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After new safety troubles, federal regulators impose restrictions to prevent further failures

An MBTA employee walked past a Red Line train.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Federal regulators again on Thursday ordered the MBTA to take immediate actions to prevent further safety failures on its subway and imposed new restrictions on the agency’s access to its own tracks, a move that will likely slow the T’s efforts to make badly needed repairs.

The Federal Transit Administration launched its latest intervention over track safety, at least the second this year, following what the agency described as four incidents since early August during which trains came too close to workers on or around the subway tracks.

While it was unclear how much less work the T could do under the new restrictions, the limitations would likely narrow the amount of time it can do track work outside the brief overnight periods before the subway system resumes as early as 4:45 a.m.


The T is planning to shut much of the Red Line and Mattapan Line for repairs in October. As of Thursday, 26 percent of the subway tracks had defects that required slow zones, according to the agency.

FTA chief safety officer Joe DeLorenzo sent T General Manager Phillip Eng a letter Thursday that cited four recent near-miss incidents. The letter accused the T of delays in reporting the episodes to its own safety department and to the Department of Public Utilities, the state-level regulator for the MBTA. The FTA also ordered the T to retrain dispatchers and supervisors in its Operations Control Center.

“FTA deems it necessary to outline additional actions that MBTA must undertake immediately to ensure the safety of transit workers working [in the track area],” DeLorenzo wrote. “Failure to comply with these requirements may result in suspension of all activities that place workers [in the track area], including maintenance and inspection, until FTA is confident that the MBTA can ensure workers are adequately protected from collisions.”


In the letter, the FTA restricted how the T can do track work while trains are running until it proves it can safely put workers near tracks during those times.

The new limits apply to three scenarios: when trains are prohibited from entering certain areas to let workers go onto the tracks; when workers are allowed onto tracks accompanied by a flagger to alert trains; and when workers are permitted onto the tracks for a job that doesn’t require tools or equipment and the workers take sole responsibility for their safety.

At a meeting of the safety subcommittee of T’s oversight board on Thursday, Patrick Lavin, chief safety officer at MassDOT, said the MBTA is enhancing protection for those track workers performing tasks without equipment or tools by requiring them to be accompanied by a flagger.

“If you’re performing a visual inspection, your attention is diverted from looking for trains so we’ve corrected that,” Lavin said.

The FTA also put the transit agency on a short leash in other ways, saying the T must now report to regulators “all near misses that occur within 2 hours of the incident’s occurrence” and provide investigative reports about them to the FTA within 30 days.

In a statement, DPU Commissioner Staci Rubin said the agency will “closely monitor” the T to ensure that it addresses safety concerns raised by state and federal regulators.

The new FTA edicts come just just five months after a nearly identical intervention, in which the federal agency warned of a “substantial risk of death or personal injury” after five other near-miss incidents and one serious worker injury.


By Wednesday, the T must provide the FTA and the DPU “a detailed explanation of the delays in reporting near misses that have occurred since August 1, 2023,” according to the letter. DeLorenzo didn’t provide details about the alleged delays. In an email, T spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said prior to Thursday’s order, there was “no reporting requirement for these types of incidents.”

The T reported the near-misses on the Red Line on Aug. 10 and Sept. 6 to the DPU on the days the incidents occurred, Pesaturo said. On Aug. 28, the FTA said there were two near-misses on the Green Line. The T instead categorized the episodes as one near-miss event, according to a preliminary report of the incident obtained by the Globe, and said it was reported to the MBTA’s safety department and DPU on Aug. 31.

By next Thursday, the T must provide the FTA and DPU evidence it has retrained and tested all dispatchers and supervisors in its operations control center on the process for entering track worker locations into the agency’s system and ensuring the locations of those workers are updated throughout shifts. The T must also do daily audits to ensure compliance with the process.

The T has been trying to boost staffing in the operations control center among its dispatchers for the Orange, Red, and Blue lines since last June, when it was forced to reduce weekday service on those lines after the FTA found dispatchers were sometimes working 20-hour shifts. On Thursday, a presentation to a workforce subcommittee for the MBTA’s oversight board said the agency still needs to hire three full-time dispatchers and five spare dispatchers to reach full staffing.


By Sept. 25, the T must submit an analysis of all recent near-miss incidents to the FTA and DPU along with a list of actions the agency is taking to prevent similar incidents going forward.

By Sept. 28, the T must submit to the FTA the agency’s plans for verifying the accuracy of communications between dispatchers and workers on or near the tracks and briefing train operators and supervisors about where workers will be during their shifts.

The Globe on Wednesday reported on near-miss incidents in recent weeks including a startling situation near North Quincy Station.

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. “[I]t does not appear that the train radio was in the on/active position at the time of the event,” the report said.


Earlier this week, Eng sent a letter to the FTA’s DeLorenzo outlining three of the recent near-misses: the one on the Red Line on Aug. 10 as well another Red Line incident on Sept. 6 and one on the Green Line on Aug. 28. In his letter, Eng said the agency was “disappointed” the near misses are still occurring and and vowed to continue working to prevent such incidents.

At the safety subcommittee meeting Thursday, Robert Butler, a member of the T’s board of directors, asked Lavin what he thought of the FTA’s letter.

“This is a nasty letter, as you know sir,” Butler said.

“This is not an uncommon occurrence,” Lavin said, adding that he has “skin like an alligator.”

Just last summer, the FTA wrapped up its nearly unprecedented safety management inspection of the MBTA, finding the agency had too few workers, too little training and maintenance, and weak safeguards. The FTA ordered the T to staff up, improve communication with front-line workers, and bolster safety checks, among dozens of required actions.

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