MBTA Safety

Construction Workers on Orange Line Track
Photo Credit: Susana Hey, MBTA

In accordance with FTA final rule 49 CFR 673, the MBTA developed a revised Transit Safety Plan which utilizes Safety Management Systems (SMS) principles to ensure the safety of customers, employees, contractors, and the public.

The plan provides strategic and management performance objectives to affirm and execute the MBTA’s commitment to provide a safe, reliable, and sustainable regional transportation service, and ensures compliance with federal, state, and local regulations and appropriate industry best practices. Following two years of development and extensive review and approval by MBTA senior leadership, the General Manager, and the Fiscal and Management Control Board, the revised plan was certified by the Department of Public Utilities on July 16, 2020. The MBTA now continues to implement and refine a mature SMS program, which will help strengthen the safety culture across the authority.

MBTA safety measures are reported on the calendar year rather than the fiscal year, which means all safety measures reported below reflect the state of the system prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mean miles between failures (system reliability), fatalities, injuries, and safety events are submitted to the National Transit Database (NTD) as required by the Transit Safety Plan. Derailments, collisions, reportable fire/smoke, and customer injuries are supplemental safety measures not required by the Transit Safety Plan.

Mean Miles Between Failures

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Mean Miles Between Failures (MMBF) measures the ability of transit vehicles to travel in service without being interrupted by mechanical failures. Higher values are better, indicating that vehicles travel longer distances between each failure on average. The measure varies across transit modes due to different operating characteristics and vehicle types. Heavy Rail vehicles travel farther between failures in part because vehicles start and stop less often, with stations that are farther apart, while Buses and Light Rail vehicles cross intersections and operate in mixed traffic. All modes except the RIDE saw slight decreases in MMBF in 2019 over 2018, indicating shorter distances traveled between mechanical failures.

Fatalities

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Fatalities are reported to the National Transit Database (NTD) and are defined as a death due to a collision, derailment, fire, hazardous material spill, act of God, personal security event, or other NTD-reportable safety event. Fatalities that occur due to an illness or other natural causes are not reportable. In accordance with FTA guidance, trespassing and suicide-related fatalities are also excluded from the fatality measure. Two fatalities occurred in 2019, one associated with heavy rail and one with bus, one more than in 2018.

MBTA fatality rates vary across transportation modes due to distinct operating environments and the inherent safety risk exposure associated with each. The MBTA is committed to reducing the number of fatalities across its system to zero. Every year, the MBTA partners with Operation Lifesaver, a national nonprofit dedicated to educating the public on the dangers of trespassing on railway properties, with the goal of reducing the number of collisions, fatalities, and injuries on or near railroad tracks. In addition, the MBTA partners with Samaritans, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing suicides. The MBTA continues to invest in proactive solutions to reduce the number of fatalities to zero.

Injuries

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Any harm to persons that requires immediate medical attention away from the scene because of a reportable event is considered a reportable injury. The MBTA reports to the National Transit Database (NTD) anytime a person is transported away from the scene for medical attention as an injury, whether or not the person appears to be injured. For the purpose of this performance measure, injuries resulting from assaults and other crimes have been excluded. More information on differences in reporting requirements for rail and bus modes can be found in the NTD Safety and Security Policy Manual.

In the 2019 calendar year (prior to the pandemic), 765 injuries occurred, a slight increase from 2018. MBTA safety committees (e.g. the Bus Accident Reduction Committee (BARC)) continually meet to identify trends and analyze data to support injury reduction. Through Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) initiatives in the workplace, the MBTA invests significant resources in employee health and safety. Additionally, as part of the Building a Better T capital investment program, the MBTA is investing $8 billion over the next 5 years to renovate stations and improve safety and service.  These projects include the Green Line Train Protection System, which will actively monitor train speeds to prevent train overspeed and reduce the risk of train-to-train collisions; intersection and grade crossing improvements across the Green Line B, C, and E branches to reduce pedestrian injuries; and core station cleaning and repair to reduce customer injuries.  The MBTA is also updating its bus and rail fleet, including new Orange and Red Line trains that will feature wider doors for improved boarding, more spacious interiors, additional handrails, and improved audio and visual communication to assist with emergency management.

Safety Events

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Safety events are defined in the National Transit Database (NTD) as involving one or more of the following: collisions, fires (suppression), derailments (mainline and yard) including non-revenue vehicles, hazardous material spills, acts of God, or other safety events. The MBTA saw 233 safety events in 2019, a slight decrease from 2018.

