Texting Caused 2009 Subway Crash: NTSB
According to NTSB investigators, the conductor failed to observe both the yellow and red signals alerting him of the situation on the tracks "because he was engaged in the prohibited use of a wireless device, specifically text messaging, that distracted him from his duties."
The National Transportation Safety Board released a report April 28 detailing its investigation of a May 8, 2009, Boston subway crash that caused 68 injuries and roughly $9.6 million in damages. The board concluded it was caused by a train conductor texting his girlfriend from his cellphone while operating one of the trains.
The incident involved two Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Green Line trains -- locally referred to as trolleys. It forced the closure of the Government Center station and sent scores of people to hospitals after the train with the texting operator struck the train in front of it, which was stopped on the track, waiting to enter the Park Street Station.
According to NTSB investigators, the texting operator failed to observe both the yellow and red signals alerting him of the situation on the tracks "because he was engaged in the prohibited use of a wireless device, specifically text messaging, that distracted him from his duties. Contributing to the accident was the lack of a positive train control system that would have intervened to stop the train and prevent the collision."
Investigators said the striking train was traveling around 25 mph, the maximum allowed track speed. A sight-distance test revealed that if the operator had not been distracted, the rear red marker lights of the stopped train would have been visible for 216 feet, and the entire rear end of that train would have been visible for 80 feet.
According to the report, MBTA transit police interviewed the pilot operator of the striking train at the hospital after the accident. The operator, who was 24 years old and had been on the job for 22 months, initially said he was sending a text to his girlfriend while turning the train on the loop at Government Center station. Later, he explained he had called his girlfriend while turning the train, but he got no answer and left a voice message. He then started a text message to his girlfriend —- to ask her to call him —- as he was leaving the Government Center station. Transit police reviewed the text messages on the conductor's phone and found a draft outbound message asking a person to contact the operator, who suffered a broken wrist in the crash.
The collision caused both trains to derail and sustain significant damage at the point of impact. Officials described a chaotic scene, with metal strewn about, passengers in disarray, and some people who had to be removed from beneath twisted metal by using saws and excavation equipment. Both trains, which were headed westbound, consisted of two cars.
EMS officials counted 49 people taken to hospitals around the city, and 75 others walked off on their own, according to Steve MacDonald, a spokesman for the Boston Fire Department. Passengers praised the fast response from emergency workers, including 120 firefighters.
The Green Line dates to the 19th Century and is the oldest line of MBTA, which is the country's oldest subway system. It has been under scrutiny for years because of numerous crashes and derailments.