Wednesday, November 11, 2009

MBTA addresses safety concerns

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MBTA officials laid out a four-step plan Nov. 9 to address last week's critical third-party review of the system's safety and finances, The Raynham Call reports. Transportation officials also reiterated that the agency is not backing away from the proposed expansion of transit service to the South Coast cities of Fall River and New Bedford, Mass.

The safety report also recommended that the MBTA slow all expansion projects until the agency fixes its finances, which the report described as bankrupt.

At its November meeting, MBTA board members approved the first of the four proposals outlined by its new secretary and CEO, Jeffery Mullan. The board hired Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. to conduct a thorough examination of the Red Line in Boston, and authorized the agency to hire contractors to review all of the 51 outstanding safety-critical projects identified in last week's review.

The third-party report focused its criticism on the MBTA's finances and maintenance backlog, particularly on the Red Line, but the report encompassed the entire system, including the commuter rail lines.

The remaining three steps Mullan recommended are to conduct an outside review of the agency's safety policies and procedures, to hire a director of safety who will prioritize all of the outstanding maintenance work, and to look for cost savings in the agency's paratransit service, "The Ride," which provides a dial-a-ride type service to disabled passengers who live near bus and subway routes.

Asked if the South Coast expansion effort would hamper the agency's ability to catch up on its maintenance backlog, Mullan said, "I think it's too early to say yes or no on that."

The South Coast transit project would provide rapid transit service between Boston and Fall River and New Bedford. The three proposed routes -- one of which could be selected later next year -- include extension of the existing Stoughton train line through Easton, Raynham and Taunton and then south on two tracks to the South Coast cities; extension of a rail line from Attleboro to Taunton and south; or an express bus on a dedicated lane on Route 24 and Interstate 93.

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