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Worcester Line derailment blamed on human error; T says service should be back to normal Monday except for the storm

MassDOT reported Sunday night that repairs to the Worcester Line tracks near Lansdowne are "substantially complete" and that service would likely be back to normal Monday, but there's a storm coming and that might cause its own issues, in part because of some of the repair work that remains to be finished:

Some additional track work remains ongoing to restore one crossing damaged during the December 26 derailment to full functionality. Although this crossing is not critical to restoring regular service on the Worcester Line, having it operational allows for additional resiliency during inclement weather.

MassDOT adds:

Immediately following the incident, the MBTA, Keolis, and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) began an investigation, which found that the track infrastructure and train set involved were in good working condition before the December 26 event. Initial findings also suggest the train crew allowed the incident train to pass through a switch that was not properly aligned. No passengers were onboard the coach car that derailed, and there were no injuries to passengers or train crews. With indications of human error as the contributing cause, the MBTA and Keolis took immediate steps to enhance crew training, strengthen communications between crews and dispatchers, and inspect similar systems across the network.

In response to this incident and following the details confirmed through the MBTA-Keolis-FRA investigation, several additional actions have already been taken. A special instruction to all Commuter Rail train crews was issued to further increase awareness around the rules governing manual switch operations. The maintenance records for the track infrastructure involved in this incident have been reviewed and all required maintenance was completed appropriately, and Keolis and MBTA crews are currently inspecting all systems on similar track infrastructure across the network.

Keolis and the MBTA also plan to enhance training for conductors and engineers, including additional hands-on switch training and an expanded skills assessment program both on-trains and utilizing a new Keolis-MBTA simulator. Keolis and the MBTA installed last year a practice switch for training and built a state-of-the-art locomotive simulator. These are both located at the MBTA facility in Somerville, Mass.



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It, indeed the problems on the Worcester Line were caused by human error, that's not in the least bit surprising. It's a possibility to look into.

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i'm gonna' start using the phrase substantially complete to my boss.

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So we actually need to define what they mean by human error. While there are some switches that are manually set by a human being on the ground, most of the switches in this area are controlled from a central facility at the South Bay Tower where everything is managed remotely and electronically. Therefore it is unlikely that a person on the ground did any switching unless there was a passing freight or work train that had to be moved temporarily to a side track which is in the area. Even then, on an active passenger line most switches are controlled from a central location these days.

The report suggests that the switch in question was misaligned, meaning that the train operator (engineer) would have been relying on line-of-sight in front of the train on a dark track with only the train's somewhat directional headlights to light the way to see the problem. Switches do not have to be misaligned much to pop a train off the track either. In fact, train operators are specifically trained to not depend on signals and to actually look at the switch to see if it is set right

A similar problem happened on the Green Line just outside of Riverside station not that long ago where the switch just outside the station was misaligned and the trolley operator either did not see the problem or was not otherwise gazing forward in the direction the train was operating. Either way that person was blamed for the derailment even though it was likely a mechanical issue out of their control.

In the case of the Lansdowne area derailment I have to wonder of the train engineer was even able to see the problematic switch in the dark.

Sadly that person will be blamed when in reality there was likely a mechanical issue at play. The report issued to the public lacks a substantial amount of data. For example was the siding used earlier? When was the last time the block operator (the person that runs the switches at South Bay Tower) access that switch to move a train? The list of questions not reported on is lengthy.

This is a typical public report from the MBTA and Keolis. Specific technical data is always left out because they deem the public is not educated to rail operations, nor would grasp what they deal with in the way of federal laws, regulations, policies, etc. Basically they lay blame someplace and say they will do better. The public bitches and goes away and never learns anything in the process.

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Switches and signals on the Worcester Line have never been controlled by a Tower at South Bay. A Train Dispatcher located at South Station is in control of the Worcester Line.
When a switch fails to give a proper indication to the Dispatcher that it is aligned properly and “Locked” properly , he can give verbal permission to the Locomotive Engineer to proceed past the red Stop Signal. Both the Engineer and Dispatcher are culpable if that switch was not aligned properly.
There are several scenarios that could have resulted in a derailment at this location...
As far as the Rules Briefings given to employees “after the horse is out of the barn”; this has been The Keolis game plan since they set foot on the property .
The FRA will delve into their Rules Compliance Observations and Documentations....fines will follow.

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Still incorrect. If the Dispatcher loses control of the switch, before permission past the stop signal can be given, the crew must take the switches OFF POWER and hand line (throw the switch) their route (regardless of whether the route looks lined the right way). So: The Dispatcher informs the crew that he or she is having a problem with the switch/switches, and that the crew must take the switch(es) off power and hand line the route (point a to b...). Then the crew is to confirm route is lined and that the crew is back on board for the permission to pass the stop signal. Then once clear of the interlocking, the train calls clear and the switch(es) are either left off power, or the crew walks back to put the switch(es) back on power- again on the instruction of the Dispatcher.

From the pictures shown on the news, I would guess that one of the switches wasn't lined/or inspected the way it should have been. This would be the fault of the crew of the train, and not the Dispatcher, as the Dispatcher can't see the position of the switch in this case (hence this sequence of events even happening). The Dispatcher verifies that the route is lined, but has to go by the word of the crew.

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