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So now the question is: Do other Red Line drivers know about the bypass-the-safety-control trick?

WBZ reports the driver of the runaway train used a cord to tie down the speed-control lever to bypass the "dead-man's switch" feature before getting out of the train to flip the switch that would let the train travel through red signals - the ones that had been plaguing the Red Line in Braintree all week. Oops: He didn't set the train's brakes first.

WBUR reports Gov. Charlie Baker called the untended ride "an isolated incident" that resulted when "a single individual made multiple errors."

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If they didn't know already, they do now. "Failsafe" not. We really need another human with access to the controls on the train. It's beyond absurd that there is only 1 T employee on the train.

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Carmen, is that you?

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"the driver of the runaway train used a cord to tie down the speed-control lever to bypass the "dead-man's switch" feature before getting out of the train to flip the switch that would let the train travel through red signals - the ones that had been plaguing the Red Line in Braintree all week."

The signal system is the root problem. It was not fixed. That is where this discussion must start.

Bypassing the safety switch was bad choice. It is why the train driver-less. The signal system is why the driver had to get out of the train.

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Willfully disabling a safety feature is the problem. It's there precisely to prevent this sort of thing (or, you know, the guy having a heart attack - it's called a dead man's switch for a reason).

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He had to get out of the train to flip a switch to override the broken signal system. The signal system is also a safety system. He screwed up by defeating the dead man's switch and he should be held accountable. But the reason it caused a crisis is that the signal system was broken.

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How about the employees NOT SABOTAGE THEIR OWN FRICKEN SAFETY EQUIPMENT!

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the practice was sanctioned (either formally or informally) by management.

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"We were just following orders" isn't a valid excuse.

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"We knew (or suspected) our operators were bypassing the dead-mans control, but did nothing to stop the practice."

Yes, hold the operator responsible for their actions, but don't stop at that if there's evidence that management also has culpability here. And that's why we need a full and impartial investigation conducted by an independent party.

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IMAGE(http://www.china-gadgets.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/drinking-bird-simpsons-500x272.jpg)

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Yes, obviously the solution is to hire a second man so they can take turns napping.

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''To prevent similar safety violations, the T will now require that a second, senior employee be present before a train can enter bypass mode, Pollack said''

http://www.boston.com/news/2015/12/11/official-red-line-train-operator-f...

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The last thing we need is more MBTA employees. They're already grossly overpaid.

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Wow. What a great excuse to hire more employees: The ones we have are possibly willfully violating safety regs (and probably indirectly, the law), so we need twice as many motormen in the cabs to make sure this doesn't happen.

Or maybe they could stick surveillance cameras in the cabs on the motormen to see if they're violating safety rules, making it known to all employees that they spot-check the videos and anyone caught jerry-rigging the safety devices or any other controls gets fired without question (just like their recent cellphone policy after at least two crashes involving drivers texting). Passengers on most of these vehicles are now subject to the ever-watchful eye of the surveillance state nowadays, why not the employees? "If you're not doing anything wrong, what have you got to hide?"

If anything, the T should be moving toward fully-automated trains with zero motormen on board. Other transit systems already use it. Ours might be too decrepit to even function right now even with humans at the helm, but since the T says they need to spend $7B anyway to bring their equipment up to spec, maybe complete automation should be part of this.

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The governor seemed to think that patching up the third rail and purchasing a bunch of huge snowplows would make a big difference — and maybe it will if we have severe weather. Unfortunately it appears he did nothing to remedy the 's totally incompetent ways of operating the system on a daily basis.

The obviously only has procedures in place for when everything is functioning normally. Throw a single wrench into the machine and everything falls apart. The signaling on the Braintree stretch has been acting up all week long, yet they don't seem to have done anything to mitigate the problem, such as having additional personnel standing by trackside to operate the bypass switches. If the driver did not need to exit the cab to do this, not only would it have prevented this incident, but any delay to passenger service would be minimized.

Plans for malfunction should be built into the system, as something inevitably goes wrong almost on a daily basis. Yet, no one at the seems to care about the resulting delays, or having a contingency plan to deal with them.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the appalling bustitution services the cobbles together whenever something happens.

