25 Investigates: Latest T incident is a “colossal failure,” says Gov. Baker

Thursday morning’s fire on the Orange Line train is the latest in a string of safety incidents that have plagued the MBTA over the last year, including derailments, collisions and a death.

Throughout it all, Governor Charlie Baker has remained a staunch supporter of the T, often highlighting successes like the system’s on-time performance and infrastructure upgrades.

But even for the Governor this latest incident is a “colossal failure.” 25 Investigates caught up with Baker at an event in Lawrence. He told investigative reporter Ted Daniel he’s not happy about the fire, which comes as the T awaits recommendations from a rare inspection by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

“The reason the FTA is so important is because they know a lot more than we know in the Commonwealth about how to quote, unquote run a railroad,” said Baker, adding that the FTA’s report will help plot a safer path forward. The full report is due next month.

Thursday’s fire comes just days after the T’s general manager, Steve Poftak, told lawmakers that the system is safe. Poftak was grilled by a legislative committee about the T’s recent safety failures and its transparency with the riding public.

[MBTA and MassDOT questioned about T safety on Beacon Hill]

“We understand we needed to change the culture in this organization and we have taken a number of steps to do it,” he said on Monday.  “I think we have become more transparent.”

But as 25 Investigates found, following Thursday’s incident, there was not mention of the Orange Line fire on the T’s twitter feed. Instead, riders were told to expect delays of up to 15 minutes because of a “mechanical problem.” 

“They’re just continually trying to brush away these problems and it’s getting worse and worse,” said Senator Eric Lesser, a member of the Joint Committee on Transportation. He believes the T has been well-funded in recent times with billions already spent for improvements.

Lesser added that lawmakers are currently finalizing another $300 million for safety improvements.

“This is a management issue and a communication issue. Most importantly, a culture issue at the T, which really needs to be reformed,” he said.

25 Investigates contacted the FTA for comment on Thursday’s incident. A spokesperson said the “FTA’s safety staff is monitoring today’s incident with the DPU [Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities] – MBTA’s state safety oversight agency – and will consider it in the context of the final report.”

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