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MBTA says human error is focus of probe into train crash that killed Wilmington woman

Contractor failed to return safety system to its operating mode, transit officials say

State transit officials said a contractor performing maintenance at a Wilmington railroad crossing failed to return a safety system to its normal operating mode Friday, resulting in a crossing gate not coming down just before a commuter train struck and killed a woman in her car.

A statement Saturday night from Steve Poftak, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, said “human error” is the primary focus of an ongoing investigation into the crash by MBTA Transit Police, State Police, and the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office.

Roberta Sausville, 68, of Wilmington, was driving eastbound on Middlesex Avenue when the driver’s side of her vehicle was struck by an Inbound Haverhill Line train near the North Wilmington MBTA Station at about 5:51 p.m., the district attorney’s office said in a statement.

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Sausville was pronounced dead at the scene.

An employee known as a signal maintainer from Keolis Commuter Services, which has a contract with the MBTA to operate the railroad, was performing regularly scheduled testing and preventative maintenance shortly before the crash, Poftak’s statement said.

“Following the testing, our preliminary finding is that the safety system was not returned to its normal operating mode,” it said. “This failure resulted in the crossing gates not coming down in a timely manner as the train approached Middlesex Avenue. Investigators have not found any defects nor any other problems with the various elements that comprise the infrastructure of the railroad crossing system.”

Poftak offered the MBTA’s “deepest sympathies to Ms. Sausville’s family and friends in this difficult period of shock and sadness.”

There will be a final report on the cause of the accident when the investigation is completed, the statement said. It said the MBTA and Keolis will detail measures to avoid it happening again.

Sausville was the lone occupant in the vehicle at the time of the crash, the statement said.

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There were 54 passengers on the train at the time of the crash, though no one on board was injured, the Globe reported. All of the passengers were transferred to buses to continue their trips into Boston.

The Wilmington Board of Selectmen offered its condolences to Sausville’s friends and family in a statement Saturday that also raised questions about the rail crossing.

“The Board will be demanding answers from the MBTA as to why safety features at the north Wilmington crossing reportedly did not activate and assurances from the MBTA that procedures are in place to maintain operability of the crossing arms and lights at their rail crossing,” the statement said.

Adam Sennott can be reached at adam.sennott@globe.com.


Adam Sennott can be reached at adam.sennott@globe.com.