Clearly MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng ignored the dog-eared handbook on how to run the transportation agency.
As T history demonstrates, leadership has focused on post-accident bromides, apologies for unsolved problems, and endless promises to do better.
Eng is actually getting things done.
The latest example of his “see something, say something, fix something” approach came last week, when Eng revealed that T officials knew as far back as April 2021 that large swaths of Green Line Extension tracks were defective and too narrow – but the agency opened the lines anyway.
According to the GM, half of the Union Square branch and 80% of the Medford-Tufts branch require repairs only a week after the MBTA said it had cleared slow zones that forced trains to run at walking speeds in some areas.
That’s not surprising, given the T’s track record.
“We’re going to have the GLX Constructors re-gauge the track to bring it back to what the project called for. And once we have a plan in place, we’ll share that with the public. And the goal is to make sure that we do that in the least impactful way, the most efficient way and put this behind us,” Eng said.
This, we’re not used to.
Back in 2019, a safety review panel comprised of former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, former acting administrator of the Federal Transit Administration Carolyn Flowers and former New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco raked the MBTA over the coals following that year’s Red Line derailment disaster. They slammed the T for “deficiencies” in nearly every area of safety maintenance and practice.
“In almost every area we examined, deficiencies in policies, application of safety standards or industry best practices, and accountability were apparent,” the safety review panel wrote. “The foundation for safety is also not obvious as the agency has not identified or adopted a comprehensive vision, mission, values or set of strategies and goals to guide the agency’s actions to achieve a safe work environment and to deliver quality service.”
According to a summary of the panel’s report, investigators found “the T’s approach to safety is questionable, which results in safety culture concerns.”
Passengers didn’t need a review panel to tell them this – they’d known for years as derailments and accidents mounted, along with signal issues and endless delays and out-of-service trains.
Riders wanted more, deserved more, expected more – but knew they were unlikely to get it from the entrenched culture at the MBTA.
Then Eng became the new sheriff in town. A month into his tenure, a woman was struck by a falling utility box at a Red Line station. Eng order all stations to be inspected, and within days, similar boxes were removed. He announced a major personnel shakeup last month, restructuring the agency under four divisions — operations, safety, capital, and administration — in the first major reorganization in roughly a decade.
We’ve written about the T’s troubles for years, and never been short of material. But Eng is shaping up to be truly stellar hire.
For this, kudos to Gov. Maura Healey.
Editorial cartoon by Steve Kelley (Creators Syndicate)