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A utility box and its supporting equipment fell out of place at the Harvard Square T station Monday afternoon, hitting a woman standing at a nearby column and sending her to the hospital for evaluation.
The accident adds to a growing list of recent safety problems plaguing Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority stations and trains, including a near-miss in March, also at the Harvard Square station, when a ceiling panel fell and almost struck a rider.
In a tweet, the MBTA said the woman had been hit by a “supporting bracket” for the utility box as it dropped down the column next to where she had been standing.
MBTA spokesperson Lisa Battiston wrote in an emailed statement that “corrosion on the support straps” securing the box had caused the dislodgement. After visiting the site yesterday, Phillip Eng — the new general manager of the MBTA — ordered inspections to determine if other stations have similar equipment and to assess their condition. Battiston said the inspections would be finished by the end of the day on Tuesday.
The boxes have not been in use since 2013, according to Battiston. A laboratory at MIT installed them as part of a pilot program in three Cambridge Red Line stations in 2011 to “evaluate the technology” meant to “house sensors capable of detecting and identifying biological agents,” Battiston wrote.
Sandro Enriquez, an MBTA attendant working at the time of the incident, said he offered to help the injured woman, who had already called 911.
“She was not in bad condition, she was a little scratched,” he said. “I’m glad that she was okay.”
Last summer, the Federal Transit Authority ordered the MBTA to take dramatic steps to improve rider safety and address poor working conditions. Since then, T riders have seen a rising number of slow zones, service cuts, and line disruptions.
Riders criticized what they saw as the MBTA’s lack of proper maintenance.
“They should have remodeled this a long time ago,” said Djenifer Nazaire, a Red Line rider who lives near Alewife.
Chris George, who regularly takes the Red Line from his home in Dorchester, said it was “about maintenance, keeping up with it.”
“I do ironwork and I see this all the time. You go to bridges and they’re rusted out, and they should’ve been maintained 15 years ago, and it’s just a matter of putting it off until someone gets hurt,” he said.
“That’s a prime example. It may have been passed by, never looked at,” he said, referring to the corroded equipment that fell.
Enriquez, the attendant, said that because of these safety incidents, the customer service aspect of his job was “mentally and emotionally sometime too much for me.”
“But I have to do my job. I just do my job,” he continued.
In response to criticisms, Eng wrote that “delivering safe, reliable, and appropriate service is paramount and the MBTA is fully committed to ensuring that we do just that,” calling the incident “a stark reminder of the challenge at hand” for the T.
“Our team took immediate action to inspect every station to ensure there were not additional risks to riders,” Eng wrote. “When I accepted this position, I fully understood the challenges and responsibility, but I remain confident that we will be successful. Ensuring safety is vital to restoring public confidence and trust.”
Red Line service will continue to face major disruptions concentrated in its southern branches over the next month. The T will divert riders to shuttle buses as it continues working on the tracks to eliminate some of the 97 speed restrictions across the Red Line. In March, the MBTA implemented additional restrictions after the Department of Public Utilities found the T had not been properly documenting track issues.
George, however, said he has not noticed any difference following the extensive track work thus far.
“I don’t know what they did, but it didn’t make it any faster,” he said.
Still, George said he remains positive, even though his commute from Dorchester to Harvard Square has now reached an hour and a half.
“Why get yourself mad over something you should have already expected?” he said. “I expect the train to be this slow. I accepted it in my heart.”
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