FTA releases full safety oversight report from MBTA safety investigation

Sept. 1, 2022
FTA issued four special directives for the MBTA and one for its state regulatory safety oversight entity, the Department of Utilities.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) released its final Safety Management Inspection (SMI) report on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and the Massachusetts Department of Utilities (DPU), which has congressional statutory authority for rail transit safety oversight in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.  

The report concluded after two and a half months of investigation that focused on MBTA’s processes, procedures and resources for safety decision-making and the role of the DPU in overseeing MBTA’s safety performance, and concluded that the MBTA, MBTA Board and DPU must collaborate to prioritize safety.  

The SMI report is in response to a pattern of safety incidents at the authority, including derailments, train collisions, grade crossing fatalities and other incidents involving both MBTA employees and passengers. FTA noted “MBTA is not effectively balancing safety-critical operations and maintenance activities with its efforts to deliver capital projects,” and this imbalance is at the center of the authority’s safety challenges.  

“Safety is FTA’s top priority, and our role is to hold transit agencies and state safety oversight agencies accountable on behalf of transit riders and workers,” said FTA Deputy Administrator Veronica Vanterpool. 

The investigation resulted in four special directives encompassing 20 findings that were issued to the MBTA in addition to the four special directives issued back in June. DPU was also issued an additional special directive to address FTA’s four findings.  

For MBTA, the special directives are: 

  • Related to operating conditions and policies, procedures and training. The SMI revealed MBTA doesn’t meet its own written requirements and doesn’t have proper procedures, processes or requirements; doesn’t have proper training, coordination and supervision; and doesn’t have “independent quality assurance and quality control capabilities.” There were also cases where well-documented procedures weren’t followed or enforced and where workers weren’t given proper resources or guidance to perform specific activities. There were also outdated procedures and “a lack of operational assessments to ensure revisions accurately capture changes in the system and required work practices.” 
  • Related to the effectiveness of safety communication. Findings show a lack of regular and meaningful communication about safety issues across the organization and with the frontline workforce. Three findings require MBTA to improve management of its safety committee process, safety promotion activities and employee safety reporting program. 
  • Related to prioritization of safety management information. According to the report, there’s little evidence showing MBTA adopted SMS practices in the field for identifying, analyzing and prioritizing safety information. Six findings require enhanced and expedited implementation of SMS, “including the development of procedures, safety management training, safety risk assessment and safety assurance activities to enhance the organization’s capability to identify safety concerns and to prioritize action to mitigate safety risk.” 
  • Related to managing the impact of operations, maintenance and capital project requirements on the existing workforce. MBTA has diverted attention and resources from operations and maintenance to capital projects, culminating in the agency operating services not adequately staffed, trained, supervised or maintained. Additionally, current staffing levels aren’t able to provide adequate safety oversight on new capital projects and don’t support widespread safety certification of these projects. FTA notes there have been several construction safety events resulting from lack of oversight at worksites.  

For DPU, the special directive requires it to oversee the implementation of the four special directives issued to the MBTA and that DPU “must take action to increase its technical capacity and its ability to oversee MBTA’s corrective actions to address the pattern of safety incidents and safety findings concerning workforce management, prioritization of safety management information, effectiveness of safety communication and operating conditions and policies, procedures, and training.” 

While this concludes FTA’s SMI, FTA Associate Administrator, Communications and Congressional Affairs Paul Kincaid emphasized this was not the end of FTA’s involvement with the MBTA system, saying the administration will continue to monitor the situation to ensure compliance with the special directives “with the goal of ensuring the safest T possible.” 

“We want today to be the beginning of rebuilding the infrastructure, the culture and critically the trust around an important community asset. Today can be the beginning of a better safety culture at MBTA,” said Kincaid during a press conference to announce the release of the SMI full report.  “Taking the actions outlined in this report and following on with a continual focus on important maintenance rather than deferring it will create the change that allows the T to be its safest.” 

The SMI report is available on FTA’s website 

About the Author

Megan Perrero | Associate Editor

Megan Perrero is an award-winning B2B journalist. She is the associate editor of Mass Transit magazine where she assists with developing the newsletters and social media posts, along with the online and print content. She is currently a board member for Latinos in Transit and serves on the APTA Marketing and Communications Committee. She’s based out of Chicago, Ill.

Prior to joining the team, Perrero gained experience covering the manufacturing and processing food and beverage industry, the agriculture industry and the library industry.

Perrero is a Columbia College Chicago alumna where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a concentration in magazine writing and a minor in public relations.