The worker safety crisis at the MBTA seems to be getting worse.
Two new reports of subway trains coming dangerously close to employees came to light Tuesday, including a near-miss on Monday when a flagger apparently signaled for a Red Line train to stop only to have the driver blow past the track workers at 25 miles per hour.
Both episodes — the second reportedly happened on Sept. 11 — occurred on northbound tracks between Harvard and Porter stations during regular service hours and involved the same Red Line operator and track workers, according to MBTA reports obtained by the Globe.
The newly disclosed near-misses, at least the ninth and 10th this year alone, are whiplash-inducing and underscore concerns of federal regulators who imposed additional restrictions on the MBTA last week to keep workers safe when they perform tasks on or near subway tracks. The incidents raise the prospect of more mandates that could further limit the T’s ability to repair its heavy and light rail tracks, delaying fixes to speed a system riddled with slow zones.
In its order issued last week, the Federal Transit Administration cited what it called four near-misses on T subway tracks between Aug. 10 and Sept. 6, and warned “a combination of unsafe conditions and practices exist such that there is a substantial risk of serious injury or death of a worker.”
The incident on Monday occurred at about 11:40 a.m. as a two-person crew was inspecting northbound track between Harvard and Porter stations, a T spokesperson, Joe Pesaturo, said in response to questions from the Globe.
The flagger reportedly signaled the Red Line operator to stop, but the driver did not, Pesaturo said. The train, which had just left Harvard Station, was reportedly traveling at about 25 miles per hour when it passed the two workers, who moved out of the path of the oncoming train, according to a report obtained by the Globe.
No one was injured and the Red Line operator has been taken out of service while investigators look into what happened, Pesaturo said.
While speaking with the T’s safety department about the incident on Monday, the two-person crew reported another close call in the same area and involving the same Red Line operator on Sept. 11, the report said.
The MBTA notified the FTA about both incidents and launched investigations, Pesaturo said.
On Tuesday morning, MBTA general manager Phillip Eng and other top managers met with workers who inspect subway tracks and their supervisors to discuss “work procedures, their responsibilities and to find out what management can do to improve safety,” Pesaturo said in an e-mail.
Red Line train operators were also given safety briefings and the FTA hasn’t issued any new orders since the Monday incident, he said.
In its orders last Thursday, the FTA instructed the T to retrain dispatchers and supervisors in its Operations Control Center and imposed restrictions on how the T can do track work while trains are running until it proves it can do so without endangering workers, among other interventions.
In April, the FTA issued the same warnings about worker safety to the T after five near-misses and ordered the agency to bolster workplace procedures for operators, flaggers, track workers, and dispatchers.
In its letter last week to the MBTA, the FTA said the transit agency was now required to report near-misses to federal regulators. Previously, the T was only required to report such incidents to state regulators within two hours of their occurrence.
On Friday, Eng sent a letter to FTA Chief Safety Officer Joe DeLorenzo asking for an exemption from one of the FTA’s orders that prohibited the T from using lone workers on its tracks.
Eng said the prohibition “creates the risk that the MBTA will be unable to have a timely response to emergency situations or situations that have the potential to become more hazardous if they are not responded to and resolved quickly, which can have impacts to public safety,” according to a copy of the letter provided by the T.
On Tuesday, an FTA spokesperson said regulators are discussing the request with the T and have “not provided any relief.”
And the T faces a deadline Wednesday to provide the FTA and the Department of Public Utilities with “a detailed explanation of the delays in reporting near-misses that have occurred since August 1, 2023,” according to the FTA’s latest orders.
Earlier Tuesday, before information about the recent safety incidents on subway tracks was disclosed in response to questions from the Globe, Eng joined Governor Maura Healey, Acting Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt, and Federal Transit Administrator Nuria Fernandez at the opening of the new John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge.
Eng, who joined the agency in April, said he had a “very open conversation” with the FTA’s Fernandez on Tuesday.
“We’re continuing to reinforce with our workforce the importance of speaking up,” he said. “We continue to build out our operational control center, the dispatchers, and looking at all the policies and procedures to make sure that we have them all in place, because there’s a lot of activity that goes on to run service, but also get that work done.”
Since taking office in early January, Healey has replaced the MBTA’s general manager, brought in the first-ever statewide transportation safety chief, raised the starting wage for badly needed bus drivers to $30 per hour, and allowed for the hiring of four experienced transportation outsiders for the T’s executive ranks.
But none of those significant changes have made a significant difference for riders — yet.
Twenty-six percent of the T’s subway tracks require trains to slow down because of unsafe defects, up from just 6 percent on Jan. 1, according to the agency. Ridership across the system has plateaued as the average trip time on the T’s Orange, Red, and Blue lines continues to climb and wait times for many buses and commuter rail trains remain painfully long.
And safety failures that put passengers and workers in danger continue unabated, inviting more tough interventions from federal regulators.
Asked Tuesday whether the T rider experience has gotten better or worse since she took over, Healey said, “It’s been evolving.”
“I understand people’s frustration with the slow zones,” Healey said. “And it is a top priority for me to fix this, to get this right. It takes time to do the repairs to make sure that we have tracks that are safe and operable, that the public can have confidence in. And every day we are getting after it and working on it.”
“Trust me,” she added, “there is nobody who wants this done more urgently than me.”