Monday, March 26, 2012

Guest Post: The End of an Era on the MBTA

Here is a guest post by fellow transit enthusiast Scott Page. This is a follow up to his last post Farewell From the Fifth Car which was about the conversation of the MBTA Red Line to One Person Train Operation. You can follow Scott on Twitter : (@ScottPage10690).

The last MBTA Rapid Transit train to run with an on board Train Attendant pulled into Ashmont Station around 12:21AM on Saturday March 24th. As the doors opened, and the pre-recorded voice of Frank Oglesby Jr. belted out “The destination of this train is Alewife”, the small group of passengers on the platform made their way onto the train. With no recognition or celebration from the MBTA this historic final trip would quietly bring an end to a one hundred and ten year old Boston transit tradition. 
            At 12:36AM the Inspector at Ashmont triggered the starter bell – officially telling the Motorperson and Train Attendant to begin their trip. 
As the Train Attendant began to close the doors the Inspector approached her with a laugh and a smile and said “That’s it. You’re going down in history. You’re my last Train Attendant ever”. He laughed again and sincerely said “Good luck with your re-assignment”. The Attendant then closed the doors on the last two cars and poked her head out the window to watch the platform as the train lurched forward embarking on its trip to North Cambridge.
For me, the final Two Person Train Operation trip had a special meaning. 
As an independent transit advocate, who strongly opposes the MBTA’s plan to convert its Rapid Transit lines to One Person Train Operation (OPTO), the last train acted as the culmination of a freelance project that I started over a year ago. 
The project began with an eight page essay to MBTA and MassDOT leaders. It then expanded to an in depth photo history, mini-documentary, and a series of articles – each of which argued against this regressive change to the T’s daily operations and explained the importance of a second operator in regards to passenger safety and efficient service.
While working on the various pieces of this project I was able to meet and talk with a number of Train Attendants, Motorpersons, and Inspectors – all of whom echoed the same refrain: OPTO is a bad idea.
At the public meeting held at 10 Park Plaza in June of 2011 regarding the conversion a rider asked “What do the Operators think about this transition?” The answer from T executives: “We don’t know. We never asked”.
This lack of consideration for the opinions of the operations staff was repeated in a recent Boston Metro article in which an MBTA spokesperson brushed off concerns over OPTO by saying single person operation is something members of the Boston Carmen’s Union (Amalgamated Transit Union Local 589) “has never embraced”. 
But in my experience talking to the men and women of the Red Line – the people who actually run the trains day in and day out – the idea that any anti-OPTO sentiment is simply Union solidarity and couldn’t be further from the truth. 
The people I spoke with weren’t simply Union members who disliked a change that they saw as weakening the power of their Union, but rather dedicated hard working men and women who wanted to have a voice in their workplace. They each spoke of specific examples in which they assisted a passenger, troubleshot a mechanical difficulty, or kept order on board during an abnormal situation. 
As the last Two Person Train Operation train made its way northbound I appreciated the time I had spent over the past year getting to intimately know the Red Line, it’s staff, and it’s operations. While I knew OPTO would begin in the morning I felt as if I had made a stand for an operative style I believed in and for one night I got to celebrate the success of a one hundred and ten year old Boston transit tradition.
When the train entered Park Street Station the Train Attendant pushed the button on the crackling intercom of car 01811 – “Entering Park Street, change for the Green Line, doors will open on both sides. For elevator service please exit to the left”. As fellow transit enthusiast Dan Lampariello and I exited the train it closed its doors behind us and oh-so-gracefully the tradition of Two Person Train Operation rolled silently into the night. 


  1. Good thing most if not all of their platforms are straight, I think only State Street's platform is curved. But sometimes, it is good that services are being personalized.

  2. I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles.

  3. Thank you for this valuable information, I hope it is okay that I bookmarked your website for further references.

  4. Hi nice Post written by you guys. It is amazing and wonderful to visit your site. Thank a ton for such a nice post.

  5. I don't understand why anyone would ever oppose single person operation. The MBTA is broke and the reason we don't have late night service is because the manpower is simply too expensive (time and a half instead of shiftwork? really? almost 100 bucks an hour to drive a bus?). Enabling the same thing to be done for half the price just guarantees more, better service for everyone.


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