Local and state leaders are demanding answers from Keolis and the MBTA after a preliminary investigation found human error on the tracks cost one woman her life in Wilmington, Massachusetts.
Roberta Sausville Devine, 68, of Wilmington, was killed when her car was hit by a commuter rail train at North Wilmington station Friday night. According to the MBTA, a signal maintainer from Keolis was doing work on the railroad crossing's safety system an hour before the accident and did not return it to normal operating mode. The MBTA said that failure resulted in the gates not going down in a timely manner.
"It's hard to think something so tragic would happen to someone who put so much good in the world," said Johnny Nichols Jr.
Nichols was the victim's choir director in the Ipswich River Community Chorus. He said they are all in mourning, but as new details come to light, they also want justice for their friend.
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"We have too much technology these days for errors like this to happen. I want something to be done that's effective and meaningful so we can save another life," he said.
Wilmington's five-member board of selectmen met Monday night. One by one, each expressed condolences to the victim's family, while denouncing the MBTA and Keolis.
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Members of the board said they were told by the MBTA that there would be personnel at the Middlesex train crossing 24 hours after their conversation Saturday afternoon.
Selectman Judith O'Connell pointed out that there was no one from the MBTA or Keolis on site early Sunday afternoon.
"It was less than 48 hours after this tragedy, and there wasn't a single person there other than myself and news crew," O'Connell noted during the meeting.
The board said it had also requested the MBTA to assign someone to the crossing this week to help drivers feel safe.
"The MBTA and Keolis have some explaining to do," said Selectman Gary DePalma. "Why they couldn't put someone in there and let them sit there for a few days so that as you're driving by, knowing that something just happened, you're not in fear."
The incident has also caught the intention of lawmakers. State Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and two of his colleagues issued a statement calling for answers and accountability.
"We need to make sure that this doesn't happen again, number one, and number two, we need to make this isn't a systemic problem as opposed to an isolated," he said.
Tarr was at the meeting Monday night, where he emphasized the need for accountability at all train crossings in the state.
"As we move forward — and we intend to have another call later this week — we're going to be talking about the more systemic things that we can do to absolutely make sure there are double and triple safeguards so that this can't happen again anywhere else in Massachusetts," he said.
The MBTA told NBC10 Boston that personnel were at the Middlesex train crossing over the weekend performing tests and ensuring the system was operating safely.
The agency said no other defects have been found in the system, but they are working on a final report that will outline the steps to avoid it from happening in the future. Keolis said it cannot comment on the personnel matter, but the worker has been placed on administrative leave as the investigation proceeds.
Wilmington Town Manager Jeff Hull is also calling for a full investigation. He and the Wilmington Selectboard said they want more reassurance that the crossing is safe for their community.
"We need to fully understand how this happened and equally make sure it doesn't happen again," Hull said.
A final report by the MBTA is expected to include steps that will help avoid such tragedies from happening in the future.