Even as state officials keep boasting of $8 billion in upcoming new trains and tracks and stuff, the T is continuing to suffer serious safety and other problems because of inadequate maintenance of the trains and facilities it already has, caused in large part by ineffective policy setting by constantly changing leadership, according to a report by a panel formed to investigate T safety issues.
In general, the [panel] found that the T’s approach to safety is questionable, which results in safety culture concerns. In almost every area we examined, deficiencies in policies, application of safety standards or industry best practices, and accountability were apparent.
State officials convened the safety review panel, composed of former federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Federal Transit Administration administrator and a former president of New York City Transit, this past June, after a series of incidents on the T system, in particular a Red Line derailment at JFK/UMass that disrupted service on the line for weeks. The T finally concluded the derailment was caused when an old axle on one car snapped.
The panel concluded a key part of the problem is leadership - the T has had nine general managers over the past nine years and that while the T has brought on board "many new executives" to manage an aggressive capital plan that includes completely replacing the superannuated Red and Orange Line fleets, " little if any time has been invested to help them onboard, assimilate into the agency’s mission, or to understand the agency’s safety practices."
The panel contrasted what's going on with the T's subway lines and its commuter-rail system, which is run by a private company, Keolis:
It is noteworthy to mention that the commuter rail service is performing well and does not face many of the challenges that were identified on the transit side of the house. The Panel attributes this higher level of performance to the structure provided by [federa regulations, which are clearly defined and have fiscal consequences if not complied with.
The panel details some of the problems that frequent turnover at the top has caused:
Critical [preventative maintenance and inspections] are not taking place as required. This creates a serious issue that requires immediate attention and this information has already been shared with MBTA leadership. Over the years, due to shortage of and/or inexperienced leadership, competing priorities and fiscal controls, operational managers have had difficulty identifying what maintenance and inspections need to be done, or have been dropped due to fiscal pressures or lack of staffing. Furthermore, there is little, or in many cases, no data to support what maintenance and inspections are required, or what has been accomplished. In other instances, procedures are well documented and available, but are not enforced by local supervision. It also does not appear that sufficient condition assessments have been conducted on many system assets that may drive a higher level of preventive maintenance actions. This will require leadership’s urgent attention to identify what inspections and maintenance must take place, at what intervals, and establish performance indicators that show progress against stated goals.