Derailments, delays and near disasters have been the hallmark of the MBTA lately. Just this week, sparks and smoke shut down Green Line service for two hours, and another Green Line train — a new one — broke down at Copley.

A three-member independent panel this week released a scathing 66-page report concluding that – basically – the T is a hot mess. The panel found that budget cuts, mistrust of management and a lack of preventative maintenance inspections contributed to what it called the T's "questionable" approach to safety.

But when the report was discussed at Monday's Fiscal Management Control Board (FMCB) meeting, it was hard to tell whether the panel had concluded that the situation is fixable or hopeless. In a classic display of “good-cop bad-cop,” two of the panel's members traded comments alternately optimistic and pessimistic. While Panel Chairman Ray Lahood — former U.S. Transportation Secretary —sought to reassure the board that the T is safe, panel member Carmen Bianco — former head of the New York City Transit Authority — did not seem convinced.

The FMCB created the panel in June, shortly after a disastrous Red Line derailment, to figure out what was going on and to recommend changes. Carolyn Flowers, former administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, joined LaHood and Bianco on the panel.

LaHood expressed optimism that the MBTA could achieve its safety goals despite the findings of past inadequacies in safety procedures.

“You got leadership from the governor, you got leadership from this board, you got a competent staff,” he said.

Bianco didn’t entirely agree. He noted that the revolving door at the top of the MBTA has been a big problem in developing a sustained effort to improve safety.

"Think about this: In the last 10 years, there have been nine general managers. The longevity of a general manager is just about 13 months; hardly enough time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the organization,” he said.

Bianco added that one of the MTBA's biggest problems is that there aren’t enough employees.

“There's clearly an inadequate number of folks to handle the day-to-day operations, particularly preventative maintenance and inspections,” he said. And considering the advanced age of the T’s cars, tracks and signal and power systems, he said, inspection and maintenance are critical for safe operation.

And how safe can it be, Bianco asked, when — after talking to hundreds of MBTA employees — the panel found that employees fear reporting any problems?

"It came across really clearly to us that the culture is really one of blame and retaliation," Bianco told Control Board members. “[The employees] really feel that if they mention something, they're going to be held accountable for it."

But LaHood suggested that the T’s culture could be changed.

"You reward people for doing the right thing. When employees become rewarded and other employees see them rewarded for maybe even talking about a mistake they made, you change the culture,” LaHood said.

At the meeting, the T’s General Manager Stephen Poftak said he is already working to implement some of the panel's recommendations. He agreed that spending priorities must change, and that safety is essential.

“We’re on track to significantly increase capital spending, but that is not enough. It is clear from the report of this panel that we must make safety more of a priority for the MBTA,” Poftak said.

Next week, Poftak will propose that $10 million from the capital budget be devoted to hiring more safety personnel, and he said the MBTA will be unveiling a long-range safety plan in March that will also require more funding.

In the end, LaHood was upbeat, telling board members that they should be encouraged by the report's findings. But the question everyone is asking — whether or not the T is fixable — might be best summed up by LaHood's most memorable comment.

“The T is safe, but the T could be safer."