Monday, December 9, 2019

Damning MBTA Safety Report Released

(SOURCE:  Boston Globe - J. Ellement)

The MBTA’s safety system was examined by three outside experts and their findings were damning at best. What follows is five of the major conclusions outlined in the executive summary based on interviews with T employees at every level of the workforce.

- The T has failed to include safety concerns in its daily operations, routine maintenance schedules or long-term investment and construction plans, according to the report.

“In essence, safety is not the priority at the T, but it must be. To meet the demands of the future, the agency must address its safety culture – it is critical to every aspect of the agency.’’

- Turnover at the top job, the T’s general manager, has eroded the importance of safety issues at the very highest levels of the region’s primary public transit system, the panel found. There have been nine general managers since 2010.

 “Leadership sets the tone for safety ... the recurrent turnover in general managers (GMs) over the past 10 years has been incredibly disruptive and has placed the agency in a vulnerable position. This may be the overarching reason that we see the level of safety deficiency at the agency.”

- T employees don’t talk to one another, and this is especially troubling because safety concerns raised inside the agency rarely reach the right person or office that can then take the needed corrective action, the report found.

“There is a total lack of routine upward or downward communication within the agency. Employees at all levels told the Panel that the T has many siloes and that communication is rarely, if ever, done across departments. Leadership has not identified or attempted to open channels of communication with the workforce.... The only avenue for communication we identified during this review is a ‘safety hotline’ which does not appear to have received the confidence of the workforce in the field.”

- The T does have a stand-alone safety department but it is an organizational orphan with little ability to play a forceful role in workplace safety and other safety concerns facing the agency.

“The safety department, which should be providing day-to-day leadership for safety initiatives, is somewhat debilitated in what they can accomplish, and lacks the ability to guide the agency at large,” the report said. “For example, the staff is absent in the field to support the workforce and champion a safe work environment. On the other hand, the safety department is grossly understaffed, lacks subject matter experts (SMEs) and is currently not in any position to manage the needs of the agency.”

- The experts concluded that the MBTA’s commuter rail system, which is operated by Keolis Commuter Services, has a far better safety environment than the T’s transit system. The experts noted that Keolis operates under the Federal Railroad Administration rules and regulations.

“It is noteworthy to mention that the commuter rail service is performing well and does not face many of the challenges that were identified on the transit side of the house. The Panel attributes this higher level of performance to the structure provided by FRA regulations, which are clearly defined and have fiscal consequences if not complied with.”

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.

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