Human error found in Green Line trolley derailment

An MBTA Green Line trolley derailed and struck a wall near Kenmore Station on Monday.
Boston Fire Department
An MBTA Green Line trolley derailed and struck a wall near Kenmore Station on Monday.

After MBTA officials fired a Green Line trolley driver blamed for a Monday derailment, the agency’s general manager called for more stringent application requirements for train and bus operators.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced Friday that the crash, which occurred west of Kenmore Station and injured at least 10 passengers, was caused by the driver, who was speeding and failing to pay attention to signals, said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

That driver — identified as Sydley Gardner, 48 — amassed 20 moving violations in personal vehicles between 1984 and 2009, according to Registry of Motor Vehicle records. Gardner was first hired by the T in 2008; his driving record did not disqualify him as a candidate under the T’s current requirements.


Gardner has also been fired by the T before, in 2010, for failing to report a collision with a pedestrian. But the T was forced to rehire Gardner after an arbitrator ruled in his favor, said Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey, who was MBTA general manager when Gardner was fired.

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On Friday, Gardner was terminated a second time, said an official familiar with the investigation. Soon after Monday’s accident, in which a trolley crashed into a tunnel wall, officials said they had ruled out problems with the track, the signals, the switch, and the trolley. The investigation by the T’s operation division was released Friday and determined that the incident was the result of human error.

The driver “failed to operate his trolley in compliance with speed and signal requirements,” Pesaturo said.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s general manager, Beverly A. Scott, told staff she believes it is time to tighten driving record requirements for new employees, standards that have remained largely the same since the 1980s.

“She has told staff she wants recommendations soon that can be implemented within a month,” Pesaturo said.


Under existing criteria, candidates for a position as an operator of a bus or train may not have any citations for driving under the influence within five years of their application, they may not have received three or more moving violations in any of the three years before their application, and they may not have ever been found at fault in a fatal vehicle accident.

The policy is more lax than at some other transit agencies. At the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, for example, a bus operator applicant may not have had more than one moving violation in the three years before applying and may not have had any convictions of driving with a suspended or revoked license in the preceding five years.

Monday’s derailment has also sparked concern over the arbitration process that often follows employee terminations at the MBTA, when union representatives advocate to have an employee reinstated.

On Thursday, Davey said he was frustrated that Gardner had been reinstated.

“Obviously, I disagreed with the arbitrator’s decision,’’ Davey said. “If not, I wouldn’t have moved to terminate him.”


A call to James M. O’Brien, president of Carmen’s Union Local 589, which represents rail and bus operators, was not returned Friday. Earlier, O’Brien said in an interview that an independent arbitrator had judged the case and concluded that Gardner was unfairly terminated in 2010, returning him to work with back pay.

Paul Regan — executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, an oversight organization that represents cities and towns served by the T — said similar decisions by arbitrators undercut efforts to maintain high standards for people who operate the region’s buses and trains.

Regan said T managers must work harder to collect meticulous evidence about workers they seek to terminate, so that those decisions stand a better chance of withstanding arbitration.

“The T has to be really dogged about documenting everything,” Regan said. “If the only way they can protect themselves is by being aggressive in weeding out drivers that could be a problem, then that’s what they have to do.”

Former employees who are hired back by the T after arbitration should not be allowed to return to a position that puts them behind the wheel of a bus, train, or trolley, Regan added.

“If they’re involved in an incident serious enough to make the general manager fire them, whether they win arbitration or not, the T should at least be able to make that person not be a driver who is responsible for the safety of thousands of people,” Regan said.

Martine Powers can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.