Following a federal safety audit of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), which provides public transportation services to those in an around the Boston area, the transit authority has founded a Quality, Compliance and Oversight Office to address the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) findings.
The Quality, Compliance and Oversight Office will operate outside of the train system (T)'s current organizational structure and implement actions to address the report’s findings. The office, led by Katie Choe, an over-20-year veteran of construction management and safety oversight, will report publicly every month on the T’s progress toward implementing the FTA’s directives.
FTA transit safety findings
The FTA issued eight special directives to the MBTA between June and August 2022 to address safety and security concerns in the transit system. These directives related to issues including:
Track and train maintenance: The FTA found deficiencies in personal protective equipment and right of way safety; defective track conditions; and management practices that negatively impacted track repair. According to one special directive, disabled trains made unintended and uncontrolled movements in maintenance facilities and rail yards.
Certification lapses and staffing issues: The MBTA Operations Control Center (OCC) "is not meeting its own requirements to ensure that OCC dispatchers and supervisors are adequately trained and certified," said the FTA in a special directive. The federal agency found that over half of heavy rail dispatchers and OCC supervisors had not completed required biennial training for their positions. According to the FTA, a lack of OCC staff also contributed to an environment where employees worked in shifts up to 20 hours long. Another special directive noted a deficiency in train operations personnel training, and a directive issued in August identified "managing the impact of operations, maintenance and capital projects requirements on the available workforce" as a focus for the MBTA.
Safety management information and communications: The MBTA will implement a safety management system (SMS) that explicitly outlines actionable safety procedures, as directed by the FTA. The safety inspection found a lack of documentation related to safety and security actions within the MBTA, and the federal agency directed the transit authority to establish documentation procedures and employee incident reporting guidelines.
Operations and technology conditions: Remedying inadequate radio technology and enforcing established operations policies are priorities for the MBTA as laid out by the FTA. According to the findings of the safety audit, the transit system has seen instances of staff not adhering to approved operating procedures.
MBTA safety response
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 & certification, and field-based exercises working with Operations, Maintenance, Training and Human Resources.
- The Safety Department 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.
- 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 Quality, Compliance and Oversight Office will focus on assessing, recruiting and hiring as part of workforce management, collecting and analyzing safety data, instilling safety culture across the organization, and improving operating practices. Progress on these initiatives will be reported monthly to the MBTA Board of Directors.