MBTA withdraws all new Orange Line cars after ‘battery failure’; says another escalator reversed direction with passengers on it

Responding to questions from the Globe on Tuesday, Battiston said that on Sunday at Chinatown station an “escalator failed and reversed direction from top to bottom” with about 10 passengers. She said there were no injuries.

Amidst the litany of misfortunes, Senate Speaker Karen E. Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano increased pressure on the MBTA on Tuesday and announced that the Legislature’s transportation committee will hold a hearing “in the coming weeks” to better understand the what federal transit officials described last week as a dysfunctional problem. agency.

The announcement was a direct rebuke to Governor Charlie Baker, who legislative leaders said had asked for and received control of the MBTA more than seven years ago. Lawmakers also simultaneously moved on Tuesday to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars more for the system to address what they called “ongoing safety concerns” raised by the Federal Transit Administration’s inspection of T.

Last week, the FTA said it found dispatchers working 20 hours a day, employees with lapsed safety certifications, runaway trains injuring workers and no immediate plans to fix sections of track in disrepair. In response, the MBTA said that, as of Monday, it was operating fewer trains on three subway lines – effectively using a weekday weekend schedule – because it did not have enough dispatchers to safely equip its operations center. .

“The FTA findings and subsequent MBTA service cuts do not inspire any public confidence in our transit system,” Mariano and Spilka said in a joint statement, noting that after the record winter of 2015, the Legislature granted Baker authority about the agency.

Baker appoints the T’s board of directors, and his administration’s Department of Public Services is responsible for directly overseeing security at the MBTA.

“Since then, it has been the government’s responsibility to track maintenance and manage an efficient system that customers can trust,” said legislative leaders. “Given the FTA’s interim conclusions and alarming guidelines, there is a growing need to better understand the agency’s shortcomings and help restore public confidence.”

Spilka, speaking to reporters Tuesday morning at an unrelated event, said he has not yet spoken with Baker about plans for an oversight hearing.

“The governor is in charge of the T,” Spilka said after delivering a speech at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “He asked to be in charge in 2015. We gave it to him. It has all the tools there, I hope, to know what is being funded and what is not being funded.”

A spokeswoman for Baker said she supports the T’s decision to reduce service to deal with the FTA findings, as well as its plan to offer a $10,000 bonus to recruit more dispatchers. But Baker’s aides did not directly address criticism from lawmakers, noting that her government has devoted billions of dollars to funding new lanes, cars and signs “to offset decades of delayed maintenance by the state government.”

“The government shares the Legislature’s goal of making the T as safe as possible,” said Anisha Chakrabarti, a spokeswoman for Baker.

As the FTA continues to investigate safety on the T with final results expected in August, problems persist. The removal of all new Orange Line cars on Monday is the second time the agency has pulled them from the tracks in the past six weeks due to safety concerns. The agency is also keeping its new Red Line cars out of service as it works to determine the cause of the battery failure.

“Initial reports indicate that the battery failed, which dislodged the battery cover from an external lower compartment of the vehicle,” Battiston said by email. “The damage to the battery and to that external part of the train where the battery is located is significant enough to justify the decision to withdraw” the new cars from service.

In May, the MBTA discovered that the bolts on some of the new car’s brake systems had been installed incorrectly. At the time, the MBTA said it had 64 new Orange cars and six new Red Line cars in service; the trains consist of six cars.

The MBTA is still awaiting delivery of hundreds of new Orange and Red Line railcars from a Chinese company first contracted in 2014, which are expected to replace older railcars, such as the one involved in the April death of a Red Line passenger who was dragged away. to death when his arm got stuck in the door of a train.

The new cars, with their sleek, clean interiors and helpful digital navigation screens, were highly anticipated as the T continues to use cars that are over 50 years old.

And Sunday’s escalator rollback followed a similar escalator malfunction at Back Bay station in September that injured nine people. This escalator is also out of order.

Video shows MBTA escalator retreating at high speed
In September, an escalator at the Back Bay station turned backwards at high speed. (Images courtesy of MBTA)

The Legislature rarely called state transportation officials ahead of them for oversight hearings.

But legislative leaders have come under pressure to more aggressively address the T’s shortcomings.

Asked on Tuesday whether the legislature has shied away from its own responsibility to properly fund and oversee the MBTA, Spilka said he is the governor responsible for knowing the agency’s needs and noted that the agency has transferred money allocated to day-to-day operations. -day for longer periods. term, capital expenditure.

“The provisional findings and subsequent recommendations were quite forceful in their report. Much worse than I think most of us expected,” Spilka said of the FTA findings. “I think we, in the Legislature, need to understand what is happening.

“We provided all the funding that was asked of us by management and T. Clearly, the [side] that’s where the shortcomings are,” she said. “They need more employees, they need more people operating the trains, the buses. Do they need more money? There was no request for further funding.”

Still, House leaders have signaled that they intend to pump more money into the T. The House on Tuesday released its version of a $10.4 billion loan bill that includes $400 million to address public safety concerns. raised by the TLC’s “interim and final findings”.

The language also requires the T to work with the DPU and the Department of Transport to identify which projects are funded with the money.

Senator Brendan P. Crighton, chairman of the House Joint Committee on Transportation, said he expects a hearing to take place by the end of July – when the legislature’s formal session ends – but hopefully “long before then.”

The problems on the T have been piling up for months. It was beset by a series of incidents, including accidents, breakdowns and the death of Robinson Lalin in April, who ran alongside a Red Line train with his right arm trapped between closed doors before losing his balance and being dragged to his death. . This culminated in an almost unprecedented FTA intervention earlier this year.

This week’s reduction in service, which came with just three days’ notice, was also a symptom of a more systemic illness, the Globe reported: Including in the operations control center, remain vacant.

Taylor Dolven can be reached at taylor.dolven@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @taydolven. Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout. Samantha J. Gross can be contacted at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.

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