MBTA has been responding to FTA’s safety concerns, but more work is on the horizon

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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MBTA crews successfully addressed an FTA Special Directive on the Orange Line. Green Line work also was completed.
MBTA

The MBTA launched the Quality, Compliance, and Oversight Office to address the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) findings contained in the Safety Management Inspection report.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak also detailed the MBTA’s progress to date on addressing the report’s findings, several of which the MBTA has already completed or is undertaking now. The MBTA announced Katie Choe, an over-20-year veteran of construction management and safety oversight, will focus solely on launching the Quality, Compliance, and Oversight Office, which will operate outside of the T’s current organizational structure and implement actions to address the report’s findings. The office also will report publicly every month on the T’s progress toward implementing the FTA’s directives.  

“The MBTA’s No. 1 priority remains safety for both our riders and our employees. We are grateful to the FTA for their recommendations as we build on numerous actions and initiatives already in place across the organization to strengthen our safety management,” said Poftak. “Under the leadership of Katie Choe, I am confident that through the Quality, Compliance, and Oversight Office, the MBTA will be better positioned to address the challenges it has faced and implement changes to the organization and system to provide a safer and more reliable T.” 

The FTA’s Aug. 31 SMI report found four categories for the MBTA to improve upon. They included: 

·       Managing the impact of operations, maintenance, and capital projects requirements on the available workforce;

·       Prioritization of safety management information;

·       Effectiveness of safety communication; and

·       Operating conditions and policies, procedures, and training.

To address these areas, the FTA ordered the MBTA to carry out 53 total actions. The MBTA has either implemented or began the process of implementing half of those including: 

·       Safety has facilitated multiple new safety risk management workshops over the past two months in coordination with management and subject matter experts from outside departments. The workshops have allowed for proactive hazard identification and mitigation in areas including hiring, training and certification, and field-based exercises working with operations, maintenance, training, and human resources;

·       The Safety Department also has expanded its safety meeting framework to include performance-focused safety data reviews with senior managers and executives, and will continue to use this meeting framework for review and discussion of data-driven safety analyses and risk management; and

·       Radio dead spots have been confirmed with frontline staff, and a regular reporting and confirmation has been established with the majority of spots resolved. 

The MBTA will begin working on the additional actions immediately and will continue to seek FTA approval as it progresses through the directives.

In addition, the MBTA has taken several other immediate steps to address these actions, including engagement with stakeholders and union groups and development of a series of Requests for Proposals (RFQs) designed to provide support for MBTA staff. The MBTA is targeting the end of the week to issue RFQs directly related to the scope of the office. With a goal of the T’s workforce fully embracing a safety-first culture and adopting its practices for sustained improvement, the T’s unions and MBTA leadership, including the General Manager, began meeting at the end of last week in order to engage these groups on workforce safety communications and meetings on safety themes and issues.

Also, based on the FTA’s concerns regarding the MBTA’s ability to balance larger capital projects and day-to-day maintenance, MassDOT will lead an engagement with a consultant to investigate the potential benefits of a multi-modal large construction unit apart from the MBTA and other agencies of MassDOT that would develop, design, construct, and deliver large capital assets to the operating agencies, relieving them from the burden of managing large capital projects while also trying to maintain day-to-day maintenance. The MBTA has already employed this type of project management with the Green Line Extension and South Coast Rail projects, as they are separate projects reporting directly to the General Manager, but this new engagement will investigate the opportunities to expand this model.

Furthermore, Gov. Charlie Baker is filing a supplemental budget that includes $200 million for the MBTA to provide additional resources towards addressing the FTA’s safety directives and ensuring a safe, reliable transit network for its riders. The supplemental budget also includes $10 million for MassDOT, in collaboration with the MBTA, to develop a training academy to create a talent pipeline to address the staffing challenges at the MBTA.

Over the last several months, the MBTA has continued to make progress on the FTA’s initial safety concerns through safety plans to address track conditions and maintenance, updated safety trainings and directives, and has addressed staffing shortages. The MBTA has met all the FTA’s deadlines and requirements to date in response to the four special directives issued. 

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