Poftak owes T riders timeline on speed restrictions, Baker says

GM last week refused to set deadline for safety reasons

GOV, CHARLIE BAKER said on Monday that MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak owes the public an answer on when speed restrictions on the Orange Line will be lifted.

At a press availability at the State House with the leaders of the House and Senate, Baker said Poftak hasn’t been able to deliver on a promise he made to riders before and during the one-month shutdown of the Orange Line that travel times would decrease after the work was completed. Instead, travel times have increased.

“They haven’t lifted restrictions on both the north and south side in a number of areas. They haven’t lifted them as fast as they said they were going to,” Baker said. “I think General Manager Poftak has made clear he wants the engineers and the people on the ground to tell him when the most appropriate time to do that would be. My view at this point is they owe the public an answer as to when those speed restrictions will be lifted.”

Poftak declined to set a deadline for completion of the work on Friday, when he testified before an oversight hearing conducted by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey. Poftak said setting a deadline would be counterproductive.

“If I put a date in place, it doesn’t prioritize safety,” he said. “It puts pressure on field staff to make a decision that is not based on what is the safety condition in the field.”

An MBTA spokesman on Monday said the agency will have ready by later this week information on the work needed to be completed to remove all speed restrictions.

Baker said the T needs to focus on resolving the 53 safety issues raised by the Federal Transit Administration and build out its depleted staff. The governor said 900 funded positions are currently vacant.

He also responded to Warren’s claim that management of the MBTA has failed and a top-to-bottom overhaul of the workforce is needed.

“With respect to who works there and all the rest, that’s a decision that will be made by the next administration,” he said. “But I think there are many people at the T who’ve done terrific work in many cases, as the FTA pointed out, on a short-handed basis over the course of the last couple years. I would hate to see them get washed out with whatever else happens.”