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MBTA: 'No evidence' that infrastructure caused Green Line crash

Investigators have found "no evidence" so far that vehicle or infrastructure issues played a role in a Wednesday night collision between two Green Line trains and are looking at possible human errors, but have yet to conclude the cause of the incident, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said Thursday.

After several downtown Boston stops remained offline during the morning rush to allow crews to put the trains back on the rails and perform repair work, Blue Line trains resumed service to Government Center shortly before 2 p.m. on Thursday. Trolleys returned around the same time to the Green Line between North Station and Park Street, albeit with delays.

Poftak, who after yet another incident said the T is safe and that he and his family regularly ride it, told reporters the agency "made sure the tracks were thoroughly inspected" before relaunching subway service.

"Thus far, we have no evidence to suggest that there was an issue with anything related to the vehicles or anything related to the rail infrastructure, including the track," Poftak said.

The GM called human error "one of the factors that we are looking at" while emphasizing that the investigation into the cause of the crash is still ongoing.

"I hesitate to draw conclusions. I've seen situations in the past where once all the facts are known, sometimes what you thought was apparent is not, but that is one of the things that we are looking very closely at," Poftak said of human error.

Around 9:20 p.m. Wednesday, a Green Line train with 20 to 25 passengers on board traveling westbound near Government Center station struck another train with only two T operators on board that was merging onto the tracks to enter service.

Signals in that area under normal conditions tell train drivers when they can proceed, Poftak said. As of Thursday afternoon, Poftak said, investigators had "not found any evidence currently that the signals were operating improperly."

All four drivers involved in the crash were placed on paid administrative leave, which Poftak described as standard procedure. He said the operator of the train carrying passengers that struck the other train did not have any safety or rules violations on their MBTA record.

Asked how fast trains were going at the time they collided, Poftak replied, "That is part of the investigation."

Both trains derailed. None of the passengers were injured, while all four of the drivers — two per train — were eventually transported to Massachusetts General Hospital.

Poftak said the drivers all walked off the trains themselves, indicating that "none of them were seriously injured." Three have since been released from the hospital. He declined to describe the nature of their injuries, citing legal privacy restrictions.

The latest crash on the MBTA comes six weeks after the Federal Transit Administration launched a nearly unprecedented probe of the T's safety, prompted by a series of incidents that prompted one FTA official to describe the oversight agency as "extremely concerned with the ongoing safety issues."

"I know these incidents are disturbing," Poftak said Thursday. "To no one is it more disturbing than those of us who work here at the T who are committed to keeping the system as safe as we can be. I continue to maintain that the MBTA is safe. I take the T on a regular basis, as does my family."

Last summer, a Green Line trolley that was allegedly traveling three times the speed limit struck another trolley from behind on the B Branch, injuring 27 people. That incident prompted then-Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins to open a criminal probe into the T.

Federal officials more than a decade ago first recommended the MBTA install anti-collision technology on the Green Line as an added layer of protection, but that still has not happened. In the wake of last summer's crash, T officials pushed to move the timeline forward by one year and bring the Green Line Train Protection Project online by 2023.

Poftak, who took over as the T's general manager in 2019 after four years as vice chair of its governing board and a brief stint as interim general manager, said Thursday that the 13-year wait for that safety feature was not appropriate.

"I surely wish it had been installed much sooner," Poftak said. "It would have avoided the train-on-train that we had in (July) and it likely would have avoided this accident."

While the T waits for the new anti-collision technology on the Green Line — versions of which are already in place on other lines — agency officials have rolled out several extra safety practices, Poftak said. Officials "carefully monitor" the speed Green Line operators are traveling, including with handheld radar guns at times. Any signal violation results in disciplinary action, he said.

"The Green Line is unlike our other subway lines," Poftak said. "Much as when you are in your automobile on the road, you are dependent on your own ability to brake and accelerate and you're dependent on other drivers obeying the red and green signals, the Green Line is in much the same way."

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