IMAGE(https://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/bustitute-mgh.jpg)

The above picture was taken at the Charles/MGH station on Wednesday evening, during the very unfortunate incident at Downtown Crossing. Coming from MIT, I was headed to the Blue Line. Thanks to Universal Hub, I was already aware of the Red Line shutdown before leaving my office

While walking towards Kendall, I was puzzled to see three shuttle busses — each absolutely packed with passengers — heading down Ames Street towards Memorial Drive. When I got to the station, I saw them all stopping behind it on Carleton Street where the throngs of passengers waiting on Main Street couldn't see them. I guess it didn't matter anyway, because nobody would be able to get on the busses.

Of course, I elected to walk across the Longfellow Bridge, and the first thing I saw was that the State Police had closed the bridge to all motor vehicles except for MBTA busses. Since there's only one lane which normally goes just into Boston, this seemed like a good idea, so that the shuttle busses would be able to use it to get to Cambridge. However, in the time it took me to walk from Kendall to Charles, not a single bus crossed the bridge in either direction.

I couldn't believe it when I saw those three busses just sitting in front of Charles Station! No one was getting off of them, and certainly no one was getting on. Now of course, there needs to be a coordination of the single lane direction, but there were scores of State Police stationed at either end of the bridge, presumably to do just that. The stationary shuttle busses were blocking Cambridge Street, so traffic was at a standstill. In my walk up to Bowdoin, I passed five more busses — all packed, all just sitting there stopped in traffic. Those first busses in front of MGH still hadn't moved.

IMAGE(https://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/bustitute-mgh2.jpg)

IMAGE(https://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/bustitute-mgh3.jpg)

Obvious question the needs to answer: Why are all busses stopping at all stations, instead of running some busses express to where most passengers are trying to go — directly to Harvard Station? (I once asked a bustitution bus dispatcher such a question during another incident. He replied, he'd never thought of doing that.)

My point of relating this story is that it is an exemplar of the operating philosophy and overall thought processes (or lack of them) that plague the . They just do the bare minimum to get by, but never think about what can be done to provide passengers with dependable transit service, especially when things go wrong. New snowplows haven't changed anything.

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Thankfully when he's 50 and retired he won't have to put up with this sort of crap anymore. :)

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He's already over 50, so I'm surprised he's not already taking one of those infamous T pensions.

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Let's talk a moment about this phrase you used.... "Functioning Normally".

The t is grossly understaffed, and for 20 some years now seems to have run on a "patch it together until it completely falls apart" system.

Normal function for trains/subway cars was one driver per car. Now its one per chain of cars.

I think it's been decades since the T has had a full staff and equipment in good repair. When you are working the slightly less than the bare minimum you need to get by, there is no slack for small emergencies and no room for innovation. But the idea that having spare equipment in case of emergencies, and staff for full coverage is the kind of "fat" that gets cut first.

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If you're at Park, you get on any car to Massachusetts, and then take the 1 bus. Sure, it might be full, too, but at least it has a chance of getting to Harvard Square.

MSP is pretty good about quickly closing the Longfellow when a bus bridge needs to be set up. Of course, MassDOT pretty much borked the whole thing bringing it down to one lane.

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Doesn't everyone have at least one story about that route? :-)

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And thank you for adding "bustitution" to my vocabulary.

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For example, the Silver Line Bus as a substitute for actual rapid transit service along the Washington Street corridor.
     Bustitution via Wikipedia

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Now, how do we get you appointed head of the T?

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I'm sure he invented the trick and this happened to be the very first day he used it in his 28 years on the job.

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Seriously? Tying down the "dead man's switch" -- which is a feature of all railway control systems designed to stop the train if the driver's hands come off the controls?

  1. What the hell was he thinking?
  2. That ought to be pretty much a firing offense
  3. If it turns out to be widespread, what the hell is wrong with the operational culture that leads people to the conclusion that this is OK?
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the investigation into this incident needs to be handled by the NTSB, and not the Federal Transit Administration.

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Full disclosure, I am the son of a retired MBTA bus driver. 589, never the sharpest union on the block, was broken about 1978-1979 when they went on a one day strike during a stupidly hot summer day.

