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MBTA investigating why Keolis crew did not report train hit post

A commuter rail train awaited passengers at South Station.
A commuter rail train awaited passengers at South Station.(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File)

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is investigating why a commuter rail crew did not report that a low-speed train hit a post in South Station on Nov. 4, officials said Monday.

Ron Nickle, chief safety officer for Keolis Commuter Services, told the MBTA’s fiscal control board that crew members should have immediately reported the accident. No passengers were on the train.

“What I can tell you is that there was definitely a failure on the part of the crew to not only operate the train in the matter it was supposed to be operated within that area, but also that they failed to report the incident,” he said.

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The train was traveling about 6 miles per hour at 12:25 a.m. when it hit the protective post, called a bunter. There were no injuries, but the collision caused some damage to a part of the railroad and the train’s control car.

Leslie Aun, a Keolis spokeswoman, declined to say how Keolis management learned about the crash.

“MBTA and Keolis are investigating the actions of (the) crew both in operating the train and reporting the incident,” she wrote in an e-mail. Keolis runs the commuter rail for the MBTA.

The crew members have been placed on leave pending the results of the investigation.

In his presentation, Nickle compared the accident to a fatal crash in September in New Jersey, when a train derailed at high speed and smashed through a concrete-and-steel bumper during rush hour.

If the South Station train had been traveling faster, the impact could have torn out the bunters, Nickle said.

The MBTA has determined its bunter system meets specifications, Nickle said.

The agency is working with Keolis to implement a technology called positive train control, which is designed to prevent crashes by slowing trains automatically. The technology has been mandatory for commuter railroads since 2008, and the MBTA is among the last transit agencies to fully implement the initiative.

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Nickle told the board he finds MBTA management to be “extremely responsive” to safety issues. But Steve Poftak, a board member, said he hopes the MBTA will communicate safety incidents more clearly. Last month, the Globe reported that the agency had not publicly revealed an audit about an increase in derailments on the Green Line for more than a year.

Poftak asked the MBTA to tell board members of “major incidents,” saying he only learned about the Nov. 4 accident at Monday’s meeting.

“As a board, we’re obliged to have a grasp of the situation,” he said.

Poftak also presented data showing that the MBTA pays a number of key managers nearly 25 percent less than comparable transit agencies, a sign that the agency may be planning on boosting their salaries. Poftak said the MBTA must attract top-tier talent to best allocate nearly $6.5 billion in long-term projects over the next five years.

“We cannot skimp on management for that,” Poftak said. “We can’t be saving money in $10,000 to $15,000 chunks and allow the $6.5 billion spending program to not be spent properly.”


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.