Former MBTA Official Says He Was Fired for Raising Safety Concerns

According to ex chief safety officer Ron Nickle, the MBTA has a habit of trying to omit or change negative details.

MBTA Green Line / Photo by Olga Khvan

A runaway Red Line train. An MBTA worker’s electrocution. A Green Line derailment during the Patriots parade.

Ron Nickle, who had an eight-year tenure as the MBTA’s chief safety officer, says he was fired from his position in March in retaliation for investigating these and other MBTA mishaps and putting pressure on executives to increase transparency around them. The details were outlined in a Boston Globe report Sunday night.

“I believe efforts were exerted to undermine my authority, responsibilities, obligations, and duties as a Chief Safety Officer while actively dealing with major safety concerns on the [Green Line extension] project, and serious violations of federal safety laws, rules and regulations,” Nickle wrote in a 97-page federal complaint filed in May and obtained by the Globe.

Nickle’s complaint lists several instances in which MBTA officials seem to have tried to mislead outsiders on the gravity of the issues the system was experiencing. One of those incidents was the 2019 Patriots parade Green Line derailment. According to Nickle, the derailment was in part caused by wear-and-tear on the tracks, which should have been discovered in regular inspections. But he alleges that MBTA deputy general manager Jeffrey Gonneville and his team wanted to omit or misrepresent details like that from the reporting, out of fear of public criticism.

The complaint also alleged that there was similar pressure to change details in the story the MBTA put forth after a Red Line train traveled four stops—over five miles—without an operator in 2015. At the time, officials said that incident occurred because the driver of the vehicle had wrapped a cord around the train’s throttle to override safety controls, an extremely rare circumstance. However, Nickle says in his complaint that he talked to several MBTA employees who said that this is a fairly common practice. Gonneville reportedly told Nickle to “be careful” about revealing that fact in any of his reporting on the incident.

The MBTA has denied Nickle’s claims, claiming he is the one who is misrepresenting events.

“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,” MBTA communications director Joe Pesaturo said in a statement.

Executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board Paul Regan, however, is calling for the public to pressure the MBTA to respond to Nickle’s claims. 

“Any vehicle that is operating on the MBTA potentially has hundreds of lives on the line,” he said to the Globe. “They need to demonstrate that these operations are safe.”