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Video shows equipment falling on woman at Harvard MBTA station

Surveillance video of a woman hit when a utility box fell at Harvard Station
Surveillance video shows the moment a woman was hit by falling equipment at the Harvard T Station. (Video courtesy of MBTA)

Weighing between 20 and 30 pounds each, the utility boxes were installed at three Red Line stations sometime around 2011, containing sensors intended to help detect threats from biological agents.

The pilot program ended in 2013, and the sensors were removed. But the boxes remained inside stations, some hanging from columns.

Then on Monday, one of the boxes at Harvard Station broke free and plunged to the platform below, the equipment injuring a commuter waiting for a Red Line train. The straps holding it in place had corroded, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said.

The public’s patience for such incidents has eroded, as well.


“It’s just been getting worse and worse,” said Cambridge resident Adam Brod while waiting for a train at Harvard on Tuesday. “There needs to be some significant changes. It’s hurting Cambridge and it’s hurting Boston.”

The injury came after a seemingly endless parade of miseries for T riders: subway shutdowns, bus and train service cuts, widespread slow zones, and a similar incident at Harvard Station just two months ago when a ceiling tile weighing more than 20 pounds fell and almost hit a woman.

The box involved in Monday’s incident was part of a pilot program by the Department of Homeland Security and MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory using sensors to detect biological agents from around 2011 to 2013, Pesaturo said. A group leader at the Lincoln Laboratory, Ben Ervin, and a spokesperson for DHS, John Verrico, said the sensors were removed in 2013 and the boxes were left in place for potential use by the MBTA. The boxes alone weigh around 20 to 30 pounds, Ervin said.

“It was there to help the public,” Ervin said.

Pesaturo did not immediately respond to questions about why the box involved Monday had not been removed.

“The boxes have served no purpose since the pilot program ended in 2013,” he said in an earlier statement.


General manager Phillip Eng, who took over as leader of the T last month, directed crews to remove the remaining 13 boxes at Harvard, Porter, and Davis stations Tuesday, Pesaturo said. The agency is aiming to have them removed by the end of the week, he said.

In a statement, Eng said the incident is a “stark reminder of the challenge at hand.”

“Our team took immediate action to inspect every station to ensure there were not additional risks to riders,” Eng said. “When I accepted this position, I fully understood the challenges and responsibility, but I remain confident that we will be successful. Ensuring safety is vital to restoring public confidence and trust.”

Karissa Hand, a spokesperson for Governor Maura Healey, referred questions to the MBTA. Healey announced last week that Patrick Lavin, a seasoned transportation executive, will take over the new post of MassDOT chief safety officer on May 8, reporting to Eng and Transportation Secretary Gina Fiandaca.

Surveillance video released by the MBTA showed a typical Monday afternoon on the subway platform, with people waiting for a train. A woman wearing a backpack can be seen walking up to a subway column and stopping there. A moment later, the brace attached to the box appears to come down and hit her.

Pesaturo said in an e-mail that T personnel visually inspect each station daily for maintenance needs and report issues for evaluation or repair. The T completed a project to improve Harvard Station with cleaning, painting, lighting, and signage upgrades totaling $3.4 million in 2019, he said.


On the inbound platform Tuesday, the fallen equipment had been removed, and water trickled down from the rusted ceiling above. Many commuters walked past, seemingly unfazed, but others were clearly rattled by the latest example of dangerous conditions inside the station.

Jon Hayes, 29, sat on a bench awaiting the next train. He recalled how the video of the ceiling panel nearly hitting a passenger made national news two months ago.

”At this point, it’s almost comical,” Hayes said. “The fact that Boston, which isn’t like the biggest city in the US, is making national, international news for failing infrastructure is disheartening.”

Harvard University students Ashini Modi, 19, and Ammy Yuan, 18, were taking the train to go shopping in downtown Boston. That heavy objects had twice fallen from the ceiling was worrisome, they said.

”It’s definitely scary to know that someone could have been really injured by that,” Modi said. “That person could have been either one of us.”

”It’s not a good feeling,” Yuan said. “I take the T pretty often to get groceries and stuff, and just the thought that it could literally come crashing down is not reassuring.”

It’s not just riders who are getting injured. Last month, federal transportation regulators sounded alarm bells once again over troubling safety incidents at the T, including one that seriously injured a worker. The Federal Transit Administration ordered the T to immediately improve training and safety procedures for workers on its subway tracks.


After the falling ceiling panel in March, the MBTA removed more than 150 other panels at Harvard Station so engineers could inspect the structure for leaks and make any other necessary repairs, Pesaturo said at the time.

Just weeks later, a small amount of debris fell to the platform of the Forest Hills commuter rail station. And in September, a piece of concrete fell from the ceiling onto the platform at Forest Hills.

Commuter Bekah Carey said she has lived in several other cities but rated Boston’s public transit as the worst.

“I was talking to somebody the other day about how other transit systems should be updated,” Carey, 27, said with a laugh. “But we were like, here, we just would prefer that things don’t catch on fire or ceilings fall.”

John R. Ellement, Travis Andersen, and Michael Bello of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Taylor Dolven can be reached at Follow her @taydolven. Kate Armanini can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @KateArmanini.