This measure captures safety events meeting NTD reporting thresholds occurring on MBTA right-of-way or infrastructure, at a revenue or maintenance facility or rail yard, during the performance of maintenance activities, or involving a transit revenue vehicle. The NTD reporting thresholds for safety events include fatalities, injuries requiring immediate medical attention away from the scene, derailments, substantial damage, and evacuation for life safety reasons. More information on safety events and threshold reporting requirements can be found in the NTD Safety and Security Policy Manual. Through proactive and reactive safety risk management (SRM), the MBTA strives to reduce the rate of safety events, which will support efforts to reduce fatalities and injuries, as well as damages to transit assets.

Mainline Revenue Derailments

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Vehicle derailments are defined as a non-collision event in which one or more wheels of a rail transit vehicle unintentionally leaves the rails. Mainline revenue derailments indicate that the train was accepting passengers when the derailment occurred. Revenue derailments have most frequently occurred as a result of human error. Common issues include improperly setting track switches, failing to ensure switches are properly aligned, and violating red track signals. The Green Line has historically been more susceptible to human error derailments as a result of the diverse travel environments within which Green Line trolleys operate, as well as the fact that several of the automated train and switch controls utilized on heavy rail have yet to be implemented on light rail. The Green Line Train Protection System (GLTPS) is currently in design, and when deployed will reduce the risk of red signal violations, train-to-train collisions, and over-speed derailments by limiting the speed at which the train may operate at specified locations and monitoring the track ahead for obstacles.

In 2019, four of the five subway mainline revenue derailments occurred on the Green Line. The only heavy rail mainline revenue derailment occurred in June 2019 at JFK/UMass and resulted in damage of the Red Line switch and signal system in the area. The cause of that derailment was determined to be an axle fracture on the incident train. Of the Green Line mainline revenue derailments, 75 percent were related to human error.

Non-Revenue Derailments

MBTA Safety investigates all derailment events, regardless of severity, including those occurring on mainline track or in yards. In non-revenue derailments, the train was either on mainline rail but not in revenue service at the time, or in the train yard or shop. Total mainline non-revenue derailments decreased in 2019 compared to 2018, while yard and shop derailments increased significantly.

Derailment Type Mode 2019 Derailments 2018 Derailments 2017 Derailments
Mainline Non-Revenue Heavy Rail 0 0 0
Mainline Non-Revenue Light Rail 1 3 1
Mainline Non-Revenue Commuter Rail 2 1 1
Yard/Shop Heavy Rail 6 2 3
Yard/Shop Light Rail 8 2 7
Yard/Shop Commuter Rail 8 4 3

Collisions

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For the purposes of tracking, a collision is defined as a vehicle accident in which there is an impact of a transit vehicle with another transit vehicle, a non-transit vehicle, a fixed object, a person, or an animal. The MBTA saw 2,144 collisions in 2019, a slight increase from 2018. Since collision events have significant potential for injury to customers and employees, as well as potential damage to MBTA vehicles and infrastructure, the MBTA closely examines collision data across transit modes. MBTA safety committees, including the Bus Accident Reduction Committee (BARC) continually meet to identify trends and analyze data to reduce collision frequency.

Reportable Fire/Smoke

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Reportable fire/smoke incidents are incidents involving visible flames or smoke that result in the use of fire suppression, a vehicle evacuation, or an injury resulting in immediate medical attention away from the scene. The MBTA saw 199 fire/smoke incidents in 2019, a decrease from 222 in 2018.

The MBTA has created a Task Force specifically to review fire incidents and existing programs to identify mitigations with the goal of reducing the probability of occurrence. The team has been working to address infrastructure and vehicle maintenance concerns, as well as trash, debris, and vegetation issues that all contribute to the frequency of fire and smoke incidents, particularly on the rail right-of-way.

Customer Injuries

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In addition to reviewing total injuries, the MBTA also tracks injuries specific to customers. This includes any harm to a customer on MBTA property or on an MBTA vehicle that requires immediate medical attention away from the scene. As with the injury performance target, customer injuries resulting from assaults and other crimes have been excluded. The MBTA saw 564 customer injuries in 2019, a slight increase from 2018. MBTA safety committees (e.g., Bus Accident Reduction Committee (BARC)) continually meet to identify trends and analyze data to support injury reduction.