One day before he was scheduled to receive a safety award, a Green Line operator at the controls of an outbound trolley slammed into a waiting trolley at Boylston Street Station Thursday. The crash sent 37 people to area hospitals with minor injuries and shut down service on the Green Line’s busiest section for about three hours, officials said.
MBTA inspectors ruled out track and signal problems and were continuing to investigate whether the crash — which they likened to a rear-end fender bender at a stoplight — was caused by equipment failure on the 25-year-old trolley or by the driver, said T spokesman Joe Pesaturo.
The driver was identified by Pesaturo only as a 46-year-old man who joined the T in 2006 and had an accident-free record.
Thursday’s crash was the second on the Green Line in less than two months and one of several that have occurred over the decades on the original 115-year-old stretch of the nation’s oldest subway. It came just days before transportation officials are scheduled to receive a report on outfitting the Green Line with automated signals to stop vehicles before they collide, which would probably cost hundreds of millions of dollars and could require trains to run less often.
“I just want to reiterate that the system is safe,” said state Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey, a Green Line commuter. “The signal system we’re looking at would make it safer.”
The T’s three “heavy rail” subway lines — the Red, Orange, and Blue lines — all have automation to prevent trains from getting too close. The Green Line — defined as “light rail,” or trolley — works more like buses, with drivers accelerating and braking based on signals along the tracks.
Thursday’s crash occurred shortly after 11:45 a.m., when an outbound trolley arriving at Boylston from Park Street Station moving at 10 to 13 miles an hour rear-ended a trolley stopped at Boylston and preparing to let passengers out, officials said. The T had no estimate for the cost and extent of the damage, but officials were able to drive the cars to the Riverside yard for inspection.
“The train seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere,” said Elijah Clark Ginsberg, 19, an Emerson College student who said he witnessed the crash from the platform, comparing the sound to “two metal trash cans” slamming. “It was very distinctive from that normal Boylston screech.”
Clark Ginsberg said he saw one man knocked through the doors of the front train, landing face-first onto the concrete platform, feet splayed on the trolley’s steps. Frozen at first, the man got up slowly and moved to a bench, clutching his head, the student said, while others spilled out dazed and asking each other if they were all right.
In the aftermath, Boston Emergency Medical Services responders could soon be seen leading passengers above ground, immobilizing some on backboards and stretchers and tending to at least one man bleeding from the head.
Police tape encircled the corner of Boston Common around the station entrance, and scores of people pressed against it to stare, take pictures, or seek information.
“I got a [brief] call from my brother that they were hit by another train on the Green Line,” said Ondina Neves.
Her brother, Carlos Silva, 44, had been headed to the Brazilian consulate in Boston, and nearly an hour after the crash, she was still trying to determine his condition and what hospital he was sent to.
“He said he’s in a lot of pain,” she said. “That’s all I know.”
Emily Frachtling, who walked away from the station, but later returned to talk with reporters , said she was riding in the rear of the moving trolley and noticed it maintained speed as it approached Boylston.
“We didn’t slow down at all,” said Frachtling, 21, an Emerson senior.
Nine of the 37 sent to hospitals for examination were immobilized on backboards and stretchers as a precaution, and all injuries appeared to be minor, said Jennifer Mehigan, a Boston EMS spokeswoman.
The 37 included the driver and two other T employees, all of whom were quickly released after hospital examination, Pesaturo said.
The driver was removed from service — off-duty but paid — until the investigation concludes. It was not immediately clear whether he would receive the “safety pin” that he was scheduled to get Friday for three consecutive years of incident-free driving, Pesaturo said.
John Lee, president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, said the man is a model employee with a “fantastic driving record.” He had not yet spoken with the driver, though other officials from Local 589 had visited him, and Lee said he planned to call him.
“I don’t know what happened until I speak to everybody,” Lee said. “I’m just glad nobody was seriously injured.”
The accident came less than two months after an Oct. 8 crash that damaged two trolleys above ground on the E Line and caused a Green Line operator and multiple passengers to be treated for minor injuries, after an inspector failed to place a track swith back in its proper place, Pesaturo said.
Accidents over the years have been more common underground, particularly in the four-station stretch between Park and Copley, said Bradley H. Clarke, a transit historian and president of the Boston Street Railway Association.
On Thursday night, Davey attended one of a series of public meetings on the state of the Commonwealth’s aging and badly indebted transportation system.
The state has not invested in an automated safety system for the Green Line because of the estimated nine-figure cost to design the technology for the Green Line’s unique tunnels and curves, without forcing it to reduce service scheduled to run every 2½ minutes over the section where the four branches merge, the busiest light-rail system in the country.
“We don’t have enough revenue today to invest in the system that we have, and things like improved signal systems in the Green Line continue to be financially out of reach,” Davey said.
John R. Ellement and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff and Globe corresponent Sarah N. Mattero contributed to this
report. Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@
globe.com. Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@