BOSTON (WHDH) - No matter what color the line, the MBTA’s safety issues date back decades.
After a ceiling panel fell at the Harvard station in Cambridge earlier this month, and as MBTA riders voice frustrations over sudden new delays this week, though, one transit advocate has pointed to prior investments in the T, saying the agency needs to get back to such levels of investment as part of efforts to make improvements.
“The stakes are high,” Jarred Johnson of TransitMatters told 7NEWS this week. “I think we need a sense from Beacon Hill both from the corner office and the legislature that the T is in crisis.”
The T’s issues can be deadly. Last April, a 39-year-old man was killed when his arm got stuck in the door of a train departing Broadway station on the Red Line.
In its preliminary report weeks after the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board said a fault in a door control system was to blame.
Just under a year later, the man’s family is now suing the MBTA in connection with the incident, claiming the train operator was negligent and careless, and saying the operator didn’t make sure the doors were clear before pulling away from the platform.
In July, an Orange Line train caught fire on a bridge over the Mystic River, forcing passengers to flee. Though no one was injured, one rider jumped into the water.
A year earlier, in July of 2021, riders on the Green Line weren’t so lucky when 27 people suffered reported injuries after a speeding train rear ended another trolley.
The T fired the operator involved, though a jury later found him not guilty of negligence. The National Transportation Safety Board separately found the T could have prevented the accident if equipment had been installed to automatically slow down speeding trains.
Last summer, several runaway trains prompted the Federal Transit Administration to order the MBTA to require workers to attend safety briefings.
Before that, in 2019, a broken axle caused a train to derail at the JFK/UMass station, destroying some of the MBTA’s signaling system infrastructure.
Last year, the MBTA instituted its 30-day shutdown of the Orange Line, forcing riders to take shuttle buses to make way for repairs. When service was restored in September, riders were slower than they were before the fix.
The transit administration is now requiring the T to come up with more than three dozen corrective action plans. A dashboard maintained by the T shows the agency is 36% complete with those directives.
In the meantime, just over a week ago, a woman was nearly seriously injured when the ceiling panel fell at the Harvard station.
Johnson said the ceiling was installed in the 1970s when, he said, the T was doing well and keeping up with maintenance under the administration of Gov. Michael Dukakis.
“It’s ironic,” Johnson said. “I think the issue with the station panel falling is really sort of a metaphor for what happens when we rest on our laurels and we are really just leaning on investments from the 70s and 80s.”
“It’s time to have that level of investment again,” Johnson said.
Johnson said another major issue at play is accountability. He said he hopes to see fresh faces on the MBTA Board of Directors. At the same time, Johnson said he’s not frustrated about the time it is taking for Gov. Maura Healey to name a new permeant MBTA general manager after the departure of former general manager Steve Poftak earlier this year.
“I’m less concerned about that,” he said. “I don’t think we should be waiting to get a new GM to start making some of these changes.”
Johnson also said he appreciates the T’s openness about its latest issues this week.
“Considering the last administration, I think its actually it’s a good thing that the general manager was transparent about the slowdown and the causes of it,” he said. “I hope we do see more of that.”
Healey discussed the T’s latest round of problems on Friday, calling conditions “unacceptable.”
“I have been really clear that our focus is on safety and reliability,” she said. “We’ve made that a top priority and we’re going to continue to make that a top priority.”
Healey also said announcements about a new general manager may be coming in a matter of days.
“Obviously, that’s a really important position, but we’ll announce that when we’re ready,” she said.
New speed restrictions announced on Thursday night across the Red, Orange, Green and Blue lines had largely been lifted as of Friday morning, according to T officials.
Trains were still inching along tracks in many spots though, and new restrictions still remained in place on both the Green Line and the Mattapan section of the Red Line as officials have said necessary inspections may take until Monday.
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