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T acknowledges three new instances in which workers were nearly struck

"I‘ve made it very clear to our workforce that safety on or around MBTA equipment and property is my leading priority," T general manager Phillip Eng said.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Trains came dangerously close to workers on the MBTA’s subway tracks at least three times in the last five weeks, a particularly galling failure just months after federal regulators ordered the agency to better protect its workers or face restrictions on access to its tracks.

The T on Wednesday acknowledged the recent near-miss incidents, a significant breakdown that presents a newly urgent problem for general manager Phillip Eng, who has tried to promote a competent, safety-focused culture since he started in April. The incidents could affect the T’s ability to make critical track repairs to reduce slow zones across the system if federal regulators decide to intervene again.


On Aug. 10 at 11:10 a.m., a trainee and an instructor operating a Red Line subway train noticed a flag worker in the track area as the train was traveling 30 miles per hour near North Quincy Station, according to a preliminary report of the incident obtained by the Globe.

“The instructor immediately directed that the train be placed into emergency,” and the train stopped about 150 feet beyond the flagger, the report said.

According to the report, a work crew was located beyond a curve in the tracks in the shadow of a bridge, and overgrown vegetation next to the track area was partially obstructing the flagger. Moreover, the train operator was unaware of the work crew because they didn’t hear a radio call, the report said.

“Based on the report from the radio department, it does not appear that the train radio was in the on/active position at the time of the event,” the report said.

Then, on Aug. 28 at 2:14 a.m., two workers in the track area on the Green Line between the Brookline Hills and Brookline Village stations saw a train traveling toward them at about 10 miles per hour, according to a preliminary report of that incident obtained by the Globe. The area was under “level 1 protection,” according to the report, meaning no trains were supposed to enter the area.


“The dispatcher lost track of the crew on the [right of way] that had been given level 1 protection,” the report said.

Then, on Sept. 6 at 4:14 a.m., workers on the Red Line reported that they were in a “level 1 area with equipment coming at them,” according to a preliminary report of the incident obtained by the Globe. The report did not make clear exactly where the incident occurred.

The dispatcher in that case was “unaware of a crew” on the tracks when they gave permission to the equipment to enter the area, according to the report.

On Monday, Eng sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration acknowledging the incidents, according to a copy obtained by the Globe. He said safety is his and his senior leaders’ “number one concern.”

“This is why we are disappointed that the organization continues to struggle with near misses, but also why it is critical that the FTA understand the lengths we are taking at the MBTA to respond to and learn from these events, as well as correct any process or procedure failures that allow them to continue to happen,” Eng said in the letter.

In a statement Wednesday, Eng said the MBTA is committed to improving its processes with the FTA so the T can successfully perform track work and protect workers.


He called communications between the T operations control center and work crews “critical,” and said the agency is building out the center with “strong and experienced leaders who manage dispatchers with the training necessary to ensure the safe movement of both workers and vehicles during maintenance activities.”

“I‘ve made it very clear to our workforce that safety on or around MBTA equipment and property is my leading priority, and everyone — at every level of the organization — must work together to prevent these safety incidents and deliver on our commitment to provide our riders with the level of service they expect and deserve,” he said.

A Healey administration spokesperson deferred to Eng’s comment.

The near-misses in August and early September came after repeated warnings from the FTA about worker safety over the past year.

After five nearly identical near-miss incidents in March and April, the FTA told the T that there was a “substantial risk of death or personal injury” and ordered it to immediately change its protocols and training before an employee gets killed.

The T identified “dispatcher situational awareness” in the operations control center as a “potential” contributing factor for three of those March and April near-misses, according to an analysis prepared in April.

The T created an improvement plan for worker safety that the FTA dubbed “insufficient.” The FTA approved a revised plan in June.

That plan aimed to bolster workplace procedures for operators, flaggers, track workers, and dispatchers, and included hiring a consultant, updating training, and piloting changes.


The recent near-miss incidents raise questions about whether those overhauls were employed and if they were, whether they are enough to keep workers safe.

A spokesperson for the FTA did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement, Staci Rubin, commissioner for the Department of Public Utilities, the T’s state safety oversight agency, said the DPU has “ordered the MBTA to report and track each and every safety rule violation to the DPU until further notice and develop a corrective action plan” after “identifying recent significant safety rules violations.”

The perilous conditions for workers that continue to plague the T could make accomplishing much-needed track repair work more difficult. Around 26 percent of the subway tracks had defects requiring speed restrictions on Wednesday, according to the T, up from 23 percent at the end of April.

Jarred Johnson, executive director of TransitMatters, an advocacy group, said riders are reaching their breaking point.

“We’re very puzzled as to what the administration’s vision is and when we’re going to get the promised transparency and plan, and when we’re not going to have to worry about the FTA,” he said.

While the T tries to curb near-misses, there have been shocking injuries of workers this year.

On April 13, a lineman was injured after a hoist estimated to weigh at least 2,000 pounds fell on his right hand during work on the Blue Line.

In a 911 call, the lineman’s colleague told an emergency dispatcher that the injured employee was on the tracks, where his co-workers were trying to free him.


”We have a person with his hand crushed under a bunch of weights,” the caller told the dispatcher. “We’re going to try to get him released and get him to the road, but we need an ambulance.”

A recording of the call was provided to the Globe in response to a public records request.

On Aug. 2, two T signal maintainers were injured when a wire came into contact with the energized third rail near a crossover at Quincy Center station, according to a letter sent to the T last month from Robert N. Hanson, rail transit safety director at the DPU.

The contact between the wire and third rail created an arc flash that burned the hands of one worker and left him with “arc flash injuries” to his eyes, Asia Williams, acting director of safety investigations for the MBTA, told a T board of directors subcommittee in August.

Taylor Dolven can be reached at Follow her @taydolven. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at Follow her @lauracrimaldi.