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Experts Find T's Approach To Safety 'Questionable', Release Recommendations

BOSTON (CBS) -- An outside safety review panel released 34 recommendations to increase T safety for riders and employees Monday. The panel was created after a fractured axle caused a Red Line train to derail in June.

The recommendations included identifying maintenance problems, increasing manpower, and prioritizing system evaluation. Many revolved around creating a better "safety culture," such as defining what the leadership's safety involvement expectations are and establishing a feedback loop for workers.

The panel said the MBTA should adopt the Federal Transit Administration's Safety Management System as the T's framework. The federal government requires the MBTA to have such a system in place by July 2020.

"This was an exhaustive, an exhaustive review of the T. We started back at the end of June and we looked at trying to gauge 'what is the safety culture at the T? Does all the activities within the agency actually support safety in a way that everybody benefits?" said former NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco at a press conference Monday.

The panel looked extensively at accident and incident reports, procedures, and policies. Members looked at the facilities and rode the system's trains.

red line derailment
An MBTA Red Line train derailed just outside the JFK-UMass station June 11. (Photo credit: Boston Fire Dept. )

"We found out that some of the preventative maintenance that you would expect to see anywhere on a mass transit system in America isn't getting done, or isn't getting done to the level and degree that we would expect it to. So there's some catching up to do there," said Bianco.

The panel's review summary said: "In general, the SRP found that the T's approach to safety is questionable, which results in safety culture concerns. In almost every area we examined, deficiencies in policies, application of safety standards or industry best practices, and accountability were apparent...Our staff interviews and work in the field revealed that leadership feels somewhat defeated, helpless and in some cases hopeless. There is a general feeling that fiscal controls over the years may have gone too far, which coupled with staff cutting has resulted in the inability to accomplish required maintenance and inspections, or has hampered work keeping legacy system assets fully functional."

According to Bianco, the T also lacked in quality assurance and transparency.

Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at a press conference about a safety panel's review of the MBTA (WBZ-TV)

MBTA Union leaders don't believe workers are comfortable going to MBTA management with issues.

"We are talking about decades that need to be changed. This is not rocket science. This is management 101. Deal with your employees. Encourage your employees. Talk to them, try to find out what they see. It shouldn't be management down. It should be management coming from the bottom," said Tim Lasker, President of Local 453 at the MBTA.

"This is a very sobering report and we take the findings very seriously," said MBTA General Manager Steve Poktak. "We understood the gravity of this report and everyone understands the need to change the culture here at the T."

The T has plans to bring in 200 new engineering and maintenance positions in order to help balance new projects with daily upkeep. Seventy people have already been hired.

"Many of the recommendations will require more investments and more manpower that's why today's report adds a new sense of urgency to the legislature to pass the $50 million that we filed for last spring in our supplemental budget requests to the legislature," said Gov. Charlie Baker.

He emphasized the recommendations for the MBTA's Fiscal and Management Control Board to have a seat that focuses "purely on safety and operations" and for them to cut down on the number yearly meetings to allow management to focus more on day-to-day tasks.

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who was another panel member, stated, "The T is safe but the T can be safer...You improve safety, you will improve service. You improve safety, ridership will rise."

He complimented Baker, saying "when there's leadership at the top, the kind of leadership that Governor Baker has shown here for the T, this is going to happen. And it's going to be better for the riders and better for the employees, and obviously better for the taxpayers."

Baker said, "We've said repeatedly we're focused on making the T more reliable and accessible for the riding public. Safety is the backbone of that commitment."

The Commuter Rail received generally positive reviews from the board.

Riders want to see the recommendations come to life, and the money pay off.

"I think we've been spending about 70 percent of what's really been allocated because we just didn't know how to spend it properly. We need to keep studying and putting new equipment out there," said T rider Donna Kimmel.

To strengthen the MBTA's ability to balance ongoing operations while continuing to invest in its expanded Capital Investment Program, there is a pending request for $50 million in additional funding in a supplemental budget.

This request would fund a "flex force" of approximately 200 new hires within the Engineering and Maintenance Department (about 70 of which have already been hired), and would allow the T to keep pace with its ongoing program to make capital investments in core infrastructure while continuing to focus on critical work associated with preventive maintenance and inspections.

Separately and additionally, next week, the MBTA will be requesting that approximately $10 million of the $127 million the T receives from the Legislature be reallocated for additional safety resources.


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