An electrical fire on an MBTA Orange Line train burns on a bridge over the Mystic River on July 21, 2022. Photo courtesy of WBZ-TV and State House News Service

On the same day that one head of the legislature’s Transportation Committee said decision-makers have no choice but to “do something dramatic” to fix the MBTA, Gov. Charlie Baker defended the transit agency he oversees by arguing that, for most riders, it’s really not that bad.

An Orange Line train burst into flames last week and a Red Line train with faulty brakes on Monday rolled out of the rail yard and hundreds of feet up the track, underlining the difficulties and the federal safety investigation facing the agency.

Baker, who has come under increasing scrutiny during his final year in office over his management of the MBTA, struck a different tone Tuesday.

While he called the train fire a “colossal failure,” Baker said he needs to give “credit where credit is due” and cited the system’s on-time performance ratings. Most of the T’s rapid transit lines have been on time for 85 to 90 percent of trips, Baker said, with the commuter rail network above 90 percent and buses in the high 70s.

“That’s what the experience most riders every single day have. That’s no excuse for the screw-ups and the incidents that we’re talking about here. It’s no excuse for that,” Baker told reporters after an unrelated event. “But there’s 600,000 trips every day that for the most part work out the way they’re supposed to, and there are a lot of people that work at the T who have a lot to do with that.”

The latest disruption took place just after 5:30 a.m. Monday, when a two-car train with an operator on board rolled out of the rail yard and onto the passenger service section of the Red Line at Braintree Station.

An MBTA spokesperson said the train had “diminished braking capacity” and continued rolling until it stopped about 800 feet north of the Braintree stop.

“There were no injuries nor damage, but service was disrupted as T personnel worked to return the disabled, two-car set to the rail yard,” said MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo. “The MBTA notified the [Federal Transit Administration] and [Department of Public Utilities] of the incident, and a full investigation is underway. Investigators will work to determine whether the rules and procedures for moving trains were properly followed.”

The MBTA’s repeated failure to prevent runaway trains was one of the most pressing safety faults FTA investigators found, prompting the federal oversight body to order immediate fixes in June while it continues its probe.

Between Jan. 1, 2021 and the FTA’s probe, the MBTA reported five different “runaway train” incidents in yards or during maintenance, investigators said.

MBTA officials previously said they were working on new safety protocols and policies to prevent such slip-ups and would explore a “blue flag” program to prevent trains from moving improperly.

Asked about the incident Tuesday, Baker said he believes it had “very marginal impact on service.” When a reporter observed it was the sixth runaway train incident in the past 18 months, he replied, “That’s one of the reasons the FTA is here.”

Baker also said the transition to new Red and Orange Line fleets, whose vehicles are being manufactured by Chinese firm CRRC, will help address some problems. In October 2020, officials pushed back the project completion date by a year for the Red Line and 15 months for the Orange Line.

“The biggest issue with CRRC is the pandemic. We basically lost two years of international transport and work during that period,” Baker said. “We continue to add Orange Line trains on an okay clip. But it’s a post-pandemic clip. It’s not the clip we were operating on pre-pandemic. We think it’s really important that we get to the point where virtually all of the old trains on the Orange Line, which are really the ones that create many of the issues and concerns we and the FTA have, get off the tracks as soon as possible.”

Baker Says T Services Largely Working ‘the Way They’re Supposed To’

by State House News Service time to read: 3 min