The Red Line train had already blown through several stops by the time Karrie Mohammed looked up from her book to discover that something was amiss. Soon, the lights began to flicker, and the train slowed to a stop near North Quincy Station.
What was going on? She and her fellow passengers wondered why the conductor had not explained the unusual circumstances. Hearing nothing, Mohammed, a nurse who lives in Weymouth, began to worry that something had happened to the person driving the inbound train from Braintree.
“We were concerned maybe he had a heart attack or it was some type of medical emergency,” said Mohammed, recounting by phone her experience on the driverless Red Line ride that made headlines in the Boston area Thursday. “We were more concerned about making sure that there was no one there that needed help.”
Mohammed and a group about seven passengers — including another nurse — pulled open doors to make their way to the front of the train. The door to secure the operator’s cabin was locked, so they forced their way in.
The driver had left a water bottle, and it looked like an active workspace, but there was nobody there.
“We were all kind of, like, ‘What happened? Where is this guy?’” Mohammed said. Another passenger was in tears. “We’re kind of — at this point — freaking out.”
One man said that, as he had entered the train, he had seen the operator, so nobody could understand where he had gone. Later, they would find out he was not on the train when it took off, and that officials had cut power to the third rail.
In the moment, however, riders were imagining the worst.
“We had no answers,” she said. “We didn’t know what was going on.”
They also worried that they were in danger as their train sat, disabled, on the tracks. They wondered: What if another train came along and hit them?
Toward the rear of the train, Sarah Sweeney, who was commuting to her job as a dental assistant downtown, was grateful that the other passengers in her car were more subdued.
She had been scrolling Facebook on her phone and similarly didn’t grasp the extent of the problem until the train stopped. With the lights out and the cold creeping in, the regular riders around her thought it was just another day on the oft-troubled line.
“We were actually joking about wishing we had coffee. It just seemed like a normal Red Line problem,” she said. “Luckily, no one in my car panicked, because I’m a panicker.”
Another train eventually pulled up, but it was traveling in the other direction. Mohammed said MBTA workers got out and walked over to their train and began to investigate.
When the workers got to Sweeney’s car, she said, they were more upset than she was. One “came crashing through,” asking if everybody was okay.
Soon, another train arrived to give the riders a push toward JFK/UMass Station. Sweeney headed downtown, while Mohammed caught her shuttle to her work at Boston Children’s Hospital. Neither got to work on time, and Sweeney was “wicked late” — about an hour and 10 minutes.
Mohammed described the experience Thursday as a frightening one, and said it was another incident testing her patience with the MBTA after last winter’s parade of cancellations and delays. She wonders if there’s a better way for her to commute.
“It could have been much worse, and my concern is, I pay this amount to ride this train,” she said. “Why isn’t there another conductor, or some other MBTA person available?”Andy Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.