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Runaway train operator left train to deal with ongoing signal woes at Braintree

State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack acknowledged this afternoon that the train's driver left the train to prep it to deal with signal problems that have plagued the Braintree branch of the Red Line all this week.

But at an afternoon press conference, Pollack added that "operator error" is the primary focus of an MBTA investigation into the incident - in which a train traveled from Braintree to North Quincy without a driver.

Pollack and MBTA COO Jeff Gonneville said that due to the signal problems, the driver asked for and got permission to put the train into "bypass" mode by toggling a switch at the front of the train that would let it proceed through red signals. Before leaving his cabin, they said, he should have applied both the train's main brakes and a separate hand brake - which is located about three feet from the control panel at which he normally sits.

"While the operator was not on board the train, the train left the station," Pollack said. She called what happened "an unacceptable breach of our responsibility to keep our riders safe."

Pollack did not say how the train could have started moving without anybody at the controls. She said part of the investigation will include looking at the cord at least one passenger on the train reported seeing around the train controller.

She added that the reason the train traveled as far as it did - for nine minutes - was actually a safety measure: Supervisors at the T's operations control center kept the power on so that trains in front of the ghost train could get out of the way first.

Once they were out of the way, the operations control center shut power between JFK/UMass and North Quincy and the train slowly came to a stop.

She said the T did not let the roughly 50 passengers on the train know what was going on until T workers actually showed up at the train because the system has no way to communicate with passengers on trains.

She continued another focus of the investigation will be whether the train stayed at or below the 25-mph limit for trains in "bypass" mode.

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At least one passenger saw the motorman with a cord around his neck as the train was pulling away from the station. So, the implication is that there was a possible suicide attempt?

I also missed the part explaining how the T found out that the train was operating without a driver. Was there some kind of automatic notification sent to T ops? Did passengers call 911? Did the motorman alert the T after the train left?

And, can someone explain what "bypass" mode is?

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Operator Error ‘Primary Focus’ Of Runaway Red Line Train Investigation
http://boston.cbslocal.com/2015/12/10/mbta-red-line-train-left-station-w...

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It says the cord was around the controller, not the conductor. It doesn't seem that suicide was being attempted. At least not by the train driver! But maybe the train itself has had it.

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"I've been going between Ashmont and Alewife since 1969! They told me it would be a 20 year gig and I'd never go north of Harvard. A train can only take so much. That's it's. No more. Goodbye cruel MBTA!"

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Sounded like bypass mode is a way to, well, bypass the fact that the signals were red when they shouldn't have been. Pollack said a driver has to get permission from the operations control center to leave the train to flip the switch to allow that, which she said he did.

But she added she's not telling everything she knows so as not to jeopardize the ongoing investigation. The Transit Police police chief attended the press conference, although he didn't say anything.

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I think they are posturing to blame the operator, it smells conspiratorial. Blaming a union guy is very deflective. Maybe someone here can explain why the operator has to leave the cab to hit any type of switch that affects the rolling of a train, especially if it is a by-pass !

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It's the T. Where have you been?

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Trains like these have numerous fail-safes to keep them from moving on their own. If anything mechanical fails, the train stops, not goes. There's this lever for example which has to be held, non-stop, while a subway is moving; if the motorman lets go of it, the train comes to a stop.

If anything, the motorman didn't just commit an "operator error," he committed a willful and intentional override of the fail-safes, probably to make his job easier, and this time it bit him in the ass. The article obliquely references a "cord" around the "controller" which I have the strong suspicion means we're going to find out the motorman tied that lever into the always-on position so he didn't have to hold it all day while sitting in the cab.

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That is an image of a Cineston Controller that is commonplace on trains such as the Red Line. It is one of the older models that is shown.

This is the combo brake handle and power handle. You point it to the right and you go with 3 possible speed settings. At the center it is in neutral and you coast - no power and no brake. Point to the left and the brake is applied with varying pressure much like depressing a brake pedal on an auto.

The Cineston controller is spring loaded. If you let it go while you are in powered mode or in neutral, the spring causes the train to shut off power and the emergency brake is applied. You hear a big whoosh of air when this happens and the train suddenly stops. When the service brake is applied (pointing to the left) and you are stopped, that si the only time when you can let the handle go. This is a safety feature so if the operator is injured or ill and lets go the train stops.

The report is that the operator had the Cineston tied down in neutral but it may have crept into the first notch position to the right (slow speed), so when the bypass was allowed the train started up.

The XB brake by the door is almost never used as a back up - in fact never - because after it is applied it takes about 30 or more seconds to crank the handle to pull it back up to a release position.

Most all operators that need to reset a signal or set for bypass (differs by train) usually only apply the service brake like when at a station. It's reliable.

The problem here is asking why the operator found it necessary to tie off the throttle handle in this way. I suspect it was due to a defect in the throttle stand. The train is 40 years old after all.

