Runaway train stemmed from ‘multiple errors,’ Baker says

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BOSTON – Gov. Charlie Baker and top transit officials blamed “multiple errors” by the operator of a Red Line train which rolled out of the Braintree station early Thursday with some 50 passengers aboard and no driver. Two brakes had been disengaged and a throttle-like device may have been blocked from working properly to hold the train in place, they said.

“We are confident that this was an isolated incident where a single individual appears to have made multiple errors,” Baker told reporters Friday, the State House News Service reported.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the train’s emergency brake hadn’t been engaged. She said investigators are also looking into reports that the train’s throttle had been tied back with some kind of cord, the Associated Press reported.

Pollack said the incident appeared to be the result of a “series of irresponsible actions” by a single employee.

The driver has been placed on paid administrative leave. Pollack said he was cooperating with the investigation.

Baker said he understands the fear felt by the 50 passengers on the train, but added he was confident this was an isolated incident during which “the operator clearly made a series of errors,” AP reported.

Pollack said the only way a train could move on its own after being placed in bypass mode — absent a mechanical failure — was if the hand brake hadn’t been engaged and the throttle was somehow forced into the position needed to accelerate the train.

Transportation officials said train operators will no longer be allowed to use the bypass procedure without a second senior MBTA official present.

Officials also said that if a second operator had been on the train, he or she could have stopped it. Red Line trains previously had two operators on each train. That ended in 2011, in part as a cost-saving measure.

Baker said Thursday’s incident “doesn’t justify doubling up” the number of operators.

Pollack said MBTA workers have been verbally reminded about what she called “prohibited acts” and that a written reminder was being prepared. She said there’s no reason to believe that using a cord or other device to hold an accelerator open is a widespread practice.

Engaging in prohibited acts is a cause for firing, she added.

Just after 6 a.m. Thursday, the six-car train rolled away from the Braintree stop, the southern end of the Red Line, and traveled as fast as 25 miles an hour past several stations, reaching North Quincy before power was cut to the system to stop the runaway. In addition to being without a driver, the train’s collision avoidance system was disengaged, State House News said.

“We all understand the fear – the shocked surprise – that those 50 passengers must have experienced,” Baker said.

Pollack said the train’s throttle, called a cineston and designed to revert to brake-mode when not being operated, was not in brake mode. A separate hand-brake was also not engaged when the driver stepped out of the train to make an adjustment so it could pass a faulty signal.

The 51-year-old driver, who has been described as a transit system employee for more than 25 years, was placed on administrative leave Thursday, according to transit officials.