Derailed Red Line train. (Kim Tunnicliffe/WBZ NewsRadio)
BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Officials are responding to claims made by an ex-MBTA employee that he was fired for pointing out major safety concerns across the public transit system. Gov. Charlie Baker called the firing justified, while the head of the state’s Democratic Party is suspicious of a possible cover-up.
The Boston Globe reports that former MBTA chief safety officer Ron Nickle has filed a federal complaint against the MBTA over his termination.
In the complaint, Nickle claimed the agency has tried to bury information regarding safety issues. He said a top MBTA employee urged him, and his department, to make changes to an investigative report on a runaway Red Line train in 2015.
According to Nickle, the MBTA fired him this past spring in retaliation for investigating other safety concerns, including a Green Line derailment during this year’s Patriots Rolling Rally, and the electrocution of a worker on the Orange Line.
The MBTA has denied Nickle’s claims.
"While the former employee’s statement is replete with mischaracterizations and falsehoods, the MBTA, nonetheless, will review the former employee’s unsubstantiated claims with its regulatory partners," a spokesperson for the MBTA said in a statement.
Gov. Baker told WBZ NewsRadio’s Karyn Regal he believes Nickle’s firing was justified.
“I support the decision that they made to terminate him,” Baker said.
The Chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, Gus Bickford, addressed the firing of Nickle in a statement.
“This latest scandal at the MBTA suggests that the Baker administration knew about serious safety concerns and engaged in a coverup to hide these issues from public view,” Bickford said.
When asked if MBTA employees could feel secure reporting safety issues, Baker said that “there are numerous organizations, state and federal, that are constantly involved in managing, inspecting, and investigating all kinds of issues around safety and maintenance associated with the T.”
Nickle’s attorney, Charlie Goetsch, told WBZ NewsRadio that Nickle will continue to work with investigators as the claims are looked into.
“Ron is heartened by the overwhelmingly positive comments he has received from members of the public regarding his situation. He will continue to cooperate with federal and state investigators in order to improve the safety of MBTA operations,” Goetsch said.
Nickle’s allegations come after weeks of public outrage due to a series of train derailments and delays, including the June derailment the T says could continue to impact Red Line service for the entire summer.
Last week, officials and riders protested MBTA fare hikes that kicked in July 1, saying they were unfair given the poor quality of service.
Last month, Baker requested $50 million from the Fiscal Year 2019 surplus to speed up planned upgrades to the T, in addition to the $8 billion the agency will spend on improvements over a five-year period.
Baker said the investments will go toward what he calls “the core of the system—the bridges, the third rail, and all the rest—[it has] been a big part of what we’ve been up to.”
Meanwhile, passengers reported various issues on train lines across the public transit system Monday.
One rider said delays were seen on the Red Line after a passenger fainted due to lack of air conditioning. The MBTA confirmed that there were delays on the Red Line Braintree branch after a person needed “medical assistance on a train at North Quincy.”
Delays were also seen on the Green Line “due to a train with a mechanical problem at Park Street.”
Another passenger said that fire alarms were going off at the Downtown Crossing Station with no response from officials.