Almost two days after a 39-year-old Boston man died after he got trapped in the door of a Red Line subway car, the MBTA declined to answer basic questions about what happened.
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority spokesman Joe Pesaturo declined to say if Robinson Lalin was getting on or off the train. He declined to say if the T suspects the car, which was put into service more than 50 years ago, malfunctioned. He declined to say if officials think the operator — who is no longer driving trains as the investigation continues — might be at fault.
The lack of information left Lalin’s family to describe a nightmarish turn of events.
“He ended up being dragged to the end of the platform where his arm was detached and his body smashed against the wall, breaking all of his bones,” Lalin’s nephew, Kelvin Lalin, told reporters in an interview broadcast by WCVB-TV.
“We can’t even have an open casket,” he told The Boston Globe Monday night.
Lalin’s death is the latest in a recent series of safety incidents on the MBTA system causing transit advocates to issue urgent warnings about the need for more funding and oversight of the sprawling system.
“It should be really, really hard for someone to get hurt or die getting on or off the T,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets Alliance, a public transportation advocacy group. “The alarm bells should have gone off six months ago.”
Anisha Chakrabarti, a spokeswoman for Governor Charlie Baker, said the administration’s investments in the MBTA have increased every year since the winter storms of 2015, adding it’s “premature to comment on the nature of the incident until the investigation is complete.”
T General Manager Steve Poftak did not respond to interview requests.
The National Transportation Safety Board, Suffolk district attorney’s office, and MBTA Transit Police are investigating the death. Richard Sullivan, superintendent of the Transit Police, identified the victim as Robinson Lalin, of Boston, and said Monday the investigation remains active.
A spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Kevin R. Hayden said via e-mail Monday that investigators don’t believe foul play factored into the tragedy. Lalin was dragged a short distance by an inbound train at the Broadway T Station at about 12:30 a.m., Sunday, said James Borghesani, a spokesman for Hayden’s office.
Pesaturo said via e-mail the driver, who he didn’t name, had been taken “off duty while the investigation advances.”
In an interview with the Globe Monday evening, Kelvin Lalin, 30, said he and his uncle spent a lot of time playing basketball and running while growing up in Boston, always trying to see who was faster.
Kelvin said the family has been sharing memories over their group chat, which had previously been a place to share jokes and memes.
“He was part of the group chat . . . and he’s the only one not responding because he’s gone,” Kelvin said.
Kelvin said he last saw his uncle on Wednesday when the two ran into each other at a local intersection.
“I just thought, ‘Yeah, we’ll see each other again,’” Kelvin said. “And then Sunday I get the call from my mother.”
Kelvin said Robinson Lalin used the T frequently.
Questions abound about how exactly he became trapped in the door of the Red Line car and how he died.
Doors on the T’s subway trains are meant to open if something is blocking them, and operators are supposed to move forward only when the doors are closed. The train car involved in the incident was put into service in 1969 or 1970, Pesaturo said.
“We are driving around these trains that are 50 years old; that’s insane,” said Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute. “I think it speaks to the massive upgrades in our infrastructure that we absolutely need to make — yesterday. We have severely underinvested in our public transportation system; we have allowed these systems to degrade over time.”
The MBTA is in the process of replacing its older Red Line cars with new models but has delayed the project repeatedly. It awarded a contract to the Chinese-owned CRRC to build 252 Red Line cars and 152 Orange Line cars and in Springfield by 2024 and 2022, respectively. Only eight new Red Line cars so far have been completed, according to TransitHistory.org. Pesaturo did not respond to a request for an update on the Red Line car replacement project.
In 2018, the MBTA included a proposed pilot program for platform screen doors, also called platform barriers, on a draft list of projects the agency was targeting for 2040. The doors keep people from getting on the tracks and allow the trains to move faster as they enter and exit stations unobstructed.
Pesaturo said the MBTA does not have existing plans to install the barriers and has not done a cost estimate.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority said in February it will try the platform screen doors at three of its New York City subway stations after a woman was pushed to her death in front of a train at the Times Square subway station. The doors are common on transit systems in Europe and Asia and at US airports, including John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
“The US is slow on the uptake on things related to public transportation,” said Freemark. “This is yet another example of that phenomenon.”
Lalin’s death marked the latest in a recent series of incidents in which MBTA equipment has harmed or inconvenienced passengers.
In January, a commuter rail train struck a woman’s car, killing her, when the crossing gates and flashing lights meant to keep cars off the tracks in Wilmington did not activate in time.
In September last year, a Red Line train derailed and hit the platform at Broadway station with 47 passengers on board. No injuries were reported.
The derailment came two days after an ascending escalator malfunctioned at the Back Bay Station and suddenly plummeted in reverse, causing a bloody pileup of people at the bottom. Nine people were sent to the hospital.
In July, a Green Line train crashed into the train ahead of it, sending 27 people to the hospital, including three MBTA crew members. The driver of the train pleaded not guilty to negligence charges.
Former Suffolk district attorney Rachael Rollins launched an investigation into the crash and a potential “lack of oversight or negligence” at the MBTA in January, shortly before she left office to become the US attorney for Massachusetts.
As the safety incidents mounted last fall, the MBTA went without direct board oversight for more than three months after its former board disbanded. The new seven-person board of directors met for the first time in October.
“We have to stop pretending that the problem doesn’t exist,” Thompson said.
Globe correspondent Nick Stoico and John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.