The death of a Boston man who got caught in the door of a Red Line car wasn’t the first time that a person was trapped, dragged, and hurt by an MBTA subway train.
A Globe review of news archives found that several people have been injured after getting stuck in subway doors on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority system since the 1990s.
How exactly Robinson Lalin, 39, died at the Broadway T station early Sunday morning after he got trapped in the door was still unclear Tuesday. Officials said the train car, which is over 50 years old, was impounded and the driver placed on administrative leave.
Beyond that, they remained mum, citing an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
“There’s nothing that’s been ruled out,” said Governor Charlie Baker.
“With the federal government involved in that investigation, people are going to be very careful about what they say until they know a lot more than they know now,” he said. “And I think that’s appropriate.”
Although the Red Line was supposed to have many brand-new cars in service by now, the car Lalin was caught in was first put into service in 1969 or 1970, according to MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo.
Old or new, subway doors are not supposed to trap people, experts say.
All Red Line subway cars, including older trains, are outfitted with systems that make the doors open if they are obstructed and that prevent the trains from moving if doors are open, said Bradley Clarke, president of the Boston Street Railway Association, a group devoted to transit history.
“Generally speaking, they work quite well,” he said. “If someone was stuck in the door, the operator would not have had a signal to proceed because the door was open. The train physically cannot move.”
It’s hard to determine what exactly went wrong Sunday, experts said, when Lalin got stuck in the door and was dragged to the end of the platform and smashed against the wall.
And Sunday wasn’t the first troubling T train door incident.
In March 1990, a 44-year-old man was exiting an Orange Line train at State Street station when his shoulder and arm got stuck in the door, according to a Boston Herald story from the time. People inside and outside the car tried to pry the doors open, but then the train started moving. He was able to yank his “bruised and strained” arm free, and credited a woman on the platform with saving his life.
“Like Indiana Jones,” he told the Herald. “Only in real life.”
It was the second door-trapping incident that month, the newspaper reported. Weeks earlier, a 26-year-old woman was dragged sideways for 30 feet with her forearm trapped in a Green Line train door at Arlington Street station.
“I thought I was going to die,” she told the Herald, which included a photo of her in a cast.
In 2003, a woman’s backpack and jacket got caught in the door of a moving Red Line car as the train was leaving Park Street station, the Globe reported. A fellow passenger alerted the driver, who stopped the train, and a T employee boarded and freed her.
“It was a rather unpleasant start to the day, although I suppose I’m lucky that my arm or leg wasn’t caught outside the door,” the woman told the Globe. “Being maimed would have been an even worse start to the day.”
The MBTA started using just one operator on the Red Line more than a decade ago, according to Pesaturo. Before that, Red Line trains had two operators: one to drive the trains and another to make sure the doors were closed properly.
In 2015, Metro Boston reported that a man got his hand and his bag stuck in the doors of a Red Line train at Central Square. Someone heard his cries for help, pulled the emergency brake, and called for assistance on the intercom.
In a 1999 incident, 14-year-old James Glovsky died after being run over by a Red Line train at Andrew Station. His family, and friends who witnessed the ordeal, said his clothes were trapped in the train door and he was dragged to the end of the platform before falling onto the tracks. The MBTA maintained that he was holding onto the outside of the train as part of a thrill-seeking adventure. An MBTA investigation was “inconclusive,” the Globe reported. A jury found that the T was not at fault for his death.
MBTA general manager Steve Poftak declined to discuss the status of the investigation into Sunday’s incident, saying the T is limited in what it can disclose because the NTSB has become the lead agency on the probe.
“We continue to do our own internal investigation and obviously will take any steps necessary, that we believe are necessary, to make the system safe,” Poftak said.
“We want to make sure that there is a thorough investigation so we accurately and fully understand what we need to do to make sure that an incident like this never happens again,” he added.
The MBTA is still waiting for delivery of hundreds of new Red and Orange Line train cars from a Chinese company contracted in 2014 that are supposed to replace the old cars like the one involved Sunday.
The T awarded the contract to CRRC to build 252 Red Line cars and 152 Orange Line cars in Springfield by 2024 and 2022, respectively. To date, Pesaturo said, 10 new Red Line cars and 70 new Orange Line cars have been delivered.
“The pandemic and supply chain issues have presented multiple challenges, but the MBTA is working closely with its car builder to stabilize the production schedule and step up the pace of delivery,” Pesaturo said.
In 2020, the Globe reported that the factory in Springfield was beset by missteps and poor oversight, issues unrelated to COVID-19 that exacerbated pandemic-related delays.
Delays on long-promised improvements should grab the attention of the MBTA’s new board of directors, said Jarred Johnson, executive director of the advocacy group Transit Matters.
He and other transit advocates are concerned the MBTA’s new board is not taking a strong enough oversight role as the T grapples with its safety record and faces an impending financial crisis.
“We need a board to really engage on this,” Johnson said. “We need a Legislature that is coming up with long-term funding solutions for capital and operating, and we need the T to be out there talking about what they have done safety-wise and what they will do.”
Poftak said the driver of the train Sunday is on administrative leave, which he described as standard procedure.
In response to questions, Poftak said he believes the T’s level of funding played no role in what happened.
“We certainly have the resources we need to safely operate the system,” he said. “Obviously, I think all of us wish that the Red and Orange Line cars were here in greater number. We’re doing everything we can to get that project as close to schedule as possible.
“I continue to believe that the system is safe. I ride it every day. My family rides it every day.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the surname of a 14-year-old who died in a Red Line incident in 1999. His name was James Glovsky. Matt Stout, Jeremiah Manion, and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Taylor Dolven can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @taydolven.