Another MBTA death in Abington; town hiring safety consultant

Safety improvements are needed along a dangerous stretch of track in North Abington, town officials say, after yet another person was killed by an MBTA commuter rail train.

“It’s concerning. This is the second fatal accident in the last [4] months,” said Abington Police Chief David Del Papa.

An outbound train struck a person along the tracks between the Birch Street and Plymouth Street grade crossings Thursday around 11:15 a.m.

“An adult male intentionally placed himself in the right of way and was struck by an MBTA Commuter Rail train,” MBTA Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan said in a statement. “The male has been pronounced deceased as a result of injuries sustained. No further comments will be offered.”

The train came to a stop south of the Plymouth Street crossing, adjacent to the Mt Vernon Cemetery. The rail line was closed for more than three hours while the accident was investigated. The Town of Abington sent out an automated warning to residents to avoid the Birch Street and Plymouth Street grade crossings during that time. Passengers that were on the train were picked up by MBTA buses and brought to stations further down the line, according to Del Papa.

The stretch of tracks in Abington from Pine Street to Plymouth Street has been among the most dangerous in the entire MBTA commuter rail system since Old Colony Line service resumed in 1997. There have been more than a dozen serious accidents during that time, including three fatalities since 2017. The most recent was in May when Katelyn McCarthy, an Abington High School senior weeks away from graduating, was killed by a train at the Birch Street crossing.

Wednesday’s accident drew an angry response from Selectmen Chairman Alex Bezanson, who says the MBTA has repeatedly ignored the town’s requests for additional safety measures.

“They’ve done nothing,” he said. “They ignore the little town of Abington, while some of the wealthier towns like Scituate and Cohasset get quad gates and they don’t even get the horn.”

Bezanson and the Board of Selectmen summoned the MBTA for a meeting back in 2017, at which time the agency said they’d look at safety in certain areas in town. It’s unclear if they did. Following the May accident, Bezanson requested MBTA officials come back, with agency officials saying they would do so at some point this fall. Bezanson said he will insist they attend a meeting in September.

Even before Wednesday’s accident, Town Manager Scott Lambiase was in the process of hiring a safety consultant to look at the town’s rail corridor and identify reasons for the high accident rate. The consultant will be paid for with American Rescue Plan Act funds, Bezanson said.

It is believed that Abington has the largest number of MBTA grade crossings of any Old Colony Line town, including five grade crossings along a mile-long stretch in North Abington, where trains are allowed to roll at speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour.

A memorial for Katelyn McCarthy remains next to the Birch Street MBTA grade crossing

The tragedies date back to 1998, when a 15-year-old girl was killed after she rode her bicycle around a gate at the Pine Street crossing. There were also fatal crashes involving drivers in 2005 and 2017, and non-fatal crashes in 2008, 2018, and 2020.

According to one newspaper article, there were seven train crashes in Abington between 2001 and 2008.

During most of the collisions, the safety measures in place – such as crossing gates, signal bells, or train horns – were working properly.

A number of the incidents involved drivers manueving around gates while they were down, or driving on to the tracks.

In the 1998 collision, the train engineer was disciplined for speeding and failing to sound his horn appropriately.

Even if human error caused most accidents, Bezanson said there’s still something wrong with the rail corridor for so many of these incidents to happen along the same stretch of track. That’s what he wants the MBTA to fix.

“There’s something going on there,” he said.

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