Since then I am noticed the professionalism of the T really take a long glide path to meh. There are a number of great drivers out there but who the hell wants to be the person getting yelled at for being 1 minute late by someone paying $2.70 to get carted from Brigham Circle to Wonderland or getting stabbed because you wanted to make someone pay their fare?

The disinvestment in infrastructure, the absolute political dumping ground that is 10 Park Plaza is incredible. Why have a working signal when you can have a Second Deputy Assistant Director of the Ride?

Therefore if you are treated like dirt but you want to get your job done, you cut the corners that make the job get done. This is what happened yesterday.

Ever Disappointing Charlie Baker and gone over to the Darkside Stephanie Pollock can harp on this and that but with failing signals, trains not being repaired properly, and looming additional cuts, I would hate to be a T operator these days. We are at a Red Army 1992 situation with the T. Prepare for more misery.

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Therefore if you are treated like dirt but you want to get your job done, you cut the corners that make the job get done. This is what happened yesterday.

Vazquez earned $96,029.07 last year.

If that's not enough incentive to do his job properly and safely, then fuck him.

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I'm sure you will be sponsoring the fundraiser for the new signal needed outside of Braintree inbound?

I'm also sure you help pay for correct, working equipment at your job as well, correct?

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I'm sure you will be sponsoring the fundraiser for the new signal needed outside of Braintree inbound?

We don't need a fundraiser; we have already paid for that new signal many times over. The problem is, as you point out, that the T management squandered the money rather than buying the signal.

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The floor cost for this thus far is $4.5 Million. The Hingham Shipyard back in 1942 took 9 months to go from a polo field to the start of ship construction. This building will soon be entering its third calendar year of construction. That could have fixed a lot of signals. There is nothing, repeat nothing wrong with the little office space that the Hingham Ferry uses now.

http://hingham.wickedlocal.com/article/20140821/NEWS/140828985/?Start=1

Your MBTA folks.

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Admittedly the old government center headhouse was nasty, but I guesstimate that the new one is approximately 15 times the cubic volume of the old one.

Not twice the size, not triple the size, but at least 15 times the size, and it blocks the view of one of the only nice facades in the area (Sears Crescent), and it blocks the "to be forever preserved" view of Old North Church from Tremont street.

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Government Center headhouse has NO FUNCTIONAL purpose. That's the problem with it, not that it blocks the view of a church in another neighborhood or an adjacent building.

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has NO FUNCTIONAL purpose

Other than to be rented out for advertising billboards, that is.

You didn't seriously think they were going to leave it clear, did you?

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And to be shit all over by pigeons.

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that Clear Channel will get $68,548 from the advertiser. And the T will get a whopping $12.85 from Clear Channel.

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How is tying a cord to the switch helping him get the job done despite "being "treated like dirt"? Isn't it just so he won't actually have to keep his hand on the switch, because he finds it too strenuous?

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Vazquez earned $96,029.07 last year.
If that's not enough incentive to do his job properly and safely, then fuck him.

Every time the Red Line bogs down for signaling issues, we all bay for blood. I'm as guilty of this as anyone.

So, should he have docked his own pay to fix the signals?

I mean, we can't have a safe system without going down hard on people who bypass things like the deadman's. I'm okay with that. But for pete's sake, it's time to get the money together to fix the damn signals.

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So, should he have docked his own pay to fix the signals?

What an inane question.

The answer is that he should have done everything that he did, except for the part where he manually overrode a safety mechanism, which then allowed the train to leave the station without anyone at the controls.

He had permission to leave the train.
He had permission to switch the bypass thingy.
He did not have permission to tie a cord around the accelerator.

If it comes down to being late or dying, I'll take being late, thanks.

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Pay and work motivation/ethic are rarely related; even highly-paid people are going to do a shit job if they're inside a toxic culture. I'm not defending the idiot who tied off his control stick here, I'm just explaining how it happens.

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Further to my comment below, the fact that Gov. Baker has not gone all Scott Walker on the Carmen's union (and others) already says something about him not being a shoot first and ask questions later kind of guy. I think that most Republican politicians who have had to deal with the T as much as Baker has would have already done everything in their power to destroy the unions there.

Truthfully, even here in Greater Boston, I think that we are now at a point with the MBTA that going after the unions would have the support of a majority of the populace, and possibly, the support of an overwhelming majority thereof. It will be interesting to see what happens. If I were O'Brien, I'd be pretty damned careful just now.

