Green Line Is a Railroad and Other Urban Myths

The Suffolk District attorney charged former Green Line conductor Aiden Quinn of gross negligence in the control of “a railroad train,” according to published reports.  Quinn was at the controls on May 8 in Government Center when his trolley struck another.  His trolley, not his train.

The criminal charge apparently stems from a Massachusetts law that applies to a “railroad or railway of the class usually operated by steam power.”  One probably can’t begrudge the District Attorney for not knowing the precise history of the Green Line and the Scollay Square trolley stop; that history never involved steam.

But it certainly would be interesting if the railroad law applied on the Green Line.  The law has some interesting, specific requirements.  A few things would need to change.  To be a trolley conductor, Quinn would have needed to serve as a “brakeman” for two years.  Not a bad idea … except trolleys only have one driver (and a door-operator) and no brakeman.  Any trolley conductor who never worked as a “brakeman” (probably all of them) would be subject to a $500 fine and year imprisonment.  (There’s no such thing as a railroad “operator”)  Bare-headed Green Line employees also would be no more; all railroad employees must don a “cap.” An employee without a “cap” forfeits $45.

But on the other hand, maybe some changes would make some sense.  If the Green Line was a railroad then it would be required to accept bicycles, one per rider.  Of course, as I’ve written previously, the Green Line irrationally prohibits bicycles under all circumstances. And don’t try to hold the door to keep the Green Line train from leaving the station; if it’s a railroad that offense carries up to a $1,000 fine and 20 years in prison, which makes what Quinn is facing look like tiddly-winks.

Obviously the Green Line isn’t run like a railroad.  There is a reason for that; it’s a street railway, apparently subject to an entirely different law.  That law doesn’t require employees to wear caps, has no obvious requirements for the qualifications of conductors, and (unfortunately) doesn’t require that trolleys accommodate bicycles.  If you merely obstruct a trolley you only can be jailed for three months (instead of 20 years).

And if you drive a trolley at excessive speed like Quinn allegedly did — even willfully — you forfeit $500.  That might conceivably seem like a bit light of a maximum penalty.  But fear not; all operators of common carriers — from steamboats, to buses, to trolleys — also are subject to an entirely different law that the District Attorney apparently did not specifically name, which carries a penalty of two and a half years in jail for gross negligence in the control of any common carrier (not just a railroad).

What does all of this add up to?  Well, ultimately if the District Attorney succeeds in sending Quinn to prison for three years (instead of to jail for 2 1/2)  for crashing a railroad train (and not a trolley), then the T should get ready to welcome bicycles and their riders on that same line.  Because that’s the law!

NTSB: Green Line Drivers Don’t Report Signal Failures

The NTSB released its analysis of the May, 2008 Green Line collision in Newton.  Such is the sorry state of affairs at the MBTA that the mishap must be identified by both date and location so as not to be confused with others recently such as this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one.

The NTSB found that the crash probably occurred because the trolley operator didn’t stop at a red light on the tracks.  And the most likely reason the operator didn’t stop was because she didn’t see the red light.  And the most likely reason she didn’t see the red light was because she was asleep.  And the most likely reason she was asleep was because she had a hidden medical condition that deprived her of sleep.  Thus the most likely cause of that unfortunate collision was resolved as thoroughly as it probably ever will be.

But the NTSB made another interesting finding.  The red light was broken and stuck on red.  The signal was red all the time, even when it should have been yellow or another color.  Even more strange, the T did not know about the broken signal because “[MBTA] operating rules do not require that train operators report signals [erroneously] displaying red.”

Accidents happen, and everyone knows that the cash-strapped T relies on antiquated systems.  But what about “see something, say something?”  When passengers see something suspicious they are supposed to run breathless to a station attendant.  And when a conductor notices a piece of essential safety equipment is broken and out of service … silence?

Understaffed Lot Creates Red Sox Transitjam

Stuck in Newton on the way to the ballpark

Stuck in Newton on the way to the ballpark

In a minature version of the Easter 2009 turnpike toll fiasco, insufficient staffing at the Riverside Green line terminal in Newton at noon on Sunday jammed traffic all the way back onto I-95/Route 128.  Red Sox faithful arrived at the station early for the 1:35pm afternoon start … and most still needed all of the time and patience they could muster.

Riverside Lot

Near Capacity Lot a Surprise for a Sunday

Turnout was strong for the short trolley ride to the stadium.  With the reduction in trolley fares inbound from the station a few years ago (from $3 per person to $1.70), families west of Boston seem to know a good deal when they see one.

Too bad the T and its contractor, Central Parking, didn’t get it right today, and they left T patrons idling in traffic for probably forty-five minutes each — right outside of the station.

Traffic backed up to highway overpass

Traffic backed up to highway overpass

The problem: Riverside station has staffed booths at the entrance to the parking lot, and in their wisdom, Central Parking and the T sent just one attendant to staff the collection booth for the entire thousand-space lot.  For occasional parkers, like weekend Red Sox fans, paying for parking is not a speedy proposition.  So the influx of fans piled up at the booth near the back of the station.  And then the line backed up through the station (blocking bus access). And then the line jammed up the local street outside.  And then it jammed up the Route 95/128 overpass, going so far as to stop traffic, bumper to bumper on the Route 95/128 off-ramp.

Transit-jam on highway off-ramp

Transit-jam on highway off-ramp

I doubt many of those fans are feeling very smart now about their decision to ride the T.  A half-hour trip to the Sunday game turned into a two-hour nightmare.  It’s unfortunate that the T and Central Parking can’t figure out a way to collect weekend parking fees in an effective way.

Riverside Station entrance

Riverside Station entrance

When the Turnpike inexplicably jammed patrons earlier this year by understaffing collection booths, the head of the organization promptly resigned.  Although this jam was no less inexcusable, don’t expect the same thing from the T.  In some ways it seems to set the bar lower.  But at Central Parking on the other hand … there may be some anxious days ahead.

(eds. note: Red Sox game coincided with final day of the Tall Ships Festival)