State House News Service

State Seeks Alternatives To Pricey Green Line Signal System Overhaul

BOSTON — Members of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board on Wednesday rebuffed recommendations that the board spend between $662 million and $721 million on a Green Line signal system that would automatically deter trolleys from running into one another.

A similar type of automatic crash prevention system already exists on the Red, Orange and Blue lines, and on the Northeast Corridor portion of the commuter rail, though the Green Line presents unique challenges because its tunnels are highly congested and its tracks curve more than other subways, according to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

Board members found fault with the presentation by Assistant General Manager of Design and Construction Edmond Hunter because the so-called positive-train-control options presented did not include anything for a cost of less than $662 million and the timeline for implementation, ending with testing and certification, would take nine years.

“I’ll go out and find it myself and bring it to the board if that’s what has to be done,” said board member Janice Loux. She said, “We lost a woman, she died. The National Transportation Safety Board is going to lose patience with us, and they should.”

In May 2008, a Green Line trolley ran into a stopped trolley in Newton, killing an operator and injuring 49 people in an incident that led to a ban on cellphones by operators. In response, the National Transportation Safety Board wrote, “This accident could have been prevented had the [MBTA] Green Line been equipped with a positive train control system that could have intervened to stop train 3667 before it could strike the rear of train 3681.”

Last week, a trolley operated by an allegedly drowsy driver struck a stopped trolley in Boylston Station leading to injuries and more than $500,000 in damages.

Other board members also called for alternatives to the proposals laid out in the presentation.

“I would respectfully submit that before this board makes any kind of decisions on a three-quarters-of-a billion-dollar project, we know what the alternatives are,” said board member Ferdinand Alvaro.

Hunter also said that a PTC system would slow down service, an outcome that could be mitigated by improvements to the track that would enable faster trolley speeds or the use of more three-car trolleys.

Loux suggested using proximity indicators similar to a device she said she has on her van, though Hunter said that a cheaper system had been reviewed and has drawbacks.

“Those proximity indicators would be constantly going off,” Hunter said.

The presentation concluded with Secretary Richard Davey advising Hunter and the others who had worked on it to return with a revised presentation.

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