Investigators focus on ‘operator error’ as cause of runaway train near Boston

11 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Driverless disaster averted on Red Line.

A runaway Red Line train with 50 passengers on board — and no motorman at the controls — narrowly escaped disaster in North Quincy yesterday morning when the power had to be cut on the third rail, but not before the trains ahead had to clear the area to avoid getting rear-ended. “People in my car realized how to open the door between cars. 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. The trip began shortly after 6 a.m. at the Braintree station and ended about nine minutes later when power was cut to the rails, transportation officials said. 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.

The MBTA, along with Transit Police, the Department of Public Utilities, and the Federal Transit Administration, are continuing to investigate the incident and the operator has been placed on administrative leave. Stephanie Pollack, the state’s transportation secretary, said the investigation was focusing on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority train’s operator, who had sought and received permission to move the train despite a signal problem. 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.

We failed our passengers today.” Pollack would not say what error caused the train to take off without a conductor, citing the ongoing investigation, but admitted officials are looking into whether a cord was wrapped around the controls. Before doing so, the operator should also put into place two separate brakes inside the train, he said. “A device that is the master control of the train is a large lever that is on essentially the dash of the train,” Gonneville said. “That lever is put in full-service brake.

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. MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola said in a statement he plans to get to the bottom of what happened. “Passenger safety is the highest priority for the MBTA and this highly troubling incident is under investigation by Transit Police detectives,” DePaola said. The conductor, who was unable to start the train due to a “signal issue,” received permission from the control center to put the train into emergency bypass mode, which allows drivers to override the system and leave the station, said Pollack.

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. Officials said the motorman got off the train, put it in bypass mode — but then it took off, brushing the driver and sending him to the hospital with minor injuries. At 6:22 a.m., the MBTA Twitter account reported Red Line delays “due to a power issue.” No mention that officials had shut off the power to stop a runaway train with no operator. 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. 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.

Stuart Spina, a member of the T Riders Union and a transportation researcher, said the bypass is a common move requested by subway operators to avoid having to sit excessively at a station in the event of a signal failure. “You need a person to push the throttle to move it,” he said. “That’s really the freakiest part of the whole thing, is how on earth could the train start moving?” Moments after the train made its getaway, the driver reported the incident to an MBTA official at Braintree station, who immediately notified the MBTA’s Operations Control Center. 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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