necn Investigates: MBTA Safety Protocols in Question

After a smoke issue prompted the evacuation of a train on the MBTA's Orange Line in Boston Wednesday, necn Investigates has learned the motorman did not follow the agency's procedure.

"Girls were screaming 'help,'" said passenger Brie Shelley. "They were asking the guys to go in front to smash the windows and open the doors."

Moments after the train departed Back Bay Station, passengers like Shelley were doing everything they could to get off the train, including climbing out of windows and trying to pull the doors open.

"People started to panic because the doors aren't opening and there's a ton of smoke," she said.

The MBTA's policy says if you see smoke, you should remain inside the train car and await instructions from the motorman. But during Wednesday's incident, that never happened.

"The motor person failed to make the proper announcements," the MBTA said in a statement Thursday. "This employee will be re-trained on the proper methods and procedures for handling emergency events."

Wednesday, however, the MBTA seemed to hold the operator's handling of the situation in higher regard.

"Doors on the subway remained closed because the train had moved away from the platform. Doors did not malfunction. The motor person had begun promptly opening doors to allow passengers to evacuate safely, away from the live third rail," the MBTA said in the earlier statement.

"The T needs to train all of its drivers to be on scene and give the right answers and right instructions to passengers," Paul Regan of the MBTA Advisory Board said.

The T says the motorman couldn't open all of the doors at once because part of the train was outside the station. Instead, he walked to each door and manually opened it. Local firefighters agree with the call to protect passengers from the electrified third rail.

"If they were exiting the cars, if they hit a third rail, they could have been electrocuted," said Boston Fire Deputy Chief Robert Calobrisi.

But necn investigates wants know what would happen in a worst-case scenario -- if the motorman was not able to open the doors.

The T says to stay in place and wait for help. If the conditions become too dangerous, passengers are asked to find a way to evacuate.

That protocol is not good enough, according to Marc Ebuna of Transit Matters, a transit advocacy group.

"In London, they have automated announcements at stations if there's an emergency. That's exactly what we should have here," said Ebuna.

The Orange Line has some of the oldest cars in the MBTA system and new trains won't debut for several years.

"These cars are way past their useful life," Regan said.

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