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The motorman tries to put the "Cineston" (accelerator handle) into power to make the train move. The computer read out says "00" speed or "STOP" with an audible beep, beep, beep.

There are FM signals devices set down on the tracks (I think called Wezee Bonds ?). This is a computerized system to keep trains at safe distances between each other. It controls the SPEED of the train for example when the train is entering Harvard Sta. The ATO (ATC) Computer Box will flash 20 (maybe it's 10 mph) and beep, beep, beep. The motorman has to slow the train down to prevent derailing on a sharp curve. If he doesn't w/in a couple of seconds, the train will DUMP. Meaning the "air pressure" releases and the train will grind to an immediate HALT. He has to build up air pressure to at least 90lbs., which takes a couple of minutes to be able to move again. There have been cases when the motorman would get a STOP signal--no permission to go on BYPASS. The train would do a slow CONGA dance, starting & stopping, over & over until the dispatcher gave permission to go on the "bypass". This causes delays.

Back to original runaway train situation, motorman calls dispatcher to tell him of situation. Dispatcher makes sure by looking at his "Board" to see if there are any other trains ahead (that would cause a STOP signal to prevent a collision). If there are no trains directly ahead (according to the Board), this is a "false-signal". The dispatcher then gives permission for motorman to put the train on the "bypass" and gives him clearance to say Quincy Adams (given the real example was at Braintree). The "bypass" switch is on the outside & underneath of the train. This prevents the motorman from using the "switch" easily or "willy-nilly" (w/o permission). He has to climb down--go underneath, open a box with a metal silver on/off switch, similar to your light switch on the wall marked ON and OFF and switch it to the ON position. Then he has to climb back up into the train which gives him MANUAL freedom to go (and it could be at any speed). When he gets to Quincy Adams, he has to climb down and reverse the "bypass" switch and call to let the dispatcher that he is back on ATO (automatic train operation) aka ATC (auto train control).

Now do I get a Christmas gift for doing this "Seminar" on train operation ? :-) The company treats it's employees like crap. There is low morale. There is so much MISINFORMATION out there that the media (like Howie Carr) keeps repeating to make the Public hate the workers. Like you can retire with a "full pension" at 20 yrs. or 23 yrs. I put in 30 yrs. and I didn't get a full pension ! The Public then gets upset. But that's a different subject for another time.

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I liked it for a couple of reasons, but I will focus only on one:

There is low morale. There is so much MISINFORMATION out there that the media (like Howie Carr) keeps repeating to make the Public hate the workers.

Undoubtedly, some of the "public hate" is justified, as there seems to be a somewhat greater number of below average performers in certain public sector operations. That said, what I believe to be your larger point is well-taken (at least by me).

It is very difficult to get up and go to a job each day, let alone take pride in it and be successful, if you are subjected to a constant barrage of media stories about how much "all youse" suck. The same thing goes for being in a job where a "manager" gives you nothing but negative feedback. I worked in the public sector for a number of years, and left because of the constant media thing (I was worried that even though I was doing some very good, and in some cases, cutting edge work, I was going to be tarred with that big sloppy "hack" brush for the rest of my career - luckily for me, though, I at least had good/great managers where I was).

This is a non-trivial matter. As I have alluded to before (in my comments on consultants - see the GLX thread to which I will try to link later), it is in everyone's interest to create a situation where good, talented, devoted people do not leave, or avoid altogether, public sector positions. If we don't do that, we end up with what I believe auto insurers sometimes call "negative selection" (you get the worst drivers, or in this case, the least talented/devoted etc.). As I said before, this is a very big part of why public agencies (and transport agencies in particular) are depending almost entirely on consultants (the talented/devoted that would otherwise be working directly for the public agency) rather than their own employees.

We need to change this dynamic, and soon.

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And although I am not entirely familiar with the cabs, is it possible that the "cord" was actually a telephone/intercom cord that was resting on the control panel, just as it would on a desk?

Of course it is really bad this was able to happen, but I am glad it wasn't anything more nefarious.

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How do they still have signal problems on a daily basis in 2015?

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It's back...

"Red Line experiencing moderate delays due to a signal problem at Braintree.

Last updated: Dec 10 2015 04:54 PM "

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Most of the system is still 1980's era. The new signal work is on the orange line first

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We're talking 1980s, not 1880s. This wasn't the dark ages. The system is failing due to lack of maintenance, not age. The fact the oldest cars in operation are from the late 1960s is a large part of it.

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Because the signals are probably as old and decrepit as the ones they finally replaced on the Orange Line a decade ago, which were 30 years old at the time.

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While there have been upgrades and maintenance the signal system dates back to around '69 or so. Add it up.

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An operator error, so before people call for his/her head think back to the basic errors we ALL make on a daily basis, unless your name is _____ and you ride a bike. You know EVERYTHING, Right?

