Near-Accidents Spur MBTA Bulletin On Door Protocols For Subway Trains

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By Chris Lisinski
State House News Service

The most recent stretch of Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority safety problems involved passengers and bags getting stuck in train doors and another “near miss” on the Green Line, officials said Thursday.

On Monday, January  1, a passenger’s leg became caught in a closing Green Line door at the Medford/Tufts station, according to a presentation MBTA chief safety officer Tim Lesniak gave to the agency’s board. The door did not automatically open back up because the operator had shut down the train to change its direction, Lesniak said.

“While this situation is concerning, due to the design of the car, once either control stand was brought back live, the sensitive edge on the door would note the obstruction and reopen,” he said.

Lesniak also described three incidents involving Red Line doors in December 2023. In two cases, passengers’ bags became trapped outside the vehicles while the riders themselves were inside holding the straps, he said. The other incident involved a contractor whose hand got caught in the closing door of a train preparing to depart.

“Here, the individual’s hand was at such an angle that the sensitive edges on the doors would not recognize it as an obstruction. However, because of that angle that their hand was at in relation to the door, they were able to slip their hand out easily,” he said.

Lesniak said the MBTA had about as many “door incidents” in 2023 as it did in 2022, and about half as many as the annual average before the COVID-19 pandemic, when the MBTA had higher ridership.

He distinguished the recent incidents from the April 2022 death of Robinson Lalin, 39, who was fatally dragged after his right arm got caught in a closing Red Line door. Federal investigators found that a short circuit on the train prevented a failsafe from triggering, which allowed the vehicle to begin moving with Lalin trapped in the door.

“Here, there were no mechanical defects observed in any of these incidents, and at no time was the individual at risk of getting dragged,” Lesniak said Thursday, January 25 about the December 2023 and January 2024 problem. “The doors were functioning as designed.”

In response, Lesniak said, the T issued a bulletin to subway operators to refresh them about door protocols and broadcast in-station safety reminders announcements to passengers, and he said the T will install additional signage.

Lesniak also told the agency’s board about the latest “near miss” on the subway that occurred on the Green Line on Monday, January 8.

Dispatchers in the operations control center granted workers access onto the train right-of-way along a part of the Green Line Extension to turn off switch heaters. Trains were supposed to be stopped during that time, but one vehicle departed from the Medford/Tufts station, Lesniak said.

No one was injured in the incident. Lesniak said a preliminary investigation determined that the dispatcher made no mistakes, but that a route select switch at Medford displayed a “green signal” to the train.

Moving forward, the operations control center will take control of route select switches so that green signals cannot be mistakenly displayed while workers are in the right-of-way, Lesniak said.

string of near-miss incidents at the T have drawn the scrutiny of federal investigators, who have pointedly demanded the MBTA make immediate changes to protect workers from risks of being struck by trains.

On Friday, January 5 — three days before the most recent incident — the Federal Transit Administration notified the MBTA it was formally closing an immediate action letter it issued on April 18, 2023, writing that T officials completed the actions ordered last spring.


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