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System designed to keep Green Line trolleys from plowing into each other is finally under contract, but still years away

Green Line crashes in 2008 and 2009 - one fatal - slowly spurred the MBTA to hire contractors to equip the nation's oldest subway line with a system that would automatically brake trolleys whose operators run red lights or seem about to smash into another trolley and who disregard audible alarms to stop.

But the German company hired in May, 2020 to build out the Green Line Train Protection System only applied this year for the required waiver to use a particular radio frequency from the Federal Communications Commission, needed for the $170-million project. The project is based on recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board in 2009.

Until the FCC waiver comes, work can't start to install the equipment both along Green Line tracks and on the trolleys to make the system operational.

Under a schedule approved last year, installation of track-side equipment was to begin this year, with testing in 2022, some actual use in 2023 and all trains running under the new system in 2025.

Along the tracks, a contractor would install sensors that would trigger an on-train system that would sound an audible alarm if a driver were to go past a red signal or failed to slow down because of a speed reduction along a particular stretch. If the trolley kept going, the system would then stop the train.

In its request to the FCC to approve the system proposed by BBR Verkehrstechnik, the T acknowledged that coming up with a solution for the NTSB's 2009 recommendation that the T do something to stop trolleys from colliding - which came after a similar 2008 recommendation - "has taken quite a while" but urged the FCC to act quickly "based on the criticality of addressing this safety recommendation."

What got the T to thinking about a system analogous to the ones long in use on the Red, Blue and Orange lines and installed in recent years along commuter lines, were two particular crashes: One on the D Line in Waban in 2008 that killed the driver who hit another trolley stopped for a red signal after she went into what federal investigators called "micro-sleep" and a crash in the tunnel near Government Center in 2009 caused by a trolley driver too busy texting his girlfriend to notice the red signal he blew by.

The crashes caused dozens of passenger injuries and millions of dollars in trolley damage.

In its reports on both incidents, the NTSB urged the T to install a "positive train control system" that might have prevented further crashes, such as a 2012 crash at Boylston that injured several dozen riders and was caused by a driver who hadn't gotten any sleep after getting off a second job overnight before the crash - and, possibly, today's B Line crash.

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Comments

A city is only as good as it's transit system. Stopping MBTA fuckups is like stopping the drug trafficking and crime. When are the new trains coming back? Nothing is new at this point, actually.

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Would the transit system be better if the T shut down the Green Line entirely until this system is in place?

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My first solution would be not to saddle the MBTA with the cost of servicing the Big Dig debt, so that it can use its available funds for, you know, running trains and buses.

My second solution would have been to acknowledge that writing contracts with long tailed obligations, such as encouraging employees to retire at age 50 with a generous lifetime pension is, in fact, borrowing money, and should be subject to the same sort of oversight as issuing bonds. Too late on that one; you can’t screw retirees out of the benefits they earned fair and square, but, man, did the T management of the 1970s and 1980s give away a lot of our 2020s money…

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Money isn't the issue this time. Money has been allocated for the project. The issue is with a higher power- the FCC of all things.

But I suppose they could just replace the Green Line with buses. That'll go over well.

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grant the damn waiver already!

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I hope the system can support the required number of trains per hour.

The signal system on the Red Line chokes every single rush hour, and it's only scheduled about every 5 minutes at peak. The Green Line needs to handle a whole lot more trains than that.

Philadelphia had a major fiasco with huge train traffic jams when they installed a similar system. Their Green Line is similar to ours (trolleys on multiple branches which converge in a downtown tunnel), except it carries about half the passengers.

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I think the signal systems on the Red Line and SEPTA's Green Line are designed to constantly control the speed of the train, while the system planned for the MBTA Green Line is designed only to apply the emergency brake if trains get too close, the MBTA Green Line motorpersons will still be fully reaponsible for controlling the speed of the train in all other circumstances. The difference in the two approaches is there might still be times where some minor passenger injuries occur from sudden emergency brake applications, but the signal system will not choke the movement of trains and serious injuries (or even death) and the destruction of equipment will still be prevented.

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"The Federal Communications Commission only received notice from the T last month" ?!! Great reporting, Adam.

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The FCC got the waiver request in April, at least according to the Google timestamp, last month was when the T wrote that it supported the project. I'll make that clearer.

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The technical specs of this system seem to have been outlined in a May 12th document from the contractor. The T sent their support of this to the FCC on June 14th. But the dated letter from the contractor to the FCC formally requesting the waiver is dated July 2nd.

The better question is why are we still working on installing a system in 2021 that was recommended in 2009 to avoid major problems which appear to still be occurring in 2021?

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I've changed the wording in the story to reflect the fact that the waiver was applied for this year, but took out the suggestion the FCC has been sitting on the application, since it's clear I don't know the exact timeline of when the thing was submitted.

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Why aren’t we just automating the whole system and Lin,I guess it to traffic control? Mount a sensor front and rear of each train and have a driver in front just for emergencies or a cop in second car during nights to help mitigate crime or assault?

Boston is a great city but let’s stop being. I trolled by old ass equipment and motorman unions. Going from BC to BU isn’t quaint, it is for hung over college kids to get to class on time or get back to campus after a drunken night on Harvard Ave.

Do pay entry at each door via card or tap too - we need to think bigger! How about a B line spur to Brighton center?

Expand or die!

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So, you want driverless trolleys on lines with countless busy crossings where, just to pick one item, students glued to their phones saunter by?

As for your Brighton Center suggestion, you know why it is the B line, right?

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But I'm never ever going to see the 57 from Watertown Yard going back to being a trolley. Dammit.

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WBZ just mentioned this reporting during their 10am news!

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to have a cranky old person stand next to the driver and just yell, "hey asshole, look out".

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In the United States, only spurious emissions are permited in the 100 kHz band. This is because the band is part of an allocation for Loran-C. However, Loran-C operations were discontinued in 2010. Because Section 87.173(b) of the Commission’s Rules has never been updated, the Commission has previously granted several waivers to permit certain types of operation in the band.

This is both tragic and funny.

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I don't understand why Green Line trains can't have basic collision avoidance technology like many cars do now today. Why can't there be a detector on the front of each train that automatically puts on the brakes if it gets too close to a train (or any object really) in front of it? Why do we have to get an expensive new signaling system?

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And my car is a lot newer than all but a handful of Green Line cars.

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Now that cars have access to this technology, why isnt it required for all drivers?

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