Train conductor David Vasquez no longer has a job with the MBTA. On December 16, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (Mass DOT) confirmed to CBS Boston, the Boston Herald and other local news sources that the Red Line conductor had been dismissed. Vasquez was fired for tampering with the safety mechanisms that caused the Red Line runaway train incident on December 10.
According to transportation officials, Vasquez is suspected of tying a cord to the throttle, releasing the brakes and bypassing the stop signal that was preventing the subway train from leaving the Braintree T station. Vasquez had exited the train before it took off. He sustained minor injuries. The actual motive behind Vasquez’s actions is still unclear. T officials only know his actions violated public transit safety rules, protocol and procedures. As investigation of the events on the Red Line continues, officials are also reviewing safety controls on the Orange, Blue and Green Line trains.
The firing of one train operator does not let the T off the hook from its problems. In a December 16 interview on New England news station NECN, former Massachusetts state transportation Secretary Joseph Aloisi pointed out the unmanned runaway train incident would not have happened if the signal system had not failed. “But for the failure of the signal system, it (the train mishap) wouldn’t have happened in the first place,” said Aloisi.
Aloisi is familiar with the T’s woes. For a long time, he has studied and tracked problems that have compounded for years. “The harsh reality is that they (the MBTA) are dealing with a system that is old beyond its years,” he said. “If we want to be a 21st century economy, we need to have a 21st century system.” Just as important is safety on trains, buses and commuter rail. Buses are often late or do not make scheduled runs. Boarding and exiting from the Silver Line and various cross town buses is difficult. Open air subway and commuter rail platforms freeze in harsh winter weather. Many passengers and T employees accidentally fall onto the tracks from the train platforms and sustain serious injuries or lose their lives.
The MBTA is on the line for major repair work amounting to $7 billion or more. This means fixing broken stairs, platforms, escalators, pedestrian thruways, elevators, vehicles, tracks and other infrastructure. Much needed expansion has been postponed so that the current system can be fixed. “We’re all to blame for decades and decades of disinvestment,” Aloisi commented. He hopes the near tragedy of December 10 will awaken the public and transportation officials to refocus attention on the need for strategic improvements.