MBTA Says ‘Human Error' Is Focus of Investigation After Woman Killed in Train Collision

Roberta Sausville, 68, of Wilmington, was killed Friday evening when an MBTA commuter rail train struck her car at a crossing on Middlesex Avenue

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The MBTA says a preliminary investigation has revealed that human error was a factor Friday when a commuter rail train collided with a car in Wilmington, Massachusetts, killing the 68-year-old woman inside.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak released a statement Saturday evening saying although the investigation into Roberta Sausville's death remains very active, they have learned enough to report that human error is the "primary focus" of investigators from MBTA Transit police, Massachusetts State Police, and the Middlesex District Attorney's Office.

Poftak said he would like to let Sausville's "loved ones and the entire community know that we are making significant progress in establishing the facts and circumstances of this terrible tragedy."

Sausville's vehicle was struck just before 6 p.m. by an inbound Haverhill Line commuter rail train at a railroad crossing on Middlesex Avenue in Wilmington. The Boston-bound train struck the driver's side of Sausville's car near the North Wilmington MBTA Station, and she was pronounced dead on scene as a result of the crash.

Shortly after the fatal collision Friday, NBC10 Boston asked MBTA Transit Police Supt. Richard Sullivan about a possible error after multiple witnesses reported that the crossing arms did not go down as the train went by, only coming down after the fact. Sullivan responded that part of the investigation would look at whether or not the signal's crossing arms were working when the crash occurred and whether or not any crews had recently worked on them.

It turns out, according to the preliminary investigation, an error was made.

In his update Saturday, Poftak said that less than an hour before the "heartbreaking accident," a signal maintainer for Keolis -- the company that operates the commuter rail -- was performing regularly scheduled testing and preventative maintenance of the railroad crossing's safety system.

The preliminary investigation revealed that following the testing, the safety system was not returned to its normal operating mode, Poftak said. This failure resulted in the crossing gates not coming down in a timely manner as the train approached Middlesex Avenue.

A woman was killed Friday when a train collided with her car on the tracks near the North Wilmington commuter rail station in Wilmington, Massachusetts, officials said.

Keolis released its own statement late Saturday night saying the company is committed to working with investigators, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the MBTA to identify and address the circumstances of this "heartbreaking accident."

"With regard to the signal maintainer, we do not comment publicly on internal personnel matters but will continue to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation," Keolis added.

Investigators have not found any defects nor any other problems with the various elements that comprise the infrastructure of the railroad crossing system, Poftak added.

NBC10 Boston reached out to Sausville's family Saturday night but they said they were not ready to comment at this time.

Both the MBTA and Keolis have expressed their condolences to Sausville's loved ones in the wake of this tragedy.

"On behalf of the MBTA and our Commuter Rail operator, Keolis, I want to offer our deepest sympathies to Ms. Sausville's family and friends in this difficult period of shock and sadness," Poftak said.

"Our deepest sympathies are with Roberta’s family and loved ones at this incredibly difficult time," Keolis added in its own statement.

After investigators have completed their work, there will be a final report on the cause of this incident -- which Poftak described as having "devastating consequences." There will also be a summary of what measures the MBTA and Keolis will take to avoid this situation ever occurring again.

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