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MBTA submits revised worker safety plan after feds dubbed first draft ‘insufficient’

A worker during the Orange Line shutdown last year.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The MBTA submitted a re-do of its worker safety plan to federal regulators Monday after its initial proposal — responding to heightened scrutiny after serious close calls and at least one worker injury earlier this year — was rejected as “insufficient.”

A spokesperson for the Federal Transit Administration said the agency is reviewing the T’s new plan, which focuses on changes the T anticipates making to improve subway worker safety in the next 60 days.

“FTA has identified action items and timelines for needed safety improvements and expects MBTA to complete the required actions to prioritize the safety of passengers and transit workers,” a spokesperson for the federal agency said in an e-mail.

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The FTA had previously threatened to take away the T’s access to its tracks if it didn’t make timely improvements to keep workers safe, a move that could effectively close subway service, though experts have said that was unlikely.

The T’s new proposal is the latest chapter in the back-and-forth between state and federal transit officials since the FTA increased its oversight of the T in April of last year following safety incidents, including the dragging death of a passenger on the Red Line.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said Monday the agency has already started to make changes to improve worker safety.

“The MBTA will continue to collaborate with the FTA in order to implement the most effective safety procedures for its workforce, and will continue on a short- and long-term path to improve the safety of the system and its safety culture,” he said in an e-mail.

On April 18, federal regulators demanded that the MBTA make urgent safety reforms after trains came dangerously close to hitting track workers several times over a span of about four weeks in March and April. In another incident, a T lineman was injured at Revere Beach station on April 13 after a 2,000-pound weight fell on him, according to redacted MBTA records released last week in response to a request from the Globe.

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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 T’s original plan for improving worker safety 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 changes were slated for completion next year and in 2025. Those tasks include infrastructure improvements and implementing audits for new procedures.

That schedule was not nearly fast enough, said Joe DeLorenzo, an FTA associate administrator and chief safety officer, in a May 19 letter to T General Manager Phillip Eng. “Given the immediate risk to worker safety on the [right of way], FTA requires direct and focused actions,” DeLorenzo’s letter said, requiring the T to resubmit a plan that changes safety processes and procedures in just 60 days.

The T’s new plan outlines more than two dozen reforms with deadlines on or before Aug. 7, including evaluating training, qualifications, and experience of its dispatchers, increasing its training instructor to participant ratio, and developing procedures to document who has right-of-way access, according to a copy of the plan provided to the Globe. The T has already started to implement some of the reforms, according to the plan.

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It also includes reforms that the T plans to implement between Sept. 1 and next June, including revising its right-of-way rule book, assessing safety practices at peer transit agencies, and developing more training for dispatchers.

Governor Maura Healey met with Eng Monday and said she believes the T is capable of improving worker safety on a faster timeline.

“I’m confident in the work plan that General Manager Eng has put forward, and we’ll just continue to bring to bear resources, focus, and intention on this every single day,” she told reporters. “It is a top priority to make sure we have a T and a public transit system that is safe and reliable.”

The renewed scrutiny from the federal government comes more than a year after the FTA first increased its oversight of the MBTA, saying it was “extremely concerned” about safety after a series of incidents on the transit system.

The FTA ordered immediate changes last June when it found, among other things, that the T’s operations control center was dangerously understaffed, many workers were uncertified, and stretches of its subway tracks had defects dating back years requiring trains to travel at slower speeds.

Then, in August, the FTA finished its safety management inspection of the T, finding that the agency’s focus on long-term projects had come at the expense of day-to-day-operations and safety and requiring dozens of other changes.

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Meanwhile, T service has deteriorated significantly. Last June, the T cut subway service by more than 20 percent because it did not have enough dispatchers to operate safely, increasing wait times for trains. More recently, the agency said it now doesn’t have enough operators or trains to restore subway service. Similarly, the T has repeatedly cut bus service over the last year and canceled scheduled trips as it struggles to hire and retain drivers.

Trains are still traveling at reduced speeds because of track defects and other problems on around 20 percent of the agency’s subway tracks, according to its dashboard.

Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Taylor Dolven can be reached at taylor.dolven@globe.com. Follow her @taydolven. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her @lauracrimaldi.