AP Source: MBTA GM Expected To Fire Operator Of Driverless Train

An MBTA Red Line train heads toward Braintree Station Thursday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
An MBTA Red Line train heads toward Braintree Station Thursday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Massachusetts transit investigators looking into a runaway MBTA Red Line train are recommending that the operator be fired.

T General Manager Frank DePaola was expected to accept that recommendation Tuesday, according to an individual with direct knowledge of the decision. The person wasn't authorized to discuss the situation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The recommendation came after a disciplinary hearing attended by the driver, 53-year-old David Vazquez.

The driver's lawyer, Phillip Gordon, said Vazquez feels terrible about what happened.

The driverless train left Braintree Station, south of Boston, on Thursday morning and rumbled through several stops before transit workers stopped it by cutting power to the third rail. No passengers were hurt.

Gov. Charlie Baker has said the operator appeared to violate several safety procedures.

Baker said Tuesday he wasn't in the hearing and hadn't yet read the investigative report but was glad that the inquiry was moving promptly.

"For me the most important thing was that they move quickly on this to create some closure and some clarity so I'm glad that they did," Baker said.

The disciplinary hearing was originally scheduled for Monday, but Vazquez failed to appear. Gordon said his client was unable to attend because of a stress-related illness.

He had also cautioned against jumping to any conclusions about his client's actions. He said Vazquez had a long record of safely driving trains and was cooperating with the probe.

The driverless train carrying about 50 passengers left Braintree Station Thursday shortly after 6 a.m. and passed through several stops before the power was gradually cut to the electrified third rail. Transit workers first had to make sure that other trains were safely out of the way.

Transit officials have said the operator, identified as Vazquez, got off the train to put it into "bypass mode" after receiving permission to override a signal problem. He suffered a minor injury when he was brushed by the train as it moved away from the station.

Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said Friday the train's emergency brake hadn't been engaged. She said investigators were also looking at whether the throttle had been tied back with a cord -- meaning the train would start moving as soon as it was placed in bypass mode.

Pollack has said the only way a train could move on its own after being placed in bypass mode -- absent a mechanical failure -- was if the hand brake hadn't been engaged and the throttle was somehow forced into the position needed to accelerate the train.

Transportation officials said train operators will no longer be allowed to use the bypass procedure without a second senior MBTA official present.

Pollack said at the time that the incident appeared to be the result of a "series of irresponsible actions" by a single employee.

Engaging in such "prohibited acts" is a cause for firing, she added. MBTA workers have since been reminded not to engage in prohibited acts.

On Monday, Baker honored the two T employees whose quick action was credited with bringing the driverless Red Line train to a safe stop.

This article was originally published on December 15, 2015.

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