U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is looking for federal transportation officials to deliver on their promise to get the MBTA “back on track.”
In a roughly six-minute exchange, Warren grilled the head of the Federal Transit Administration over how the T became unsafe to the point where “people are literally dying” on public transit and urged a timely release of the FTA’s safety management inspection report — which is set for August.
Warren’s remarks come at a time when the Joint Committee on Transportation is set to hold an oversight hearing on the T’s safety record on Monday. An MBTA safety subcommittee meeting, which will include an update on the FTA inspection, will begin at 11 a.m. on Thursday.
On Wednesday, a group representing Greater Boston business leaders called for the state Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker to take action to “create a safe, reliable and equitable MBTA system.”
“The lack of urgency from the MBTA and MassDOT in responding to the FTA report is a very serious concern,” Richard A. Dimino, president and CEO of A Better City, wrote in a Wednesday letter to state Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, and Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, who co-chair the Joint Committee on Transportation.
“When the MBTA underperforms or it is considered unsafe, it will exasperate our significant challenges related to public health, mobility, economic growth, equity, and climate emissions goals,” Dimino wrote. “The current situation with the MBTA requires the direct attention and involvement of the governor.”
In June, A Better City wrote to Baker, calling for him to appoint a special safety directorate to oversee MBTA and DPU implementation of the FTA’s safety directives and direct the T to restore full subway service by July 18.
The FTA, Warren said, promised its increased safety oversight role at the MBTA and report resulting from inspection and data collection would provide the agency with “a roadmap to building a robust safety culture.”
However, she said the feds’ initial recommendations have resulted in action that has hurt riders, during a time when the system has been “plagued with maintenance issues, shutdowns, and significant safety concerns over multiple deaths last year alone.”
“After the FTA issued special safety directives, however, the MBTA reacted by reducing service frequency on many lines,” Warren said at Tuesday’s Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing. “And these service cuts have negatively impacted all riders, many of whom rely on public transportation to try to get to work or school.”
Last month, the FTA tasked the MBTA with immediately addressing four areas of concern around safety, one of which ordered the agency to stop overworking subway dispatchers to address staffing shortages. In response, the T cut weekday service on three major subway lines, which has resulted in fewer trains and longer wait times for riders.
FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez said the T’s service cuts resulted from a backlog of personnel and maintenance decisions that were not dealt with properly. The feds get involved, she said, when they see that safety, and a transit agency’s lack of focus on that priority, contributes to incidents that result in death.
The FTA launched its probe days after a 39-year-old man was killed when his arm became trapped in a malfunctioning Red Line train door and he was dragged more than 100 feet.
“The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority needs to continue, one, with the training, they need to hire personnel,” Fernandez said. “That impact on service only occurs when projects and maintenance have not been completed in a timely manner that now need to be performed during service.”
Warren responded by saying: “I appreciate that, and I think what you’re saying is that the MBTA wasn’t paying enough attention to the maintenance and inspections needed to keep the system safe.”
The problem-plagued Red Line remains a concern. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)