Problems with the T

The NTSB thinks the MBTA does not have a culture of safety.

“If technology exists – and it exists on the other lines – why would the Green Line not have everything possible that is going to prevent the accidents from happening?’’ Mark V. Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said during a hearing in Washington, D.C., to discuss the 2008 crash near Waban station.

“I don’t understand that, as an operator,’’ Rosenker said. “I just don’t.’

So, a driver with a sleep problem causes a wreck in Newton, and that doesn’t motivate the MBTA to install the proper safety technology for the Green Line, and then Aidan Quinn causes another wreck.  It strikes me that this failure of safety belongs to Dan Grabauskas, who is in charge of the T.

If I understand the situation correctly, Grabauskas has until May 2010 for his term to be up, and if the Governor sacks him before then, the law will give him extra pension money (he doesn’t deserve that!).

This protection of Grabauskas strikes me as an unintended consequence of the pension law.  Is there any movement within the legislature to change this?  Does Grabauskas even get dragged before a committee for some uncomfortable questions?

5 replies on “Problems with the T”

  1. Thanks, Joel, for speaking out on this issue.

    I am not quite ready to blame Dan Grabauskas for the recent problems. He’s playing the hand he was dealt — a pretty weak hand, both financially and in terms of his actual ability to control the situation, given union contracts, etc. He certainly does get called in to discuss the problems, although not before one of my committees.

    I’d be interested to hear what others think of the manager’s performance though.

    1. Specifically with regard to failsafe technology, the carmen’s union wanted it. It was on other lines but not the Green. There was a wreck, the Green line didn’t get the failsafe. There was a second wreck. These wrecks have probably cost over a million dollars. How much would the failsafe have cost?

  2. There certainly do seem to be a lot of just-plain-management issues. For instance, there have been many times where I wait at a stop for 20+ minutes, only to see one packed train express by me and another train 2 minutes later. It seems to me that with resource decent management, we could have just had one train every 11 minutes. These situations are fairly common.

    Also, every time I hear the text-to-speech stumble awkwardly (and sometimes unintelligibly) over some message, I can’t help wonder how much money we paid for that system instead of just broadcasting a recording of a human.

    Tangentially, the incessant PSAs can be very aggravating, especially when a train is very late. Have there been any independent studies to see how effective they really are? If they’re not actually useful, I for one would love to see them gone.

    These are the sort of small gestures that, even if they didn’t make the T more efficient, would at least make it less aggravating.

  3. Hi Joel,

    The Globe’s Noah Bierman reported an estimate of $300 million for a first class system and a cost of roughly $10 million for one of the more serious crashes. $300 million can save lives and benefit the public in a whole lot of different ways. It’s not obvious to me whether the T has made bad choices in their capital program — I can’t judge that from where I sit. What is pretty clear is that the T needs more capital money overall!


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