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MBTA Chief Challenges Safety Criticism

This article is more than 11 years old.

MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas mounted a vigorous campaign Thursday to hang onto his job, highlighting his safety efforts at the region's largest mass transit agency and saying some of the conclusions in a recent federal investigation of a Green Line crash were speculative or contained factual errors.

In a presentation prepared for a meeting of the T's board of directors, Grabauskas underscored that the National Transportation Safety Board determined a May 2008 crash killing trolley operator Terrese Edmonds and injuring seven passengers was caused by operator error, not systematic problems. Her trolley ran a red light and collided with another train in suburban Newton.

Grabauskas also said the agency's conclusion Edmonds may have experienced an undiagnosed "micro-sleep" disorder and episode was speculative and couched in tentative language. He said there were no medical findings to support it, and it was disputed by Edmonds' family.

Grabauskas was given a mandatory 48-hour notice Tuesday by state Transportation Secretary James Aloisi that the general manager's job performance would be discussed during the board meeting. Grabauskas says he will not resign, raising the specter of the board buying him out of his $255,000-per-year contract, which extends to next May.

During an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Grabauskas bristled at criticism leveled by an NTSB board member, former airline pilot Robert Sumwalt. Sumwalt said during the board's crash hearing last month the T lacked a "safety culture."

Grabauskas, in his first public response, said: "I don't know why he went off like that, but it's blatantly false."

Cynthia Gallo, the T's director of system safety, accused the NTSB of reaching conclusions not supported by evidence.

"As an investigator myself, it's very difficult to admit you don't know," she told the AP. "I've been in that position myself. But you have to. If the dots don't connect, you can't connect them."

Grabauskas took particular aim at the micro-sleep conclusion, saying, "Maybe she dozed off. Maybe she closed her eyes. Maybe she dropped something. Who knows?"

He said an NTSB conclusion that the T did not require its drivers to report broken signals - one of the signals at the accident site was stuck on red - was contradicted by a longstanding rule requiring such reporting.

An NTSB spokesman was reviewing Grabauskas' comments for possible response.

Grabauskas' effort was aimed not only at reassuring the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's 1.2 million daily passengers, but salvaging his reputation and rebutting questions about his management raised by Gov. Deval Patrick and Aloisi.

During the NTSB hearing, Aloisi complained Grabauskas had not returned his phone calls. Grabauskas called that "a lie."

Aloisi also blasted the general manager for taking a government furlough - mandatory for an array of state employees - at the time. Patrick, meanwhile, said he was worried about safety not only because of the Newton crash, but another Green Line trolley crash in Boston this May. That accident was blamed on a driver distracted by text messaging.

But the governor questioned why the T did not have an automatic brake on Green Line trains as it does on its Red, Orange and Blue like subways. Grabauskas has argued autobrakes are impractical in the Green Line system, where trains run especially close together.

This program aired on August 6, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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