MBTA stepping up efforts to halt Green Line speeding

Agency to start installing some anti-collision tech in 2024

FACED WITH a long delay before anti-collision technology can be fully installed on the Green Line, the MBTA is moving ahead with interim measures designed to avoid collisions and refining efforts to discourage and eventually prevent speeding.

MBTA officials say they are already cracking down on speeding and planning to install technology to avoid collisions beginning in January 2024, more than a year ahead of the June 2025 full install date for the complete $212 million anti-collision system.

The MBTA has installed anti-collision systems on the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines as well as the commuter rail system. But building a similar system on the Green Line has been far more challenging.

The National Transportation Safety Board has been prodding the MBTA to install an anti-collision system on the Green Line for 14 years, but it never got done because of the high cost and the technological challenges.

The project was on the MBTA’s to-do list when a driver drove a speeding Green Line train into another train in July 2021, causing $2 million in damage and sending 24 passengers and three MBTA employees to the hospital with minor injuries.

The T responded by steering $45 million in operating funds to the anti-collision project to bring forward the finish date from 2024 to 2023.

At a meeting of a safety subcommittee of the MBTA board on Thursday, officials said the German contractor on the project was purchased by another European company in December 2021. The new owner ordered a review of the MBTA contract and determined the finish date would be June 2025, 18 months later, because of the complexity of the project and supply chain challenges.

Angel Peña, chief of capital transformation at the MBTA, said the challenges are real. He likened rolling out the technology on the Green Line to trying to install a self-driving feature common with some automobiles today on a 1980s Volvo.

T officials didn’t say when in 2022 they learned of the anti-collision project delay, but they didn’t rush to release the information to the public. It was actually the National Transportation Safety Board that disclosed the 2025 completion date when it released its final report on the June 2021 Green Line crash on January 5.

“In this accident, the striking trolley was over-speeding by about 23 mph. MBTA’s current operations and control system does not have an engineering feature that would automatically intervene and apply brakes to prevent trolleys from violating speed or separation policies,” the NTSB wrote in its report. “Had such a system been in place at the time of the accident, this collision would have been prevented. MBTA is deploying a train protection system designed to prevent trolley-to-trolley collisions by enforcing speed policies and detecting collision threats. MBTA plans to have the system completed by June 2025.”

Peña told the subcommittee of the T board that the anti-collision system will sound an alarm if a train collision is imminent, automatically engage brakes to prevent collisions, enforce speed limits, and prevent trains from running through red lights.

Peña said the interim measures being taken by the T should enable all of these safety measures (except the red light enforcement) to start being installed in January 2024. It was unclear how all of them could be accomplished so quickly, but Peña said equipment would be installed on one branch of the Green Line at a time with the help of the contractor.

He also assured subcommittee members that the equipment could be repurposed to work with new Green Line vehicles on order and expected to start arriving around 2025.

Patrick Richmond, acting assistant general manager for rail operations, said the MBTA has an ongoing program to police speeding on the Green Line. Potential violators are tracked down using digital speed-tracking signs at nine different locations, a GPS system developed by the T, and in-person observations.

According to MBTA data, the various systems generated 281 alerts about speeding in December. Most of those alerts were eventually dismissed because the driver was going less than 5 miles per hour over the speed limit or actually less than the speed limit.

Only three drivers were confirmed at speeds greater than 5 miles per hour above the speed limit. Two were operated in the Green Line extension to Medford and one on Beacon Street near Coolidge Corner. The three drivers were suspended, disciplined, and reinstructed in proper driving procedures, Richmond said.