Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey are demanding updates from the MBTA and its state oversight agency, the Department of Public Utilities, about efforts to make the transit system safer amid worsening slow zones and crumbling infrastructure.
In a letter sent to MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng and Chair of the DPU Jamie Van Nostrand Tuesday, the senators asked for a briefing about why recent safety incidents occurred, what the agencies have done to address them, and what the long-term plans are to address the issues with the T by September 26, 2023, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Globe.
The letter comes nearly one year after the senators grilled leaders of the agencies at a hearing in Boston following the month-long Orange Line shut down’s failure to produce promised service improvements.
“The communities that rely on the T deserve reliable, safe, accessible, and climate-forward transit,” the senators said. “We look forward to working with you to not only fix the T, but turn it into a safe and vibrant transit system worthy of our Commonwealth and its people.”
Recent changes like raising the starting wage for new MBTA bus drivers to $30 an hour and publishing slow zone data are steps in the right direction, the senators wrote. But, there is more work to be done, they said.
The letter cites a a serious of recent safety incidents, including the injury of a worker on the Blue Line in April, a Green Line derailment at Packard’s Corner in June, and a fire under a Red Line train in July. It also cites repeated incidents of debris falling onto or near unsuspecting T riders and the agency’s failure to eliminate more slow zones than it implemented in August.
The letter also asks the MBTA and DPU to provide written responses by Oct. 12 to four questions: “What have been the major impediments to lifting speed restrictions across the subway lines? What do you see as the major safety improvements needed to increase the speed and reliability of the subway? What steps are you taking to ensure the safety of workers conducting repairs along the right of way? What steps are you taking to ensure rider safety in MBTA stations?”
“We know that systemic failures cannot be quickly rectified, and you will need time and resources to get the T back on track,” the letter said. “We are committed to supporting you in those efforts.”
Eng, the MBTA general manager, said the agency has received the letter and is reviewing it.
“We appreciate their strong interest in MBTA activities, and we share the common goal of improving the safety and reliability of MBTA services,” Eng said in a statement. “We look forward to providing the senators with informed and helpful responses to their thoughtful questions.”
In a statement, DPU Commissioner Staci Rubin said the DPU’s rail transit safety division has “worked diligently” over the past year to nearly double its staff, improve its training protocols, and spend time in the field monitoring the T.
“The Division is committed to strong safety oversight and will continue to work closely with the FTA and MBTA to ensure a safe and reliable public transportation system for all,” Rubin said.