MBTA Safety

In July 2020, in accordance with FTA final rule 49 CFR 673, the MBTA published a revised Transit Safety Plan which utilizes Safety Management Systems (SMS) principals to ensure the safety of customers, employees, contractors, and the public. The plan, which is reviewed and updated annually, 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. Since the plan’s publication, the MBTA has continued to implement SMS across the authority, through the development of dedicated SMS training, Safety Risk Management tools, and improvements to Employee Reporting resources and hazard tracking. These improvements continue to strengthen the MBTA’s hazard identification and reporting, strengthening the safety culture across the authority.

MBTA safety measures are reported on the calendar year rather than the fiscal year. Mean miles between failures, fatalities, and injuries are submitted to the National Transit Database (NTD) along with safety events, as required by the Transit Safety Plan.

Mean Miles Between Failures

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 increases in MMBF in 2020 over 2019, indicating longer distances traveled between mechanical failures.

Fatalities

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 2020; both were associated with bus.

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

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 2020 calendar year, 421 injuries occurred, a sizeable decrease from 765 in 2019 perhaps due in part to lower ridership. MBTA safety committees (e.g. the Bus Accident Reduction Committee (BARC) and the Safety Management Working Group (SWMG)) 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. Additionally, track replacement work on all rail lines continues to allow for removal of existing track speed restrictions, resulting in smoother rides for customers. The MBTA is also in the process of updating its bus and rail fleet, including new Orange and Red Line trains that feature wider doors for improved boarding, more spacious interiors, additional handrails, and improved audio and visual communication to assist with emergency management.

Derailments

Mainline Revenue Derailments

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) has four overlapping phases prior to final implementation and is currently primarily focused on the Equipment Design and Validation Phase. The other three phases include Vehicle Installation, Wayside Installation, and Operational Integration, and are scheduled for completion in 2024. When deployed, the system 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.

Two mainline revenue derailments occurred in 2020, a significant reduction from the eight in 2019. One derailment occurred on the Green Line and was related to human error, while the other occurred on commuter rail and was caused by adverse weather.

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 increased in 2020 compared to 2019, while yard and shop derailments decreased.

Derailment Type Mode 2020 Derailments 2019 Derailments 2018 Derailments
Mainline Non-Revenue Heavy Rail 0 0 0
Mainline Non-Revenue Light Rail 4 1 3
Mainline Non-Revenue Commuter Rail 1 2 1
Yard/Shop Heavy Rail 5 6 2
Yard/Shop Light Rail 2 8 2
Yard/Shop Commuter Rail 8 8 4