While CEO Steve Poftak emphasized that these were construction vehicles carrying tools, not passengers, that went off the track, the inconsistent reporting is part of a pattern of opacity at an agency overseen by federal inspectors.
“To be clear, there have been three derailments,” said Poftak, whose agency has been under intense scrutiny over the past month by Federal Transit Administration inspectors concerned about the T.
“Derailments are never good, but just to clarify, these were not Blue Line vehicles, these are not revenue vehicles, these were tool carts used in construction. We have fully reported in full compliance with the safety regulations under which we operate. These were reported to the FTA and [Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities] timely. It is clear that the site was frozen and that a full investigation was carried out every time,” said Poftak.
“I can assure the public that we will inspect every inch of that project before resuming service,” he added.
The project to replace the track and improve flood resistance in the Blue Line harbor tunnel – linking the airport and aquarium stations – was set to be completed on May 8. After two delays, it is now expected to be completed on Tuesday.
On Monday, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the derailments had occurred on May 7, 8 and 9.
When the MBTA announced the project’s initial delay on May 8, it failed to mention that there had been a derailment the day before. The derailment that took place on May 8 was also not mentioned. When it announced the second delay on May 12, the MBTA cited only one derailment. But by then there had already been three derailments.
The FTA, which inspects the T separately, did not immediately respond to questions about the three derailments on Monday. The DPU, which oversees security at the T, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the number of derailments reported by the MBTA.
MBTA authorities, MBTA’s board of directors, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and DPU learned about the inspection in a letter from the FTA on April 14, but did not publicly acknowledge the probe until the Globe released a copy of it last week. got the letter. †
The FTA said the inspection was spurred on by a “pattern of security incidents,” including the lingering death of Robinson Lalin on April 10, whose arm became trapped in a Red Line car at Broadway Station. Earlier this month, the NTSB reported that “a malfunction” in a door control system on the Red Line train contributed to the fatal accident. The MBTA is still waiting for the delivery of hundreds of new Red Line cars from a Chinese company that first signed a contract in 2014 to replace the more than 50-year-old cars like those at Lalin’s death.
The FTA’s security management inspection is only the second time the federal agency has intervened in this way at the local level. In 2015, the agency conducted a security management inspection of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in Washington, which led to the federal takeover of security oversight there for nearly three and a half years.
At a meeting of the MBTA Board of Directors’ Safety Subcommittee Monday, MBTA Chief Safety Officer Ron Ester said meetings with the FTA began last week and will continue in the coming weeks.
“We will work with the FTA during this inspection,” he said. “Once the FTA’s final report is released, we will update the board on its contents.”
An FTA spokesperson said the agency expects a final report to be shared with the MBTA and then shared publicly by the FTA. An FTA spokesman has said the inspection will cover T’s subway and trolley systems, but not the bus or commuter rail.
This is not the first time the MBTA has faced an outside investigation into its security practices.
In 2019, the MBTA’s former board, the Fiscal and Management Control Board, assembled an external group of experts to monitor security at the T after a series of derailments.
They found that the state agency lacked a culture of security and provided 61 safety recommendations in six categories: financial assessment, safety assurance, safety culture, safety policy, safety promotion and safety risk management.
By February, two-thirds of the recommendations had been completed, including most of the recommendations for safety culture and safety risk management, MBTA staff reported to the boardand a third was in progress or on hold, including all financial review recommendations.
The panel found that the T prioritized the delivery of its capital investments and paid “insufficient attention” to “daily preventive maintenance and inspections and preserving full functionality of legacy assets.”
Governor Charlie Baker, who has appointed most of the MBTA board members and the secretary of transportation, said last week that he welcomes the FTA’s inspection.
Globe correspondent Grace Gilson contributed to this report.