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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Long overdue scrutiny

Sadly, it has taken a death for the MBTA -- and the rest of the world for that matter -- to take a look at the Green Line. And what we are seeing should give real pause to the idea of expanding its reach.

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.

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.

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.

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:

“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."
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.

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.

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Anonymous Charlie D. said...

I fear that your reaction is a bit of an overreaction. Please don't rush to judgement before we know all the facts.

Perhaps the train operators should be trained more fully, but we still don't know why the operator of the rear train didn't stop it. If she was just not paying attention, from being on a cell phone or anything else, that is unacceptable. However, it could happen on any line. The T trains are all controlled by operators, any one of whom could make a mistake.

We have no evidence that the Green Line is any more dangerous than any other lines. It does interact with cross (car) traffic in some places, on the B, C, and E lines, but no accident with a car has ever claimed lives, as far as I know.

As far as expanding into Somerville and Medford, the Green Line there will be in it's own right-of-way, just like the D line is now. It is a much needed project to serve a community which has poor access to transit now. We can't just sit by while the state continues to underfund transportation. The MBTA is doing the best it can to serve its current riders and expand in a way that will serve the most number of new riders that it can.

May 30, 2008 8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rethink expansion?

Because the cars we have to rely on in Somerville are safer? Because over-crowded streets there are safe for pedestrians, hordes of bikers, other drivers, and our lungs?


May 30, 2008 10:40 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Don't forget, the MBTA is under court-order to expand the green line into somerville due to agreements made (and a subsequent lawsuit) with the Federal Government for Big Dig financing.

May 30, 2008 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the rest of the world"? Why does the rest of the world need to take a look at Boston's piddly Green Line? Accidents happen regardless of whether it is human or mechanical error. When you take into consideration how many trains, trolleys, buses and their respective passengers are moved to and from Boston every day, year after year, the record of safety far outweighs the dangers.
I do think 7 weeks of training is inadequate and if, as early reports say, the driver was indeed talking on a cell phone and distracted at the time, the bigger issue is the use of cell phones by the T employees. To stop expansion and progress due to one accident is punishing the entire class for the alleged misdeed of one. Expanding the Green Line or any other can only help to reduce traffic and conserve energy.

May 30, 2008 11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This might be the dumbest blog I have read yet!!!

May 30, 2008 11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're an idiot.

May 30, 2008 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grabauskas has no idea what he is doing just pushing customer service, but it typical republican agenda slashes operations, maintenance and hires endless numbers of people with no experience all in attempts to cut overtime. This is not the Registry in which the skills required involved in handling documents. But instead require experience that can only be learned with training and experience. That’s why morale is record low levels people with no experience are being promoted while staffing and priorities are shifted away from operations . Guess what would expect when his prior experience was running the RMV

May 30, 2008 1:08 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Charlie D -- I'm not rushing to judgment on the facts. How can I -- they're not in yet. But it is interesting that the NTSB has already ruled out brake failure and it appears they were not applied until it was almost too late.

And I'm not saying the Green Line shouldn't eventually go to Medford and Somerville. I'm saying the T needs to get its act together -- and pronto.

Do you really think the folks in those communities deserve the same crappy service as those of us who use the line now?

And it would only get worse. Do you think things will speed up when trains already fall behind because of extremely long runs -- like Riverside -- or use clogged, traffic-light-every-block streets streets like Comm. Ave. and Beacon Street?

We -- meaning every commuter from Newton to Medford -- deserve a Green Line that is safe and relatively on schedule.

Two accidents in two weeks on the Green Line is really significant and a sign of real underlying problems. Has there been that sort of record on the Red, Orange of Blue lines?

The fact that even one person had to die is tragic, so fatalities is not a great benchmark to measure safety.

Anon 10:40 -- the rethinking of the extension involves whether this is something you really want because the system is not up to the job it is doing now.

Yes, as Matt points out, there is a court order and yes, ultimately it can be a good thing.

But take it from a long-suffering Green Line rider, it is not the Nirvana you might think it is -- and won't be without some SERIOUS overhaul of people and equipment.

May 30, 2008 7:29 PM  

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