Saturday, January 20, 2007

T Tales (January 20th edition)

The mailbag at brings us this story from John

Here's a nice incident for your files. Friday I rode out of Boston on the Red Line with a co-worker. We arrived in Braintree at about 9:30pm. Where were seven passengers in the car, us and 5 high school kids.
Now all the way out of Boston at all the South Boston and Quincy stops all the doors worked fine. However, at Braintree, though other passengers seemed to be able to leave the train from their cars, on our car the doors didn't move. We stood by the doors waiting but long after station platform emptied, we remained locked in.
Finally, I pushed the emergency intercom and alarm button which glowed red and sounded a loud tone. Nothing happened for several minutes until a MBTA employee unlocked the inter-car door at the end of the car.
He stood in the doorway with a angry look and yelled (YELLED!) at us,"WHO PUSHED THE ALARM?!"
Flabbergasted, I yelled back,"We're locked in!!". To this he responded by turning around (without a word) closing the door and locking it. We never saw him again.

A couple of minutes later, by banging on the glass, we caught the attention of a another T employee who was leaving the platform. He immediately entered the train via the engineers compartment and was able to release a outside door. We thanked him and left.

I read that there is a new law that gives jerks (like the first T employee) the power to issue citations, thats a bad idea. He already likes to lockup T passengers at his whim.

John for the Braintree 7.


I had something happen several years ago at Alewife. The doors never opened in our car and we also pressed the intercom. But nobody could hear it as the crew was switching ends and walking on the platform. The bell rang and suddenly we heading back to Davis where we finally got off and we are talking seven passengers involved.

I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky in Boston that we still have 2 man crews on the Red and Orange Lines to watch out for things on the train but sometimes it doesn't matter. Chicago eliminated conductors on trains about 10 years ago and if you are in the rear cars you really are on your own, but at least in Chicago you can pass from car to car which is something Boston has never allowed. I hope we never have to find out how well these crews are trained for an emergency. The T came under heavy criticism 30 years ago when there was complete mayhem in the tunnel between Park Street and Charles when THREE (yes 3) Red Line trains collided. Because of what happened that day in 1975 the crews were given more training but still one wonders how much.

Sam writes

Hey, Charlie!

Thanks for the blog! I've been riding the T for years and recently started to wonder more about how it operates, the history, etc. Your blog came along at exactly the right time for me!

Thanks for providing such a wealth of information and shedding light on a fairly in-transparent system.

I have not been able to find an "about" section on the blog however and I'm wondering who you are and how you come to be interested in, so knowledgeable about, and seemingly plugged into the T's workings, present and past. Does it somehow overlap with your job?

I'm also wondering if you have had feedback/contact from the MBTA about the blog.

Thanks again,


No Sam I have no connection with the T other than I have been riding it for more years than I want to admit. ( I remember when the Bluebirds on the Cambridge-Dorchester line were new) Over the years as I traveled to other cities and compared transit systems I would often wonder why the T did things the way they do and now the blog is an extension of that. I have been told the T is aware we exist.

One thing that always needs to be remembered when comparing the T to other cities is the age of the system downtown where the core tunnels are now 100 years old. Yes we can marvel at subways in Montreal, Oakland-San Francisco, Washington and Atlanta but they were built in the 60's and 70's and learned from the problems cities like Boston and Philadelphia had. It is better to compare the T to similar systems in Philadelphia and Chicago and Boston overall looks pretty good compared to those 2 cities. Chicago and Philadelphia let their subway stations deteriorate in a fashion that never happened here and only now is Chicago undergoing a major station renovation program. One Loop station in particular stood out as being horrific, the one at Grand and State which is heavily used by passengers going to Navy Pier. It is not uncommon to be waiting for a train with a rat sniffing at your feet. There was a joke in Chicago among passengers when the CTA converted all trains to automated announcements in 2000 and the computer voice ( known as Mr. Happy CTA guy by the locals ) would happily announce "This is Grand" as the train chugged into the dungeon of a station. The CTA this past summer finally changed the announcement to say "This is Grand and State"

The MBTA will never be like BART or the Washington Metro but it can be better.

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