When Kate Darling boarded a Red Line train at Park Street early Wednesday afternoon when she and other passengers in the crowded car started hearing shouts coming over the public address system — from a voice that clearly did not belong to an MBTA employee.
“The intercom started going on and off and we could hear someone shouting. And so at first I was worried that the driver needed help or there was some medical incident,’' said Darling, an attorney and robot ethicist who works at the MIT Media Lab and was en route to Cambridge around 1 p.m.
Darling said the shouts continued pouring out of the public address system. As the train stopped and started in the tunnel heading toward the Charles Street/MGH station on the edge of the Charles River, she and other passengers became increasingly worried about their safety.
“One woman called 911 and said that she believed that the train was in control of someone who’s not an MBTA employee,’’ she said. “Anything that was being said to the intercom was just like shouting...It’s so scary being in a train and not knowing who has control of the train.”
According to T officials, the train operator in the driver’s cab at the front car was always in control. However, for some of the time during her trip, the T was not in control of the public address system in a driver’s cab located in a car in the middle of the train, officials said.
During Darling’s Wednesday trip — and during others in recent weeks — teenagers have been breaking into driver’s cabs where they can access the public address system but not have any ability to drive the train or take control of it, authorities said.
“We’ve had some unfortunate incidents in which youths have broken into the cab in the middle of the train set (that’s where they gain access to the microphone for the P.A. system),” T spokesman Joe Pesaturo wrote in an e-mail Thursday.
“There is nothing they can do in the middle cab except use the microphone,” Pesaturo said. “The functional elements of train operation are all limited to the front cab in the train’s first car. No one but the train operator has control over the movement of the train.”
He said MBTA Transit Police and the T’s Subway Operations unit are searching for ways to “reduce these incidents of youths breaking into the cabs in the middle of the trains.”
T officials said that there was another issue on the train Darling was on: A teenager in the final car of the train had discharged a smoke extinguisher in the cabin.
Darling said she was so uncertain about what was happening on the train that she got off at the Charles Street station — as did most of the other passengers in her car. Many scrambled for a ride share to complete their trip while she decided to walk to MIT, a 26-minute trip.
“It’s not unusual for the train to like stop and start a bunch, but in combination we just weren’t sure what was going on,’’ she said. “We were alarmed, so we were glad to be able to get off the train.”
Darling tweeted about her experience asking whether the train had been hijacked. That prompted other riders to report similar experiences they had on the Orange and Red lines and also about teenagers jumping on the back of Green Line cars holding onto windshield wipers.
She credited the T for explaining about teenagers taking over the public address systems sometimes. Had she known that, she said, she would have been less concerned for her safety.
“I care about public transportation, and I don’t want people to be afraid,” she said.
I was on a hijacked(?) @MBTA train today—it was driving erratically, someone was fooling around hollering through the intercom. Passengers were freaked out, called 911, fortunately we were all able to get out at Charles/MGH. Cops came. Still don’t know what happened.— Kate Darling (@grok_) May 26, 2022