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Truck crashes into MBTA bridge, delays Franklin rail service

It was not the debut Keolis Commuter Services officials had hoped for: Early Tuesday, a commercial truck hauling thousands of pounds of seafood crashed into a Westwood railroad overpass, starting a fire and shuttering both directions of morning service on the Franklin commuter rail line for two hours.

Yet MBTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott took an optimistic tone at a Tuesday morning press conference on Keolis’s first day running the commuter rail system.

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“With the exception of the lobster truck,” Scott said, “everything has been going very, very smoothly.”

In South Station, Keolis employees wore purple vests with the company’s logo to alert passengers to the change in management. The new Twitter handle for commuter rail updates, @mbta_CR, buzzed all morning with alerts to Franklin Line passengers.

Thomas Mulligan, Keolis’s general manager, said he was satisfied that the company pulled off a smooth transition as it took the reins from the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. Now, he said, workers will turn to a pressing task: giving the interiors of all the trains an extra-intense cleaning.

“As we go on, hopefully [customers] will notice cleaner equipment — that’s going to be our main focus here, number one,” Mulligan said.

In recent weeks, Keolis officials have also outlined other plans in the works: a customer service app, redesigned signs, and proposals for a more efficient schedule.

Even though officials praised the smooth transition after the Tuesday morning commute, delays plagued two lines on the evening commute: Trains on the Providence/Stoughton line departed late because of issues with Amtrak’s track circuit, while trains on the Framingham line were forced to proceed behind schedule because of heat-related speed restrictions.

And the morning commute was anything but smooth for many riders traveling from towns southwest of Boston. The seafood truck collision and subsequent fire affected thousands of passengers, who were shuttled between Norwood Depot and the Dedham Corporate Center stops on MBTA buses.

“It was a challenge on our very first day, but we made it through,’’ Keolis spokesman Mac Daniel said.

Bernard Tabary, Keolis’s chief executive for international operations, said the company was ready to handle Tuesday morning’s crash because of an emergency preparedness drill that had been conducted days before.

“Through that drill, we observed a few things that needed to be improved,” Tabary said.

Tuesday’s crash also highlighted the significance of a clause in the T’s contract with Keolis — one that did not exist in the agreement with the previous commuter rail operator.

Under the old contract, Scott said, many events outside of the operator’s control — events such as weather-related delays, overcrowded platforms, or signal problems on tracks owned by outside entities — would automatically be considered “exemptions” and would not trigger financial penalties to the operator for late train arrivals.

Under the current contract, Scott said, none of those outside events qualifies as an automatic exemption.

Even for delays resulting from cases like Tuesday’s wayward lobster truck, Keolis officials would need to request a waiver from the T and convince the agency that the company should not be penalized for inconveniencing passengers.

Keolis will not have to worry about a fine for Tuesday’s crash because there is a 90-day grace period before the financial penalties kick in.

Once that grace period is over, the fines for a delayed train run from $250 to $5,000 per train, based on how late it was. The contract allows the T to levy as much as $12 million in penalties annually.

According to Daniel and Westwood police, the truck hauling seafood — including an estimated $100,000 of lobster — was too tall for the East Street rail bridge in Westwood. The bridge is marked “low clearance” in yellow letters, and has a yellow line of paint along the bottom of the bridge.

Westwood police said the truck was 13 feet tall, and the bridge clearance was 10 feet 6 inches. Scott said that T officials would take a look at whether further signs or warning lights on the bridge are needed to prevent crashes.

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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