Lastly, I don't buy into this "Baker wants to destroy the T and curry favor with his car-driving 'exurban base'" stuff. The Governor (and anyone else who has even a shred of knowledge what's going on in the real world) knows that a (better) functioning public transportation system is critical to the continued growth of the regional economy, and most of the biggest names in the "business community" are on record as having acknowledged this. The Governor has to know this well, and I cannot believe that he would have taken on the responsibility of fixing the T (because that's what he did when he went to the Legislature for the Control Board - it must have been the best day of Rosenberg and DeLeo's respective lives) so that he could run it into the ground and ruin the business climate here. It just doesn't make sense.

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It should be possible to buy off the unions to get long-term reductions in operating expenses (is that not basically the definition of capital expenditure?).

Offer a contract which reduces wages to levels more consistent with modern pay structures over a multi-decade period. As part of the contract, make the workers an upfront payment of (30-years_of_service)*contract_pay_reduction. If it would reduce a 10-year employee's pay by $25k a year, employees with 10 years of service get paid $500k cash if the union accepts the deal. It's selling out those who aren't even employed yet, but there's abundant evidence that that's generally not a problem for unions (see the UAW agreeing to entry-level pay) if the existing members are taken care of. That $500k in our example, though, pays back in a bit more than 20 years, depending on discount rates: you could argue that no capital expenditure the T makes (besides perhaps the last few bits of ADA compliance which could allow them to axe The Ride) has such a quick payoff.

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Do you think people will buy that?

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T employees had a contract at the time that gave them each a day off per year to lobby their representatives.

The Great and General Court was up to no good, and the union president simply felt that it was in their best interest to use that day to lobby their representatives.

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John Costello is coming after you to claim Best UH Commenter.

Yelling at a bus driver for being one minute late? My answer would be "I drove the same speed as the guy in front of me." $2.70 is a steal. I hear Boston's a great walking town if you want to give that a try instead.

As for the bad employees, are we supposed to be surprised that those exist in an organization where people get hired by lottery and then almost can't get fired?

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As the daughter of a retired MBTA driver, (who I remember from when I was a kid and he went to strike), I agree with this.

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I say allegation/finding because it is not immediately clear to me from the version of the article that I read whether an official finding has been made.

If this action is confirmed, we should all be thankful that no innocent people were severely injured or killed. If the union is smart, it will do only the minimum it is obligated to do on behalf of the driver, too.

We simply cannot continue on with the T like this. I am sick and tired or warning about the next Cocoanut Grove on the T (when recklessness/negligence like this leads to hundreds of people trapped underground with a fire condition). None of us should have to consider this as anything other than the remotest of possibilities, but rather, it appears to me to be something of a small probability.

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that needs to be properly and thoroughly investigated. Unfortunately, the press playing the cheezy "condition of anonymity" ploy to publish what is effectively insider information doesn't help matters at all.

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Can you elaborate on why you think the press reporting this info makes a difference one way or the other? The investigation is the investigation. The fact that the press was able to dig up and confirm with sources information from that investigation should have no impact on its ultimate conclusion, or the public policy response to it.

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Two reasons:

I have some background in emergency management, and in my experience I didn't get any info that resembled an accurate description of an event until about the third volley of information (we're not there yet).

Second, I have so little faith in the msm these days (in large part because of their desire to be first and run with things that are not fully confirmed yet) that I am not comfortable just going with what they say - particularly with an event where such egregious conduct is alleged.

[edit: sorry - I thought your question was directed to me. I realize now it was directed to roadman.]

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If the MBTA is truly interested in conducting a full, thorough, and impartial investigation, then why are they already leaking information concerning evidence in that investigation to the press?

Possible answer - Because they don't want a full investigation, lest it reveal the underlying issues and causes that led to this operator (and perhaps others as well) adopting such unorthodox procedures and shortcuts. As a result, they are reaching conclusions even before all the evidence has been considered.

According to the press, the MBTA, the FTA, and Carmen's Union are all conducting separate investigations. There should be only ONE investigation of this matter. As I've stated in other posts, that investigation should be conducted by the NTSB, which is perhaps one of the only governemnt agenices that conducts truly independent and objective investigations into such matters.

