Here is our second guest post! This article is written by Scott Page, a 21 year old Bunker Hill Community College student and MBTA historian! You can follow Scott on Twitter (@ScottPage10690)!
MBTA to end 110 year old tradition of
Two Person Train Operation
Shortly after 12:30am every night the last Red Line train of the day closes its doors and departs Ashmont Station in Dorchester embarking on a thirty-seven minute voyage to Alewife Station in North Cambridge. This typically mundane trip is often the last source of transportation for evening-shift workers, late night partiers, and the occasional drunk. But on the wee morning hours of Saturday March 24th, 2012 the 12:30am train will receive the historic distinction of being the last MBTA Rapid Transit train to run with an on board Train Attendant – thus unceremoniously bringing an end to a one hundred and ten year old Boston transit tradition.
An MBTA Train Attendant cycles the doors
at Wollaston Station on the Red Line.
The practice stems from the early days of subway and elevated operations when train doors literally needed to be cranked open by Attendants standing between each car. Modern technology now allows for doors to be controlled from a central point which, here in Boston, is controlled by the Train Attendant in the 5th car.
The MBTA claims that eliminating Train Attendants from the Red Line and transferring all duties to the Motorperson, a practice known as One Person Train Operation, will enable the Red Line to operate more trains during off-peak hours and save money that the cash-strapped transit authority can reinvest into the line. If this proposal sounds familiar, that’s because it is.
In June of 2010 the MBTA removed the second operator from all Orange Line trains in a similar cost savings effort. The T reassured riders that there would be no change in service and safety, but just six months after its transition the Orange Line suffered its worst performing winter in the last quarter century. Massive delays snarled the line leaving passengers out in the cold. While delays were not the direct result of One Person Train Operation the overwhelming response from riders was that additional uniformed personnel was needed to relay pertinent information.
To ensure passenger safety on the Red Line under One Person Train Operation the MBTA has installed a series of mirrors and closed-circuit television monitors at each station to show the Motorperson the entire platform. These devices will be most useful at stations with curved platforms where the Motorperson cannot see the entire train by line-of-sight alone. Train Attendants, for the record, have no obstructed views of the doorways at any point in the system.
But with recent breakdowns and service disruptions still on many riders’ minds some aren’t so sure that having one crew member on board is a good idea.
“Having one operator being responsible for hundreds of riders’ safety is quite daunting” said Jessica Baldeck, a frequent Red Line commuter and UMass Boston student. “I can’t think of any other situation where one person is solely in charge of handling hundreds of people - especially during an emergency.”
“Personally it makes me feel safer knowing there is someone on board whose sole job is to make sure everyone is riding safely” added Jessica Griffiths Sheldon, who occasionally takes the T into the city.
Train Attendants serve as a passenger liaison from the 5th car.
Critics of OPTO note that Chicago’s CTA, which converted in 2001, has had several attempts by city Aldermen to bring back second operators after doorway safety incidents and crime rose on ‘El’ trains.
The MBTA, which is now engaged in an ongoing public debate over whether or not to raise fares and cut services, originally planned the conversion of the Red Line for September of 2011. The transition was pushed back to March of 2012 after various groups raised concerns over everything from doorway safety to on board crime. The T has used the additional seven months to give all Red Line Motorpersons additional training on proper doorway safety standards and evacuation protocols.
The ring of the starter bell at 12:30am on March 24th will signal the end of an era in Boston transit. While most riders won’t notice the changes on an average trip, it’s imperative to remember the work done by Train Attendants in their one hundred and ten years of service. They’ve acted as visible representatives of the Authority – answering questions for tourists, giving directions to riders, and aiding in breakdowns and evacuations. But most importantly they’ve protected their riders from threats to safety – like the Orange Line Train Attendant who stepped in and prevented a hate crime in March of 2010 by sheltering the victim in his cab until police arrived. After Boston removes it’s Train Attendants from service this March only New York’s MTA, Toronto’s TTC, and the Port Authority Trans-Hudson railroad of New York and New Jersey will utilize Two Person Train Operation.