Things that go bump in the night
When it comes to the MBTA and commuter rail, transparency, apparently, is a subjective term.
The transit agency and its commuter rail operator Keolis are dealing with the fallout from an unreported accident at South Station earlier this month. Not only did the crew of the commuter train that struck a bunter at the terminal fail to inform officials of the early morning incident on November 4, the train, which incurred damage, was then sent out for its regular run on the Worcester line. The engineer on the run heard a “rattling” and when he stopped the train, found the damage, which resulted in hundreds of commuters being stuck on their ride to Boston.
First word of the accident came at the Fiscal and Management Control Board earlier this week when Ronald Nickle, chief safety officer for the MBTA, included it as part of an overall safety report. Nickle said the incident could have turned out much worse, likening it to a fatal accident in Hoboken, New Jersey, in September that killed one person and injured 100 others.
But Nickle, while downplaying the extent of the accident, did not inform the board the train was immediately put back in service and encountered problems. That will not sit well with the board, which has promised transparency in its efforts to fix the beleaguered system.
“I think we need to come up with some systematic way of reporting major safety incidents so the board has a clear understanding of what happened and what corrective action was taken in all cases,” he told the Boston Globe.
Neither the T nor Keolis has been forthcoming about the accident, with information coming out in dribs and drabs. An MBTA spokesman told the Globe the agency “expressed its concern about this incident in no uncertain terms, and (Keolis) has made it clear that it is treating this situation with the level of seriousness it deserves.” But he didn’t address why nothing was said to the board or the public about the train being put back into service.
A spokeswoman for Keolis had told media outlets following Nickle’s report that the company placed the crew on leave while it investigated the accident. She did not tell anyone the train was turned around until the Globe learned of it and went back to her.
“While the incident remains under investigation, we do not believe passengers were in danger,” she said.
Keolis isn’t covering itself in glory, with a rough first two years of operations swamped with late trains, canceled service, employee misdeed, and constant changes of schedules. The T came under fire earlier this year when it agreed to give the French company an additional $66 million over its original $2.6 billion contract. Seems the company, according to fiscal board member Brian Lang, hinted it would walk away from the contract if it did not receive the additional funding.
Keolis’s close-to-the-vest approach on information is in clear contrast to the fiscal management board’s desire for transparency. There is also a movement afoot in the Legislature for the MBTA to reopen its contract with the company. As winter approaches, and with it an opening for renewed problems with the service and aging equipment, something’s got to give.
The Framingham Charter Commission has completed its first draft of a home-rule petition to change the town’s form of government to a city with an 11-member city council and a strong mayor. (MetroWest Daily News)
Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. says the police force will not enforce federal immigration laws. (Telegram & Gazette)
Springfield’s Park Commission seeks a review of the finances of Spirit of Springfield, a group that rents a city park at a discounted rate for a holiday display. The group is reporting a revenue surplus and paying one of its leaders a six-figure salary. (MassLive)
The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled against the Woodward School for Girls in Quincy in its suit trying to break a 50-year lease with the Quincy Historical Society. The society pays $100 a month to the school to rent a building the school owns through a trust set up by John Adams. (Patriot Ledger)
The Pittsfield City Council votes 11-3 to approve a 4.3 percent hike in property tax bills. (Berkshire Eagle)
Easton officials have concluded the former town clerk who was fired last week lied when he said he had submitted ordinances and bylaws passed by the town to the attorney general’s office for approval as required by law. The clerk’s failure to pass along the ordinances and bylaws may potentially invalidate more than 70 actions. (The Enterprise)
Foreign leaders are cold-calling the switchboard at Trump Tower trying to get through to Donald Trump, a departure from protocol with conversations that take place without the president-elect being properly briefed. (New York Times) The report by the Times that the transition is “in disarray,” naturally, prompted Trump to take to Twitter to rip the “failing” newspaper.