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Won't the NTSB do an investigation anyway. It's their job, no?

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the NTSB does not automatically investigate every serious transportation incident reported to them, nor are they required to. When Congress created the NTSB, they only mandated that all aviation-related accidents and incidents be investigated (yes, even when a private Cessna makes a too-wide turn onto a taxiway and ends up in the grass instead). Whether or not to investigate specific accidents/incidents in other transportation modes such as highway or rail is up to the NTSB themselves. And like all other Federal agencies, the NTSB has finite staff, budget, and other resources.

Obviously, not every incident the NTSB looks at warrants a full scale investigation with a full report. Often times, they will do a simpler investigation - which is published as an accident brief (as opposed to a accident report).

In this case, it has already been announced that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will be conducting an investigation. Also, were the NTSB to be involved in any investigation, they would already have their investigators on scene, and would have announced that fact to the press (the NTSB is usually very good about such notifications). Based on this, I'd say it's a pretty sure bet that the NTSB won't be involved here.

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Ugh, yes. The combination of massive overcrowding and the MBTA's complete lack of ability to efficiently get information to passengers (by pretty much any medium whatsoever, including "people telling you verbally") is a deadly catastrophe waiting to happen and it terrifies me.

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Is this a good time to ask about that nice T employee with the flashlight who is stationed on the Red Line outbound platform at Park Street? He waves a flashlight to the train operator - I guess it is a signal that it is OK to close the doors. Seems kinda old-fashioned. Never seen this anywhere else.

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is a direct result of the decision to eliminate the second man on trains. Even with the video screens installed at most stations (assuming they are working, which is normally not the case), it is extremely difficult for the operator in the front car to accurately gauge when to close the doors on a six car train.

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I've always thought it was weird that the second conductor was "eliminated", but immediately a new position was created for a person to stand around at most stations waving a flashlight to signal that the doors are closed when the trains have lights that signal when the doors are open/closed.

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The people with the flashlights only seems to be at downtown stations like Park, Downtown Crossing, South Station, Haymarket, and Chinatown.

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The platform door attendants are stationed in locations where large numbers board or deboard and/or where the platform space is tight. Both conditions result in large crowds blocking the operator's view of the doors. As you note, it's basically the oldest and most heavily used stations. But you won't see the flashlight brigade at newer but heavily used stations (Harvard, Forest Hills, etc.) because they were designed to efficiently handle the crowd. It has to be more cost effective to have a half dozen such staff positions than an extra person on every single train.

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Second conductors, there's one on every train, so that's what, 20-odd jobs per line? For each shift?

Flashlight guy, which they don't even have to have at every station, just the ones with real horrible lines of sight / crowds, is probably like 5 jobs, and they don't have to always have someone there (super late at night, for example, it's probably a lot easier for the driver to gauge doors because no crowds)

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I imagine it's because then there's just 1 person on the platform rather than a second person on every single train.

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I don't think anybody would be surprised to learn that this has become unofficial SOP to deal with the constant signal issues on the Red Line.

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What exactly are the "signal issues" that everyone seems to be talking about. Why can't they fix them?

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The 1 Pm press conference on Friday that included Charlie Baker, Stephanie Pollack and some T tech people said there is a known signal problem at Braintree and they are working on determining the underlying problem. A decent translation may also be that the thing is so old they cannot get replacement parts, or the hard-wire system is busted someplace and they don't know where along miles of track.

The signal on the Red Line tells the train it is Ok to go and at what speed it can then go to, but that signal has been waffling up and down the spectrum so the train cannot get a correct reading, so it cannot go. The only solution is to bypass the signal which requires exiting the train to set the signal to bypass. Gosh only knows when they will get it fixed but I bet this will speed up the process.

Now that said, why the operator tied down the throttle has me thinking. This is a 28-year veteran operating a 40-year old train and he likely knew what he needed to do to get up and running. That doesn't make it right but I bet that is what they have to do on occasion. Normally you lock the throttle stand in full park (like at the end of the line with the big "whoosh"), reset the signal, then unlock and go. Most operators don't do this and leave it just in service brake mode much like at a station stop. If there was a known problem getting this train out of the locked throttle position this may have been what he had to do, or some other trickery to get moving. Clearly if that is the case the train should have been out of service.

