Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Green Line Accident

Wednesday evening, 6:00pm. It is the height of the evening rush hour and commuters are heading home after a day of work on the Riverside Branch of the Green Line. A train has just left the signal near Woodland Station when it is struck from behind by another train. In one of the worst MBTA accidents in years several people are injured, one of them seriously, and one of the operators is killed.

The operator of the second train, 24 year old Terrese Edmonds, died in the crash. The cab of her car was crushed severely by the impact. It took rescue crews several hours to remove her from the wreckage. My thoughts and condolences are extended to her family.

She had been operating trains since last October, still a rookie. Rumors have been flying around that she may have been on her cellphone just before the crash. The NTSB is trying to get copies of her phone records to confirm these rumors. Others say she simply wasn't experienced enough to be on that line. Unlike the other branches of the Green Line, the Riverside Branch has a regular operating speed of 45-50 mph. I admit I have seen operators do 55-60 at times.

The NTSB has determined that the train was traveling at about 35-40 mph when it should have been doing about 10. The train it stuck had just began to accelerate, going barely 5 mph. Track geometry tests show that there were no problems with the tracks at the time of the collision. Any mechanical errors with the brakes have also been ruled out by the National Transportation Safety Board. It appears that human error may be to blame for the accident.

Unlike the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines, there is no failsafe mechanism in place on the Green Line. On the subway lines, if a train gets to close to another train (i.e. within 500 feet or so), the emergency brake is triggered and power cut. The train then comes to a halt. On the Green Line, however, it is up to the operator to keep a safe distance from other trains. Due to its unique operating environment (most trackage is at grade, headways between trains in the Central Subway can range from 10 minutes to 10 seconds, etc.), it does not appear to be very practical to install such a system on the line.

But what about passenger safety? I'm sure we all remember the "fender bender" at Boylston Station. It was no where near as terrible as Wednesday's accident, but several people were still hurt.

Cars 3667 and 3703 have been damaged beyond repair. After the investigation is over, there are plans to retire and scrap them. However, it may still be possible to splice the two undamaged ends together to create a new car.

But the MBTA can always buy new trains. You cannot, however, replace the dear person lost.

This section of the line was shutdown for three days. Buses from all over the system, Charlestown/Bennett, Albany, Arborway, Cabot, were called in to provide shuttle services. Regular bus service felt the strain. The MBTA does not currently have a contingency fleet of buses to provide shuttles in emergencies. On Saturday, Green Line service resumed through the area. It is expected to be suspended again for the NTSB to conduct a test on Sunday. Monday morning should see a return to normalcy.

The accident was eerily similar to one which occurred 28 years ago, also on the Green Line and on the Riverside Line, near Brookline Village Station.

Images Courtesy of Scott Ruffinen

Like yesterday's accident, the first train was waiting a signal when the second struck it from behind. Speed was a factor in the accident.

Do I still feel safe riding the T? Yes, do you? There have been shootings on MBTA buses, bus I still catch bus each day. A runaway box car stuck a Commuter Rail train, but I still grab a Fairmount Line train every now and then.

Hopefully, we will all learn something from this tragedy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Type 7 fleet has had their governors set for a top speed of 40mph for the last 10 years now. This is because their heavy weight and high operating speeds have done a number on the Riverside Line's tracks. This is not something the motorman can override. Prior to that, the LRV fleet was governed to 52mph, adn the Type 7s to 50mph.