Runaway Red Line train may be laid to ‘operator error’

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BOSTON – A runaway Red Line subway train with about 50 passengers aboard that rolled out of the Braintree station without a driver Thursday morning, may have been the result of “operator error,” state officials said.

After the driver got off to make an adjustment, the train traveled through several stations before the power was cut to the third rail, disabling it in North Quincy. No passengers were injured, according to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Investigators are focusing on “operator error” and the driver who was supposed to be at the controls has been put on administrative leave, authorities said. The 51-year-old driver,with more than 25 years on the job, had stepped off the train to make an adjustment after clearing the step with system controllers, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said.

The focus of the investigation now is on whether the train’s brake had been properly set before the driver got off, she said. He received a minor injury as the train moved away from the Braintree stop.

Pollack described the incident as an “unacceptable breech of our responsibility to keep our riders safe,” in a press briefing.

Gov. Charlie Baker said earlier Thursday that it appeared the runaway train had been tampered with, although he also noted investigators had not determined whether the tampering was due to negligence or something else, and called it an “isolated” incident, the Associated Press reported.

The inbound train left Braintree at approximately 6:08 a.m., the State House News Service reported, citing the MBTA. The train reached a speed of 25 miles an hour before the power supply to the engines was cut just past the North Quincy platform. T personnel then boarded the train and drove it to the next stop, JFK/UMass, where passengers got off and the train was taken out of service. Braintree is the southern end of the line, which travels through Boston and Cambridge.

Fernanda Daly, who was aboard, told the AP that nothing seemed unusual about the ride until the train started to slow down and the interior lights went out.

“The people who were on the first car were trying to knock on the door of the conductor and that’s when we discovered that there was nobody there,” Daly said. Some passengers tried to open doors or break windows to get off the train after it stopped, she added.

Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the MBTA,  said an initial examination showed no problems with the “functionality” of the train’s equipment.

“Passenger safety is the highest priority for the MBTA and this highly troubling incident is under investigation by Transit Police detectives,” MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola said in a statement.

Baker said his administration is working with law enforcement on the investigation.

“I think all the right people are currently being investigated,” he said. “People are all over this one.”