25 Investigates: Emails reveal trail of meetings, safety concerns ahead of Orange Line shutdown

BOSTON — 25 Investigates is uncovering new details tonight on what was happening behind the scenes before the Orange Line shutdown.

Anchor and Investigative Reporter Kerry Kavanaugh obtained emails between the leaders of the MBTA and federal transit officials in the days leading up to the historic August announcement.

Kavanaugh worked to get it since August. She even had to appeal her public records request to the MBTA to the Secretary of States Office for a response. The MBTA responded on November 9th, nearly three months after Kavanaugh submitted the initial records request.

Kavanaugh requested emails between the MBTA and the Federal Transit Authority -or FTA- between July 1st and August 18th, the day the orange line shutdown began.

25 Investigates found a trail of meetings, swirling safety concerns, and action plans that all came to a head during the last two weeks of July.

On July 19th, an email reveals a pre-scheduled meeting between the MBTA and FTA for its ongoing safety management inspection. That inspection began after a series of safety-related incidents, including the death of a man who was killed after being dragged by a Red Line train in April.

Two days after that safety check-in meeting, a fire on an Orange Line train forced people out of windows. One window jumped into the Mystic River to safety.

Four days after that, a runaway train at Braintree Station, the third runaway redline train since May, according to federal authorities. An email reveals the feds called for an immediate meeting to examine what just happened on the Red Line.

Then, on July 27th, we found the FTA asks MBTA officials to attend yet another impromptu meeting. This one addresses the status and condition of the Orange Line and the t’s plans to prevent future safety issues.

The following week, the t would make the historic announcement of the 30-day Orange Line shutdown.

But before that would even begin, the FTA sent the MBTA a letter. On July 28th, the feds ordered the MBTA to implement an immediate ‘safety standdown,’ so that all workers who operate disabled rail transit vehicles could attend a safety briefing. That standdown happened immediately that weekend.

The very next day, July 29th the FTA sent another letter rejecting some of the MBTA’s corrective actions stemming from the ongoing safety inspection.

The feds ask the MBTA to adequately staff the operational control center to meet the operational needs of the system and address major challenges in recruiting and training new rail transit dispatchers. Along those lines, the feds wanted to know why the MBTA was staffing only one dispatcher to the orange/blue line during all shifts.

The MBTA has identified dozens of action items they’ve been taking to address safety issues around equipment, staffing, and training, according to the emails.

The feds have had to approve of those each step of the way.

In their response to 25 Investigates, the MBTA said it withheld records relating to MBTA corrective action plans that have not been accepted and approved by the FTA, as they are exempt under Massachusetts state law.

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