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MBTA puts operator of train that dragged passenger to death in April on unpaid leave

A Red Line train.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The MBTA this week put the operator of a Red Line train that dragged a passenger to his death in April on unpaid leave.

On Monday, the MBTA switched the status of the employee who was driving at the time from paid leave to unpaid leave, “pending final disciplinary action,” agency spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said via e-mail in response to a Globe inquiry.

Pesaturo said the unpaid suspension is the result of “rules violations” related to the April 10 incident in which 39-year-old Robinson Lalin died. Pesaturo declined to specify what disciplinary action the T is taking against the operator.

“The MBTA does not publicly discuss disciplinary action prior to its execution,” he said via e-mail.

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The Carmen’s Union, Local 589, which represents MBTA train operators, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

So far, the federal investigation of Lalin’s death has appeared to be focused on the train itself, which the National Transportation Safety Board found to be faulty in its preliminary report released last month. The NTSB said that Lalin was attempting to exit the inbound train at Broadway Station in Boston at around 12:30 a.m. on April 10 when his arm got stuck in the train’s doors.

“The train departed the station, dragging the passenger along the platform about 105 feet and onto the surface below, near the tracks,” the report read.

MBTA trains are designed to prevent them from moving when passenger doors are obstructed, the NTSB said. Federal investigators found a “fault in a local door control system” that allowed the train to move despite Lalin’s arm being stuck.

The car that Lalin was in at the time of the incident and the lead car of the train both remain out of service, Pesaturo said Wednesday.

A police report obtained by the Globe said that the train kept moving long after Lalin’s body was dragged down to the track area.

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The train traveled 10 stops north to Alewife Station and then eight more stops south to Downtown Crossing before the MBTA confirmed that the train had been involved in the tragic incident and detectives interviewed the motorperson, according to the preliminary report.

The train car involved in the incident was put into service in 1969 or 1970, Pesaturo has said previously. The MBTA is still waiting on the delivery of hundreds of new Red and Orange Line train cars from a Chinese company first contracted in 2014 that are supposed to replace the old cars.

Last week, the MBTA said it was keeping all new Red and Orange Line cars out of service after a “battery failure,” which experts tell the Globe was likely a battery explosion, on one of the new Orange Line cars while it was in the yard.

On Wednesday, the T said via Twitter it is operating with fewer trains and longer wait times on the Orange Line after “multiple trains were vandalized” Tuesday night and the agency works to repair them.

In its preliminary report about April’s Red Line death, the NTSB said it will focus future investigative activity on “the MBTA’s passenger train equipment and operating procedures.”

Just four days after Lalin’s death on the Red Line, the Federal Transit Administration sent a letter to the MBTA, the Massachusetts Transportation Department, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, and the MBTA board of directors saying it is “extremely concerned with the ongoing safety issues” at the T and will take on an “increased safety oversight role” of the transit system.

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The FTA launched a nearly unprecedented inspection of safety at the MBTA. The agency expects to finish its final report in August but earlier this month ordered the T to immediately address four serious safety failures: MBTA dispatchers sometimes working 20-hour days to make up for staffing shortages, workers with lapsed safety certifications, several recent runaway train incidents, and large swaths of track in disrepair.

Since the FTA pointed out the shortage of dispatchers, the T has reduced service on the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines while it tries to lure more dispatchers with $10,000 bonuses.

Both state and federal officials say the T remains a safe form of transit.


Taylor Dolven can be reached at taylor.dolven@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @taydolven.