Feds increasing oversight of the T after Red Line death and string of incidents

Citing last month’s “tragic passenger” death on the Red Line and recent MBTA derailments, collisions and grade-crossing fatalities, the Federal Transit Administration said it is “extremely concerned with the ongoing safety issues” at the agency and will be increasing oversight of the T’s operations.

In an April 14 letter to Steve Poftak, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the FTA said it planned to immediately assume an increased safety oversight role for the T.

“The safety of MBTA’s passengers and workforce is of paramount concern to FTA,” said Joe DeLorenzo, associate administrator and chief safety officer for the FTA’s Office of Transit Safety and Oversight, in the letter. “Therefore, FTA’s Office of Transit Safety and Oversight (TSO) will conduct a safety management inspection (SMI) of the MBTA’s transit operations and maintenance programs.”

DeLorenzo said the SMI will obtain the data needed to establish a safety risk profile for the MBTA and provide a roadmap that will be aimed at building a “robust safety culture” within the agency.

The FTA letter references safety issues including the April 10 death of a 39-year-old MBTA passenger, Robinson Lalin, who died after his arm became trapped in a Red Line train’s door and he was dragged about 105 feet.

The MBTA said it has ramped up its infrastructure spending in the past several years to make the system safer and more reliable. In the last fiscal year, a record $1.92 billion was spent, and the goal for the current fiscal year is $2 billion, the T said.

“Sharing the Federal Transit Administration’s desire to make public transportation as safe as possible, the MBTA fully supports the FTA’s review of the Authority’s safety-related processes and practices and welcomes a constructive and collaborative process that focuses on making the T a transit industry leader in safety and reliability,” an MBTA spokesperson said.

“The MBTA has invested over $8 billion in infrastructure improvements over the past five years, including new tracks and revamped stations as well as new buses and trains all to make the system safer and more reliable.”

The spokesperson said the MBTA has nearly doubled the size of its Safety Department in the past three years, “broadening the scope of its activities and training thousands of employees to help foster a culture in which safety is prioritized and integrated into the MBTA’s core mission of delivering safe and dependable services.”

“Unwavering in its commitment to its riders and employees, the MBTA has strong, well-funded plans for delivering safe, accessible, and reliable services for decades to come,” the MBTA spokesperson said.