I-Team: Railroad safety expert questions MBTA inspection process after Orange Line fire

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BOSTON – SkyEye captured MBTA crews around the charred Orange Line car sitting on the tracks over the Mystic River. Earlier, terrified passengers broke windows and jumped out to escape the train after it caught fire. 

Carl Berkowitz is a railroad safety expert. “These people were panicking,” Berkowitz told the I-Team. “Obviously they were not given any information and the car where this occurred is where the train operator is located, the train driver, and he should have been immediately in control of this situation and calming the people. This shouldn’t have happened.”

Berkowitz says the fire shouldn’t have happened either. The MBTA’s preliminary investigation shows a metal cover on the bottom of the car got loose and hit the third rail igniting material under the train. 

Orange Line train fire
MBTA workers examine an Orange Line train that caught fire over the Mystic River

CBS Boston

The T says that car and the metal panel were inspected last month. Berkowitz says that raises a lot of questions about the inspection process.

“You have a vehicle that’s 42 years old, how are they inspecting it? One would like to look at method of inspection,” Berkowitz said. “Something like that just doesn’t just dislodge after one month.  It’s not rocket science, you check everything. Bolts get loose, rivets get loose and these things are easily detectible.”

The MBTA is plagued with issues involving maintenance and training that Berkowitz says are preventable, putting the failure squarely on management and supervision.  Berkowitz tells the I-Team safety has to be part of the culture and that starts at the top.

When asked if the MBTA is doing enough to maintain the safety of the system, he said, “I think they are trying hard, but I don’t think they are not getting there.”  

The MBTA says in the wake of this incident it is looking at training and protocols.  

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