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Are you comparing someone driving a public transit vehicle, with potentially hundreds of people's safety at stake, and (allegedly) intentionally overriding a safety device, with someone driving their personal automobile and doing something careless like forgetting to use their turn signal?

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The Ghost Train is tweeting about its big day

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Fail safe mechanisms are to not even allow operator error to occur.

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One possibility implied by mention of the cord is that it was bypassing other safety measures.

There's some sort of "dead man" safety setup to the operator control - some switch or lever has to be held in order for the throttle (or "controller" or whatever they call it) to be operated. If the operator literally died at the switch - had a heart attack and keeled over - he wouldn't simply jam the throttle on by slumping onto it. He'd no longer be holding the safety switch and the train would stop - no matter what position the throttle was.

Speculating, but if was tired of holding the safety and rigged something to hold it for him, and forgot when he stepped out of the cab....

I understand the part about keeping the power on to get other trains out of the way in front of them. What I don't understand is why they didn't put signals to red in front of the ghost train. Wouldn't passing a red signal trigger an automatic slowdown?

The other thing I've seen/heard no mention of yet in today's coverage - I've seen some mention of passengers getting concerned as they passed stops, and tried the intercom, and called 911 or something, and those passengers in the front car realized there was no operator (I'm presuming they were locked out of the cab). Why didn't somebody in the front car pull the emergency brake cord/handle that is fully accessible to the passengers?

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Once a train is in by-pass mode, the signals won't stop it.
If the motorman did indeed override the deadman feature with a cord to hold down the controller, then the train would take off as soon he put it on bypass with the external switch, especially if he also didn't remove the reverser key and didn't make sure the controller was in the brake position.

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If the only options were "normal safety signal operation" (which appears to have been having problems) and "completely by-pass all safety signal operation", doesn't that seem a bit odd? Shouldn't there be a middle stage, like "bypass the signal that's causing trouble, then go back to normal operation"?

If they've been having signal trouble on part of that line for most of the week, why don't they post a signal operator or dispatcher on the platform to key these bypasses instead of having the operators get in and out? It must be awkward and time-consuming when the train cars are full at rush-hour.

None of which excuses the operator if he bypassed the deadman switch, of course...

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...I believe what was happening when the operator was given permission to "run in bypass" was basically cutting out the ATO (automatic train operation) on this train. The operator's not overriding the signal itself, he's deactivating the equipment on the train itself that picks up the signals from the ATO system and then applies those commands to the train. If you can't get a signal code* that's one work around to get things moving. Supposedly there's a 25 mph speed limit on the system with ATO cut out, but at the same time you have no protection against a train ahead, switch against you, etc. The train will pass a red stop signal.

All MBTA subway cars with some sort of train control system have a way to cut it out if needed. The Blue Line still uses train stops (see here for explanation of how they work in NYC), and the cars have a "Trip Cut Out" that can bypass that system. You need to have a way around these things when something goes wrong, but that's when you depend on the operator following procedure and not taking other measures to defeat safety systems.

*Cab signalling (which ATO is a more advanced version of) sends coded signals to trains at different frequencies which indicate what speed the train should operate at. "Stop" (i.e., 0 mph) is done through the absence of a coded signal, hence the fail safe that if the train stops picking up the speed code, it will stop. So, if there's no way to transmit a speed code to the train, your only means of getting it past will be to cut out the ATO.

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Yes, exactly!

The broader question is why a 28-year veteran operator found it necessary to tie off the Cineston Controller to make the bypass work. There is more to this than operator error.

People who ride the trains daily should really familiarize themselves with the safety features and maybe even catch a video or two on how trains operate and where the emergency brakes are.

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I mentioned in the other thread, that it would take some significant knowledge of how the system works to have the courage to pull the ebrake. Considering research into group dynamics I bet everyone was thinking that maybe someone else should pull it because who wants to be responsible to stopping the train and basically stopping the red line for who knows how long and messing everyone's commute up.

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two stations without stopping.

Gee, there's no response from the operator's cab.

But I'm not going to pull the emergency brake and stop this train that is apparently running away. I'll call the Transit Police (who are totally unable to stop the train) instead.

One question - if Operations was unable to cut the power to the third rail in a timely manner and the train then crashed into another train as a result, would you still argue that not pulling the emergency brake was the right course of action?

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IMAGE(http://transit.toronto.on.ca/photos/images/subway-5503-17.jpg)

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resorted to duct tape and bubble gum to get the signal to allow the train to move? Was this a common practice, to avoid repair, shutdowns, delays and the resulting bad press? Are the operators told to do whatever needs to be done to keep the trains moving on time? The operator may not be the brightest bulb but he shouldn't be taking the hit for a system on the verge of collapse.

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of a famous piece. "On mounting a rising ground, which brought the Red Line train in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and creaky with rust, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that it was headless!--but his horror was still more increased on observing that the train, which should have stopped at JFK was rolling merrily on to Alewife!" - Washington "Sully" Irving, The Legend of MBTA Hollow.

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