The severity of safety incidents has steadily increased at the MBTA over the past four years and continued to pile up during the course of an on-the-ground federal investigation.
“MBTA’s recent safety events also indicate an escalation in the severity of safety events, from minor property damage, brief service disruptions, and minor injuries in 2019 and 2020, to more significant property damage, extended service disruptions, and more serious passenger injuries requiring hospitalization in 2021,” the report said.
These events continued to surge in 2022, culminating with a passenger being dragged to death by a train on April 10, which prompted the FTA to launch its safety management inspection days later — only the second of its kind for a U.S. subway system.
According to the National Transit Database, the MBTA was responsible for 38%, or 5 of the 13 light rail collisions in the U.S. between 2017 and 2021, and 94%, or 45 of the 48 injuries that occurred from those incidents.
The MBTA also consistently experienced a higher rate of light rail derailment between 2015 and 2021, and since 2016, has seen a higher rate of heavy rail derailment than its industry peers, with a “sharp increase in 2020,” the report said.
Safety incidents continued to pile up throughout the course of the FTA investigation, which the report notes surprised and occasionally alarmed all levels of the MBTA workforce, but were ultimately viewed as one-of-a-kind or “freak accidents,” rather than the result of systemic failures.
“Pressure points identified in interviews and on-site inspections, such as lack of staffing and supervision, lack of enforcement of safety rules, lack of track access for critical repairs, and excessive overtime, were generally dismissed as inevitable and normal work conditions,” the report said.
These safety incidents included four derailments, two runaway train incidents and two train collisions, one of which injured four MBTA workers.
In addition, new Chinese-company-manufactured Red and Orange Line cars were removed from service twice due to a braking issue, and a third time due to a battery failure that resulted in an explosion, the report said.
The T’s troubles continued after the conclusion of the on-the-ground investigation, with a serious burn injury to a contractor, an Orange Line train fire on a bridge over the Mystic River and another runaway train incident in July.
The report ultimately found that the MBTA’s focus on capital projects has come at the expense of day-to-day operations and safety, which has resulted in a short-staffed and strained workforce and aging assets and infrastructure that continue to fail.
The MBTA has six weeks to submit corrective action plans to address four federal directives centered around staffing deficiencies, ineffective safety communication and inadequate operating conditions, or it will risk losing federal funding.