Top operating officer to retire, T confirms
The MBTA confirmed yesterday that its chief operating officer, Richard J. Leary, has submitted his retirement papers effective next month.
But the transit agency still could not account for Leary’s absence from a long-scheduled board of directors meeting Thursday at which he had been ordered to address a damning federal safety report.
Board members expressed frustration that Leary failed to deliver the crucial presentation without explaining his absence.
They voted in September to require him to detail the T’s response to a National Transportation Safety Board report that followed a fatal May 2008 crash on the Green Line, the first of two serious rear-end crashes on the line within a year. One member of the NTSB panel complained in July of a “lack of safety culture at the T,’’ a comment that put added pressure on former General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas before he was bought out of his contract in August amid acrimony.
Interim General Manager William A. Mitchell Jr. said he spoke with Leary Thursday night, following the final meeting of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Leary told Mitchell he was retiring, but did not explain why he skipped the board meeting, Mitchell said.
“I didn’t get into the excuse,’’ Mitchell said. “I just got into the fact that he was sorry there was a communication mix-up. I think I’m going to deal with that personally with him.’’
Mitchell said he did not know before the meeting that Leary was not attending and was disappointed.
Leary did not return several messages left by a reporter at his office and on his cellphone over the past two days. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo confirmed that Leary was not at work yesterday. He said Leary was taking a personal day.
Leary had been out of town until Wednesday for a national transportation convention, but was back in Boston by Thursday, in time for the meeting, Pesaturo said.
The Thursday meeting was the MBTA board’s last; it has been dissolved as part of a historic reorganization of the state’s transportation system. It will be replaced by a megaboard overseeing highway and mass transit throughout the state.
“Everybody should take care of their responsibilities until they are no longer in their official capacity,’’ said Darnell L. Williams, an MBTA board member who also leads the local chapter of the Urban League.
The NTSB blamed the 2008 Green Line crash on operator error, but said the crash could have been prevented if the Green Line had an automated system employed on other lines and in other parts of the country that is designed to prevent train cars from coming too close to one another.
“To this date, no one knows exactly what the management response was to those safety concerns,’’ Williams said.
The MBTA is in the process of hiring a consultant to design an automated system for the Green Line, but some managers have argued that automation on that line would not work because trains need to come close to each other to carry more passengers through congested downtown stations.
“I think lots of people would have liked to have heard the T’s side of that story,’’ said Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board.
Mitchell said the new transportation oversight board, whose members have not been named, will deal with the issue after they convene in November.
Noah Bierman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.