Before the July 30 Green Line train collision in Brookline, the driver of the train that crashed into a slower-moving train hit the accelerator, a report from the National Transportation Safety Board released Tuesday found. Now the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is taking steps to terminate the driver, an agency spokesman said.
“A preliminary review of striking train’s event recorder data revealed that the operator of the striking train placed the master controller in a full-power position prior to the accident,” the report said.
The collision sent 27 people to the hospital with minor injuries, including three MBTA crew members. The NTSB did not say why the driver of the striking train sped up before the accident.
At the time of the crash on the Green Line’s B branch near the now-closed Pleasant Street Station, the slower train was moving at about 10 miles per hour, in accordance with the speed limit, while the striking train was going 31 miles per hour, the report said.
The MBTA has not publicly identified the driver, who was put on paid administrative leave after the accident. On September 20, the driver was suspended without pay, a spokesman for the MBTA said.
“The delivery of safe and reliable service is the MBTA’s top priority, and the MBTA took swift action following the July 30th incident to place the operator on leave,” said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo in a statement. “The MBTA and Transit Police will continue to work with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office in its ongoing investigation into the trolley operator’s actions. The MBTA thanks the NTSB investigators for their diligence and hard work in establishing the facts surrounding the collision. The MBTA is taking the steps necessary to end the employment of the individual involved in the collision.”
Rail safety expert and consultant Keith Millhouse, who formerly served as board chairman for Southern California’s Metrolink commuter rail system, hypothesized the driver wasn’t paying attention at the time of the crash.
“It’s hard to imagine a situation where someone would do that inadvertently,” he said. “But much like a car when someone hits the gas instead of the brake, there may have been a lack of attention on the operator for whatever reason, and when they realized they were going to hit the other train they hit the gas instead of the brake.”
The NTSB’s probe is ongoing.
In the stretches of Green Line track that mix with car traffic, like the stretch where the July accident happened, the trains are wholly dependent on their operators to avoid collisions.
The NTSB first recommended the MBTA install a train collision prevention system called positive train control in 2009 following a Green Line train collision that year that injured 49 people and another one in 2008 that killed a train operator. The system is able to apply brakes as one train approaches another, even if an operator doesn’t, essentially eliminating the possibility of driver error.
In 2019, 10 years after the NTSB’s recommendation, the MBTA awarded a contract for an alternative, less expensive safety system that it says will accomplish the same benefits. It expects to have the system fully implemented by 2024.
Until the system is in place, Millhouse recommends passengers avoid riding in the very front or back of the trains.
“Sitting in the front or the back of the train perhaps puts you at a greater risk,” he said.
Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report, which used material from prior Globe stories.
Taylor Dolven can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @taydolven.