T derailment blamed on ‘series of contributing factors’

It’s beginning to look like the MBTA may never pinpoint the cause of a March 16 derailment of one of its new Orange Line trains. 

At a meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday, Deputy General Manager Jeffrey Gonneville indicated the T and the Chinese manufacturer of the trains disagree on the principal cause and that a “series of contributing factors” may ultimately be blamed for the derailment. 

The stakes are high in this derailment investigation because all of the T’s 252 Red and 152 Orange line vehicles are being replaced by CRRC Mass., the Chinese manufacturer. The relatively few new vehicles delivered to the T so far have been on hold ever since the derailment and it’s still unclear when they will return. 

The new Orange Line train was moving from one track to another at slow speed in a work zone near the Wellington train yard in Medford when it derailed. Initial concerns focused on aging infrastructure – a commonplace issue at the T – since the train made the move between tracks using a 46-year-old switch. 

The switch was replaced along with track in the area, but Gonneville on March 29 said it was unclear if the switch was the cause of the derailment. He declined to say whether 46 years exceeded the switch’s useful life, noting it would depend on how heavily it was used over the years. “Newer is better,” he conceded at the time. 

On May 10, Gonneville said he suspected the problem had to do with the vehicles themselves – specifically pads attached to the trucks which enable the vehicles to turn. He said testing indicated the pads were wearing down faster than expected. When that happens, he said, the pads tend to grip harder, increasing “rotational force” that makes it more difficult for the vehicle to turn. 

On Monday, Gonneville outlined a handful of other infrastructure issues that could have played a role. He said the switch, in addition to being old, lacked a guardrail that helps to keep a train on the track in tight turns. He also outlined two other issues with the track itself that could have been contributing factors. 

There was no “single point of failure” that caused the derailment, Gonneville said. 

“The MBTA right now does feel pretty strongly that the guardrail itself on the switch and the excessive rotational force were more than likely the key contributing forces that led to this incident,” he said. “But in full fairness, CRRC is of the opinion that really the infrastructure items that I’ve outlined here played a greater or more key role in influencing the derailment itself.”

Gonneville said the T and CRRC both agree that the rotational forces caused by pad wear exceeded design limits. He also said the T is shutting down a stretch of the Orange Line from June 26 through July 1 to replace several more switches – including one that is heavily used near the Wellington yard — that are in similar shape to the one where the derailment occurred. He said the new switches will all have guardrails.

BRUCE MOHL

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Janey fires White: After months of drama, acting Mayor Kim Janey followed through on her pledge to fire Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White. Here’s what you need to know.

— The acting mayor said White admitted “he hit and pushed members of his household.” She criticized him for vilifying his former wife, for playing the race card (White is Black), and for failing to fully cooperate with an investigation into past allegations of abuse.

— Janey said a national search will be launched for a new commissioner but no hiring decision will be made until the next mayor is elected in November. Interim commissioner Gregory Long will remain in place until then.

— Political fallout for Janey was minimal, as her mayoral rivals supported the decision. The cost to the city is unclear, as White indicated through his attorney that he would pursue civil rights claims against the city “to recover for his own losses” and to ensure the way White was treated doesn’t happen to anyone else. Read more.

Red to Blue: The MBTA estimated it would cost $850 million to build a subway connection between the Red and Blue lines and, assuming money can be found for the project, work could begin in 2025 and be completed by 2030. 

— The project offers a lot of convenience, allowing Red Line riders from Cambridge and Somerville easier access to Logan International Airport and Blue Line riders one-seat rides to Massachusetts General Hospital. 

— A new Blue Line station would be needed underground at Charles/MGH, with exits to the existing Red Line station there and to a proposed Mass General medical building along Cambridge Street.

— Construction could be messy. The plan calls for digging up Cambridge Street, putting in the subway tunnel, and then covering it up again. The $250 million cut-and-cover operation works out to $114,000 per foot. Read more.

T notes: The Fiscal and Management Control Board reaches a compromise on fares based on a rider’s income level, calling for the development of a pilot project to test the concept. The actual decision whether to proceed would be left to whatever board emerges to oversee the T after the current one expires at the end of this month. The board also passed a budget for the coming fiscal year and said a settlement for COVID-19 delays with the contractor working on the Green Line expansion is in the offing. Read more.

GOP backtracks: The Massachusetts Republican Party drops a plan to remove elected officials like Gov. Charlie Baker from the party’s executive committee. Party chief Jim Lyons was already facing heat for failing to remove Deborah Martell from the state committee after she made remarks critical of a gay Republican candidate for adopting a baby. Read more.

OPINION

Not in the constitution: James Rooney, the president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, says a new tax rate for people earning more than $1 million doesn’t belong in the state constitution. The Legislature is preparing to take a final vote on the constitutional amendment creating a millionaire’s tax this week before sending it along to voters for their approval next year. Read more.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Representatives propose a bill that would require public universities to provide medication abortions to their students, or refer students to abortion services that are not provided through school health centers. (State House News Service)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Acting Mayor Kim Janey signed off on a proposed change to Boston’s city charter that would give the City Council much more say in budget matters. The measure could end up before voters on the November ballot. (WGBH) 

A spate of fatal drownings hits the South Shore and the state. (Patriot Ledger)

Amherst considers a major restructuring of the town police department, relying more on community responders than armed police. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The FDA approved Cambridge-based Biogen’s drug aducanumab, which aims to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, a move that will be an enormous windfall for Biogen, but will further inflate US health care costs — all for a drug for which is there is not much evidence that it actually works. (New York Times

A new type of COVID-19 vaccine could be available soon. (NPR)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld says President Biden should “open an investigation” into what his labor secretary, Mary Walsh, knew and and when about past allegations of domestic abuse by Dennis White, his ill-fated pick to lead the Boston Police Department. (Boston Herald)  

ProPublic reports on how the wealthiest Americans avoid paying their fair share of taxes, but the report relies on a different definition of income than the IRS uses.

ELECTIONS

Secretary Bill Galvin suggests a plan to let municipalities draw precincts after the state draws its congressional districts and legislative districts – switching the current order – is a power grab by legislators. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Democratic Sen. Diana DiZoglio is running for state auditor. (Eagle-Tribune)

State Rep. Tammy Gouviea of Acton announces she’s running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. (Boston Globe

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Craft breweries are expecting to recover with a crowded summer. (Telegram & Gazette)

EDUCATION

Boston School Committee member Lorna Rivera resigned following the emergence of racially charged texts she sent to fellow committee member Alexandra Oliver-Dávila — including a comment that she is “sick of Westie whites,” a reference to West Roxbury white residents — during a meeting last fall to consider changes to the city’s exam school admission criteria. (Boston Globe) Oliver-Dávila, now the committee chair, also made disparaging comments about West Roxbury. The committee members apparently released the texts to Globe columnist Marcela García when they learned the texts were about to be leaked. “Rivera and Oliver-Dávila’s texts, while inappropriate and hurtful, reflected their own lived experience and prejudice,” Garcia wrote. “Rivera’s departure from the school board, where her goal had been to elevate the needs of marginalized groups at BPS, represents a big loss. That’s why Oliver-Dávila should stay.”

Enrollment continues to be high at area Catholic schools, which saw a spike in enrollment among parents seeking in-person education during the pandemic. (Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The SJC rules that the homeowner who rented out his home to someone who hosted a party where a man was shot is not liable for the death. (Salem News)

A State Police trooper is relieved of duty following his arrest for domestic assault. (MassLive)

PASSINGS

Former Lynn mayor Edward (Chip) Clancy, died at age 70. (Daily Item)