workplace incidents were among the concerns that prompted federal regulators in April to demand the MBTA improve worker safety on the tracks or be forced to stop work on the tracks altogether, which could effectively shut down subway service.

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The T shared details about the dangerous episodes as it faces a Monday deadline to rewrite its plan for protecting workers from getting hurt on the job. Last month, the Federal Transit Administration rejected the agency’s initial proposal as “insufficient” and called for a revised plan with improvements that will be implemented within 60 days.

“We will have a revised workplan by Monday, June 5, and will meet with the FTA to review that workplan on Monday,” T spokesperson Lisa Battiston said Thursday in an e-mail.

On Tuesday, Representative Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston expressed confidence in the MBTA but said completing the work in two months will test the agency.

“They’re under a microscope right now,” said Lynch, a Democrat. “So let’s see whether or not they can actually execute. That’s the challenge.”

The FTA’s demand that the T implement changes within 60 days will require the T to speed up the majority of the work it proposed in its initial plan: a punch list of 46 items that includes hiring a consultant and contractor, studying safety procedures at other transit agencies, updating training, and piloting changes.

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The goals of the plan target workplace procedures for motorpersons, flaggers, track workers, and dispatchers in the operations control center. The T wants reliable systems for notifying subway operators and trolley drivers about workers on the tracks, improvements to radio communications, and more ways for dispatchers orchestrating subway traffic to keep tabs on track workers.

The T’s original proposal called for the agency to complete about a fifth of the work by early August and have nearly three-quarters of the changes in place by mid-November. Twenty percent of the punch list items were slated for completion next year and in 2025. Those tasks include infrastructure improvements and implementing audits for new procedures.

That timeline was too slow, the FTA said.

“Given the immediate risk to worker safety on the [right of way], FTA requires direct and focused actions,” Joe DeLorenzo, the agency’s chief safety officer and an associate administrator, wrote to the MBTA on May 19.

Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets Alliance, a nonprofit transportation advocacy organization, said preventing the close calls that caught the attention of federal regulators requires focusing on basic principles like training and procedures.

“It’s bread and butter operations,” she said Friday. “It’s truly a back to basics problem.”

Jarred Johnson, executive director of TransitMatters, an advocacy group, said the T doesn’t have much leeway to miss work deadlines imposed by the FTA.

“That would dramatically impact their ability to continue the track work,” he said. “I think they are going to work as hard as they can because it’s really critical.”

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The MBTA has faced intense scrutiny from the FTA since last year when the regulator launched a safety inspection that found the T’s focus on long-term projects came at the expense of day-to-day operations and safety.

It is not clear how the FTA’s timeline requirements to address worker safety might affect the T’s efforts to repair its tracks. Twenty percent of track on the subway system has defects requiring speed restrictions, according to the T’s tracking system.

The FTA detailed its concerns about worker safety on the tracks and ordered the MBTA to take immediate action on April 18 in a letter to MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng, who joined the agency eight days earlier.

Between March 13 and April 7, there were four close calls on MBTA tracks when trains got dangerously close to workers, the FTA letter said. The recently released T records give the fullest picture to date of workplace risks that worried federal regulators.

On April 13, a lineman who works on the T’s power lines was injured by a 2,000-pound weight while working at Revere Beach station along a stretch of track where no one had sought or received permission to position workers, records show. The lineman was adjusting the weight when a bolt snapped and it fell on him, according to a redacted report. The worker, whose name was partially redacted from an MBTA report, was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital by ambulance. The report didn’t specify his injuries.

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The next day, a crew working along the Green Line track between Arlington and Boylston stations signaled a motorperson to stop, but the trolley driver kept going, resulting in another close call, T records show.

The first incident that caught the FTA’s attention unfolded on March 13 at State Street Station, where workers were inspecting Orange Line tracks, MBTA records show.

But a test train was traveling on the same tracks and the contractors hadn’t received permission to access the area, the records said. The redacted report doesn’t say how close the test train came to the area where the work crew was located or how the T learned that workers had entered the area without permission.

In an undated letter to T contractors and consultants about the FTA’s demands, MBTA officials said the incidents on the tracks “pose an unacceptable risk to our collective workforces” and were caused by “deficiencies in the implementation of [right of way] safety rules.”

“Please use these events as a reminder to further increase your vigilance in [right of way] protocols and safety measures,” the letter said. “At the end of each shift, it is up to each individual to ensure that everyone returns home safely to their families and loved ones.”

The letter said the T was also imposing new limits on the number of workers allowed on the tracks, requiring workers to clear the tracks in most cases when test trains are running, and instituting new training.

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During an MBTA board of directors meeting on May 25, Katie Choe, the T’s chief of quality, compliance and oversight, said the agency is in the midst of retraining about 10,000 employees and contractors who are certified to access the tracks.

About 3,000 people are expected to complete the new training by June 15; after then, workers will only have access to the tracks if they completed the program, according to Choe.

Participants will have to demonstrate their safety skills during a session on the T’s right of way before being recertified, she said.

During a meeting Thursday of the MBTA Advisory Board, Thomas P. Glynn, the new leader of the agency’s board of directors said T customers will likely see “incremental improvements” in the near term, but more significant changes will take more time.

“I think people will see a different T a year from now, but I don’t know if they’ll see a different T in two months,” he said.

The FTA’s demands for a revised safety plan for MBTA track work wasn’t discussed.

Joshua Miller and Elizabeth Koh of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her @lauracrimaldi.