However let's remember 40-year old trains don't easily get replacement parts, and something like a bad spring or lock on a Cineston (the brand name of the throttle stand) may not be deemed a major repair need if you can get around it. I mean... how often do we ride a car with a flat wheel?

Returning to 2 operators per train may be one solution but let's also remember that they also took away cell phones from them due to just a handful of morons.

After the train operator got off to set the signal, was struck and got his leg cut up when the train started up, he had to hobble onto the platform, find the station master and report the runaway. Maybe if he had a walkie talkie (which only supervisors have) or a cell phone that may have been different and they might have stopped the train sooner.

In Europe most all train operators and conductors have GSM cell phones that are locked down to the dispatcher and intra-train needs. Works great.

None of this should have happened and it is likely the operator will be the scapegoat but there is definitely an underlying back story here.

Indeed the train passed numerous wayside signals that might have stopped the train. Why not?

You'll also be happy to hear that Stephanie announced that they have suspended the winterization track and 3rd rail work for the winter and only got as far as Wollaston, leaving from there to Braintree at risk.

Happy motoring.

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This is a useful and reasonable comment, and I thank you for it.

I have only two comments in response:

(1) if this "tie the switch" procedure is the norm because of old equipment or something, the operator has to blow the whistle on that. No one is ever going to argue with a guy who stands up and says "the safety of my passengers and my train come first" (remember Maverick in Top Gun?). Also, it is precisely for instances like this that the union exists (in case any idiot manager tried to give the guy a hard time about blowing the whistle).

(2) is it frustrating that the winterization work is probably not going to be completed? Yes, however, the probability of having the amount of snow this year that we had last year is so slim, that I, for one, would much rather the T spend its time, resources and money on what are clearly some non-trivial life-safety issues out there.

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large and structurally stupid organization, have you?

If the union bosses and the white collar management had worked their way up from train operator and mechanic jobs, gotten company support to get additional vocational and university training to advance in their careers, etc, etc, then yes, all you would have to say is that the situation is unsafe, and the context of the communication would be clear to managers who've walked in your shoes and understand what you mean.

If, on the other hand, the managers up and down the line are bean counters and lawyers who trained as bean counters or lawyers and for whom things like subway trains and deadman switches and safety engineering are, at best, abstract concepts, and at worst, just bullets on a powerpoint, good luck explaining anything to them about how the sausage is made only to have their eyes glaze over, or more likely, have them ignore you in favor of the ladder climbing SOB standing right next to you while making reassuring noises about how its possible to save money with a quick and easy workaround.

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If the MBTA bus driver's AMA on Reddit a month ago taught me anything, it's that management simply does not listen to the employees at all. Serious eye-glazing occurs.

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but when management's attention is focused on performance numbers, it's easy to overlook any shortcuts the workers may be using to keep the trains on schedule.

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a train only has to be put into bypass once, as opposed to resetting the bypass at every signal. The more pressing question here is this: Once the train was put into bypass and started moving, did it ever exceed 25 mph, which is supposedly the maximum 'governed' speed a train can attain in bypass mode?

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I can't find it at the moment, but I believe one of the statements from the T said something about the train reaching 40 MPH.

That could be true and still not be a contradiction of the statements about the top speed of 25 MPH. If the train cleared the local high point of the system (top of Neponset River bridge, I think) while under power at 25 MPH, it would've gained speed coasting downhill after power was cut (slowing down to a stop on a more level section)

It brings to mind other questions. Does killing power kill any speed governors and automatic braking systems? What is the safe speed limit for any curves in that run?

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My guess is that it's standard practice down there. But will we ever find out? Probably not.

(I miss investigative journalism.)

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The more logical conclusion is that the cord wrapped around the throttle when he hung up after asking permission to do the override. Think of the way this would have had to happen if it was intentional. He got on the radio, put it down, THEN wrapped the cord around the throttle. It just doesn't make sense. While even this is a fuck up on the operators part, it is a MASSIVE fuck up on the T's part for this even being able to happen. This is why I think they're trying to infer that this was all on the operator, they know they're screwed if people figure out that this was they're fuck up and that it could happen on basically any train.

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