A tough year for the MBTA just got worse

11 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Battenfeld: Charlie Baker must offer explanation before riders go off rails.

The unmanned Red Line train that blew through four stops yesterday all started, officials said, with a common problem and ended 9 minutes later when officials cut the power.The puzzled faces of commuters waiting for the Red Line at Quincy Adams stuck with Geno Clemenzi of Duxbury as the T car he rode yesterday morning to work motored by the station.

BOSTON – A six-car train carrying about 50 passengers left a suburban Boston transit station without a driver Thursday and went through four stations without stopping, and investigators were focusing on “operator error” as the reason why. Here’s what the 51-year-old motorman did and should have done, T officials said: After reporting that a “signal issue” at Braintree Station was preventing the train from leaving, the driver asked for and received permission from the operations control center to exit the cab, walk down to the front of the train and throw a toggle switch that put the train into “bypass mode,” which allows the vehicle to depart when the switch isn’t working. The train began to roll forward shortly after 6 a.m., according to news reports, after the operator stepped off the train to address a routine problem, officials said. Every T rider has a right to be angered and frightened that a train could take off without anyone driving it — a scenario that seems too outrageous even for a “Mission: Impossible” script. Under protocol, an operator is supposed to put the train’s master control — located on the train’s dash — into a “full service brake” and deploy a secondary hand brake 3 feet away before exiting the train.

Pollack said a full-service brake and hand brake are required to be engaged before a train goes into bypass mode, and that it was unclear if both had been engaged before the operator left the train. And maybe even more frightening is the reaction from T management: waiting for hours to disclose what happened — only telling riders of “service delays” — then expressing surprise there’s no way to slam the brakes on an out-of control-train from the outside. There is no one there,’ ” said Fernanda Daly, a 33-year-old clinical research technician from Rockland. “It was bizarre.” State transportation officials are focusing their investigation squarely on the conductor, identified only as a 51-year-old man with more than 28 years of experience at the MBTA. “(The) investigation is focused primarily on operator error,” said Pollack. “There is no more important responsibility that the MBTA and the Department of Transportation has than the safety of our systems.

Governor Charlie Baker said the train controls “had been manipulated, which was why the train moved without a person controlling it.” What needs to be determined, Baker said, was whether the incident was because of negligence or something else. No passengers were injured in the incident, but the train’s operator suffered minor injuries after being brushed by the train at its origin south of Boston, The Globe said. “It’s pretty clear that the main control that drives the train was tampered with,” Baker said, according to the Globe.

Every taxpayer and public transit user should demand more from the governor and Legislature than the usual Beacon Hill excuses or a $300,000 consultant report to find out how dozens of riders could be trapped on a train with no one controlling it. I was in the back, sitting in my little perch, then I see the faces on the passengers on the platform, and they have this puzzled look. ‘Why isn’t this stopping?’ You’re moving. For decades, MBTA riders who rely on the system to get to work and school have had to put up with some of the shoddiest service and rudest workers in the country.

It was at Quincy Center, when we passed two platforms — without picking anyone up, without slowing down — that’s when I started thinking the worst. During that time, MBTA officials weren’t able to communicate with passengers. “The people who were on the first car were trying to knock on the door of the conductor and that’s when we discovered that there was nobody there,” said Daly. Clarke, a transit historian and president of the Boston Street Railway Association, said Red Line trains like the one that went rogue Thursday are operated in the cab by a device called a Cineston controller, which combines the accelerator, brake, and a “dead man’s” safety feature all in one lever. “It’s called a dead-man’s controller, the idea being that if the operator dies at the wheel, he’ll relax his grip on the control handle, and the handle will pop up and stop the train,” Clarke said.

We have some challenges operationally,” Sullivan said. “This is another instance where … we need to review it, and we have to make sure we are ready with the coming months.” The T reported severe Red Line delays last night due to a disabled train at the Davis Square Station and closed down the tracks Wednesday night after a woman was struck and killed at the Downtown Crossing station. The Federal Transit Administration was assisting with the probe, and Pollack said the National Transportation Safety Board had been contacted but had not yet decided whether to investigate. Though newer Red Line cars have a different system, he said, Cineston controllers have been in continuous use in transit systems for more than 70 years.

Passenger Fernanda Daly told WBZ-TV’s Beth Germano that when the lights went out on the train, riders knocked on the booth but found no conductor inside. “The whole train started going slow, the lights went off and everything just stopped down between Quincy and JFK and we stayed there for about 30 minutes,” the female passenger said. This past February, an unmanned train for the Sacramento Regional Transit District Light Rail left the yard after a mechanic bypassed the deadman safety control while troubleshooting a problem.

With the lights out and the cold creeping in, the regular riders around her thought it was just another day on the oft-troubled line. “We were actually joking about wishing we had coffee,” she said. “It just seemed like a normal Red Line problem. Andy Rosen, Nicole Dungca, Laura Krantz, Matt Rocheleau, and Steve Annear of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Alexandra Koktsidis contributed to this report.

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