Long overdue scrutiny
At least until it can be made safe and reliable.
The National Transportation Safety Board has barely begun its work and already we've learned that Green Line trolley operators have little in the way of training and that there are no fail safe devices to stop trains when operators run through stop warnings.
In other words, the Green Line is no better than any street in Massachusetts where drivers have managed to build a reputation as cowboys who do what they want, when they want with little fear of punishment in the form of tickets or license suspensions.
The requirements for running the complicated trolley cars are spare. Operators are required to be at least 18 years old, to have been driving a car at least three years, and have a high school diploma or its equivalent, under MBTA rules.
Following seven weeks of training, including classroom and field experience, they must pass a test with questions about signals, switches, safety rules, and defensive driving techniques, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.
If they pass, they spend three days with an experienced operator. After another day in the classroom, they are on their own.
And the Herald reports the course requires only a 70 percent grade to pass. MCAS is tougher -- and no one's life depends on it.
It's also ominous that reports say investigators will be examining the cell phone records of Terrese Edmonds. We know about all the efforts to clamp down on the use of phones by car drivers. Wasn't there a similiar rule in place at the T -- where operators are a lot more lives under their watch than in a passenger car?
There's also the question of the equipment -- and here the T caught a break. It appears all the vehicles involved were the reliable, 20-something year old Kinki cars rather than the lemon Breda cars that have a tendency to jump off the rails and which appear to have been built for sleek looks rather than safety and passenger comfort.
Then there's the matter of MBTA management, Smilin' Dan Grabauskas and his predecessors, who, according to one legislator, have put expansion on the top of the list -- ahead of the safety and convenience of current passengers:
Those expansion talks revolve around extending a line that runs on Commonwealth and Huntington Avenues and Beacon Street -- three major city thoroughfares with many, many traffic lights -- into Medford and Somerville. Same number of cars, same traffic impediments. Longer distances to travel.
“They ignored all the warning signs,” said [Robert] Hedlund, who sits on the Legislature’s transportation committee. “There’s been a lot of warnings, but the MBTA has gone on with unprecedented capital expansion at the expense of maintaining the existing system.”
A blue-ribbon panel issued a report in 2000 alerting officials that expanding the Green Line would put the infrastructure at risk, Hedlund said.“We’ve had hearings on this, but it’s all been window dressing to date."
Yet the T was too cheap to spring for a system that would give trolley cars the ability to control traffic lights along Beacon Street.
Heck the operators can always run the lights.