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Red Line train that dragged a man to death had a faulty safety feature

A small memorial for Robinson Lalin at the Broadway MBTA Red Line station. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A small memorial for Robinson Lalin at the Broadway MBTA Red Line station. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board found the Red Line train that caught the arm of a passenger and dragged him to his death had a fault in the door control system that allowed the train to move while the door was obstructed.

According to investigators, the incident occurred at about 12:30 a.m. at Broadway Station after 39-year-old Robinson Lalin tried to exit the six-car train.

"In the attempt to exit the train, the passenger’s right arm was trapped in the door," the report released Monday morning said. "The train departed the station, dragging the passenger along the platform about 105 feet and onto the surface below, near the tracks."

The report noted that MBTA trains are equipped with safety features that should prevent them from moving if something is obstructing a door.

Investigators inspected and tested the railcar involved in the incident and found "a fault in a local door control system that enabled the train to move with the door obstructed."

After the fault was identified, the T quickly began a fleet inspection to look for the problem in other railcars. The T reported no similar faults were found during its search.

The NTSB investigation included an examination and test of train equipment, a review of security footage and an observation of the T's train operations, as well as interviews.

In a statement following the release of the preliminary report, the MBTA clarified that the fault in the door control system was due to “a short circuit in the wiring.” The agency said its workers perform regularly scheduled "preventative maintenance" and are “supplementing existing door inspection protocols with additional testing to prevent this issue from occurring again.”

The train car involved in the incident is among 24 Red Line cars first put into service more than 50 years ago. According to the T, the cars and their components, including the doors, are inspected and tested every 8,500 miles. Preventative maintenance and repairs are also scheduled when necessary, the agency said.

After the release of the preliminary NTSB findings, Kelvin Lalin, the nephew of the man killed, blamed the T for his uncle's death.

"The MBTA killed my uncle," he said. “This could have definitely been avoided.”

Lalin said he wants to see justice for his uncle.

“I wouldn't want any family to go through what we’re going through,” Lalin said.

The NTSB investigation is ongoing, the agency said in its preliminary report. Future efforts will focus on "the MBTA’s passenger train equipment and operating procedures."

Along with the NTSB, transit police and the MBTA Safety Department are still investigating the incident.

The T is in the process of replacing its entire Red Line fleet. The effort, expected to be completed in 2024, includes 252 new vehicles with wider doors, new audio and visual door open and close warnings, and onboard diagnostics for operators and maintenance staff.

This article was originally published on May 02, 2022.

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Darryl C. Murphy is the host of WBUR's segment for NPR's "Consider This."

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