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MBTA claims contractor is withholding info about horrific escalator malfunction

Agency considering fines for escalator maintenance company Kone

Video shows MBTA escalator careening backward at high speed
In September, an ascending escalator at Back Bay Station careened backward at high speed, sending a pile of riders tumbling to the bottom. (Footage courtesy of MBTA)

The MBTA claimed this month its escalator maintenance contractor Kone is withholding information about the Sept. 26 malfunction at Back Bay Station that sent nine people to the hospital.

Four months after the incident, in which an ascending escalator full of people plummeted downward at high speed creating a bloody pileup, the MBTA sent a memo to Kone on Jan. 19. The agency demanded the contractor provide more information about what caused the malfunction, according to a copy of the memo obtained by the Globe through a public records request. In a subsequent memo on Jan. 24, the MBTA said it was analyzing what “contractual penalties and credits” it might impose on Kone.


“To date, KONE has not provided MBTA with an adequate explanation of the escalator’s failure nor has it identified what error or omission in KONE’s maintenance and repair program led to the accident,” said the Jan. 19 memo from Joseph Cheever, the MBTA’s senior director of engineering and maintenance, to Chris Fahey, general manager for service and solutions at Kone. “MBTA demands that KONE provide a detailed report of its investigation of the accident.”

MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said the agency has no further information to provide. A spokesperson for Kone said in a statement, “As a matter of policy, we cannot comment on pending litigation,” referencing a lawsuit the company is facing about the Back Bay malfunction.

Kone has been the T’s escalator contractor since 1999. In 2017, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s board approved a five-year $42 million contract with Kone to continue maintaining the T’s escalators and elevators.

Pesaturo said Friday that the T has 179 escalators that Kone is in charge of maintaining.

The contract, which ends on June 30 of this year, allows for the MBTA to fine Kone $500 per day for any escalator that is out of service for more than three days unless Kone can justify the outage, and to collect a per-day credit from Kone for the outage, according to a copy obtained by the Globe. It also allows the MBTA to fine Kone $5,000 per day “if negligence is found on the part of the Contractor,” and the MBTA’s escalator reliability rate is affected.


As of Friday, the escalator that malfunctioned in September, which connects commuter rail tracks 1 and 3 to the lobby at the Back Bay MBTA station, remained out of service.

The Sept. 26 malfunction was not the first time an ascending MBTA escalator suddenly stopped and accelerated downward. A Globe review of court documents and news archives found three nearly identical incidents since the mid-1990s, and a fourth alleged in a lawsuit.

Nine escalator experts interviewed by the Globe last year said the phenomenon is likely a sign of brake failure, and most said the tragedies are likely preventable with the right level of maintenance.

Kone’s current contract with the MBTA requires exhaustive monthly maintenance on the agency’s escalators, meant to identify missing or broken parts and repair or replace them immediately.

Two families visiting Boston from Louisiana who were injured in the September malfunction are suing Kone, claiming the contractor was negligent. The lawsuit says the families suffered “severe personal injuries, including multiple fractures, extensive lacerations, scarring and disfigurement.” They claim Kone failed to properly maintain the escalator and failed to equip it with a secondary brake system despite the previous similar incidents at the MBTA.


Kone has denied the allegations.

Taylor Dolven can be reached at Follow her @taydolven.