Mary Jo White will step down as head of the Securities Exchange Commission in January, two years before her term expires, to give Trump the chance to appoint his own person. (U.S. News & World Report)
Eliot Cohen, a self-described never-Trumper who nevertheless urged conservatives to take posts in the new administration if asked, changed his mind after learning more about what’s going on inside the transition team. (Washington Post)
House Democrats delayed their vote for caucus leader amid growing sentiment — including from Rep. Seth Moulton — that it may be time to replace Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. (Boston Globe)
When it comes to federal posts under a new Trump administration, happy days are not likely to be here again for Massachusetts Republicans, who largely shunned the bilious billionaire. (Boston Herald) Howie Carr offers his own humorous take on the few in Massachusetts who are likely to enjoy some of the Trump victory spoils. (Boston Herald)
Bill Weld says he was no spoiler. (Boston Herald)
Newton Mayor Setti Warren hired former state Democratic Party chairman John Walsh as an advisor, the clearest sign yet that Warren is gearing up for a 2018 run for governor. (Politico)
The head of the Billerica Democratic Town Committee resigns after the group split on supporting the Dem running for state rep. (Lowell Sun)
Twitter suspends accounts of alt-right officials and organizations. (USA Today)
Don’t expect a sprawling retail marijuana industry to sprout up overnight in Massachusetts. (Boston Globe) Shirley Leung proposes five fixes to what she says is one of the worst pot laws in the country, including banning a provision that allows people to grow their own. (Boston Globe)
Cape fishermen are pushing regulators to create a 50-mile buffer zone for trawlers that drag close to shore for herring and mackerel. The fishermen say the boats deplete the stock of the forage fish necessary for cod, tuna, whales, and other species in the marine food chain. (Cape Cod Times)
Labatt brewery, one of Canada’s two largest beer-makers and now owned by Anheuser-Busch, is eliminating the lifetime perk of free beer for retirees. (New York Times)
Tracy Pitcher of Comcast and Marcy Reed of National Grid analyze how to build a capable workforce. (CommonWealth)
Because of a wave of retirements, the US Postal Service has 500 openings in Massachusetts for letter carriers and clerks. (Boston Globe) (Special CommonWealth bonus: the Globe story features a front-page photo of always-upbeat Rich Newayno, whose steady service includes the home of one your Download correspondents.)
Tests at 300 Massachusetts schools show that drinking fountains at more than half of them contain lead above what are considered safe levels. (Boston Globe)
A developer has unveiled plans for a mixed-use residential and retail building and parking garage at the North Quincy MBTA station in a deal that could bring $230 million to the cash-strapped transit authority. (Patriot Ledger)
Civil rights lawyers are asking for an investigation of what they say are the disproportionate cancellations on the Fairmount commuter rail line, which serves heavily minority neighborhoods in Boston. (Boston Globe)
Shades of 1972: The Environmental League of Massachusetts is releasing a new version of the old “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts” bumper sticker following the election of Donald Trump. (State House News Service)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a report citing Pilgrim nuclear power plant with four more safety violations just two weeks before a team of 20 scientists is set to arrive for a comprehensive inspection of the Plymouth facility. (Cape Cod Times)
With renewable energy, the intermittency of the power supply is a big problem that’s yet to be solved, argues Ed Krapels, who is pushing for wind power backed up by hydroelectricity. (CommonWealth)
Elizabeth Dowey takes issue with Ian Bowles’s suggestion that more natural gas pipeline capacity is needed in New England. She calls pipelines “obsolete technology.” (CommonWealth)
The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments today on whether all 24,000 cases involving the Annie Dookhan drug lab scandal should be dismissed. (Boston Herald)
The Globe says a federal grand jury has begun looking into a scheme involving potentially illegal political donations by Boston-based Thornton Law Firm.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno says the City Council does not have the authority to revive a police commission to oversee disciplinary matters. (Masslive)MEDIA
Keller@Large nominates Mark Zuckerberg for the Irresponsible Greedhead Hall of Fame for denying Facebook’s allowing fake news sites to proliferate on its platform had anything to do with the outcome of the election. Dan Kennedy says the social media site “weaponized” bogus news sites. (WGBH)