After Orange Line closure, more apologies from the T

On safety, Poftak blames himself for focus on control board meetings

MBTA GENERAL MANAGER STEVE POFTAK apologized repeatedly for a construction accident that prevented weekend work on the Orange Line from wrapping up as planned Sunday evening, snarling Monday morning commutes on the Orange Line, the Green Line, and the T’s bus network.

The T is in the midst of weekend shutdowns on the Orange Line between Sullivan Square and Tufts Medical Center to replace track and upgrade four stations. On Sunday night, two vehicles operated by the T’s contractor slammed into each other between the Community College stop and North Station, making it impossible to wrap up the work as planned in time for the Monday morning commute.

One driver was taken to the hospital complaining of chest pains after the collision and the work was completed and stations reopened Monday afternoon at approximately 2:30 p.m. Poftak said the rush hour closure Monday morning not only slowed service for Orange Line riders, but overwhelmed service on alternative routes on the Green Line and the T’s bus network.

“We know we made a lot of people late this morning,” Poftak said in a public apology at a regular meeting of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board.

Poftak said the T is launching an investigation to determine what happened and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The general manager used the Orange Line incident to draw attention to the T’s efforts to improve safety overall at the agency. “It’s clear the MBTA needs to make significant improvements to promote and ensure safety as a core value. And, frankly, that starts with me,” Poftak said. “I’ve allowed a dynamic to develop where, as a management team, we are focused on these meetings and it comes, at least for us, at the expense of a focus on operational performance and contact with our workforce.”

Some officials at the T have begun pushing for fewer monthly meetings of the control board. State law currently requires the board to meet three times a month.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Poftak said he and other top managers have also begun meeting with front-line employees to learn from them where safety efforts can be improved and to rebuild trust with workers. He also said he has sought guidance from the independent safety panel that the control board hired in the wake of the Red Line derailment in June. He also visited the Chicago Transit Authority to learn how officials there track safety indicators.

While the safety work is ongoing, the  general manager said the T’s existing safety department will need to be restructured and more workers added. He said he had no cost estimate yet on how much that will cost.