Sunday, March 4, 2012

Guest Post: Farewell From The Fifth Car

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. 
Currently the MBTA operates each Red Line train with a two person crew. The practice, known in the transit industry as Two Person Train Operation, involves a Motorperson in the first car, who is responsible for operating the train and overseeing safety along the right-of-way; and a Train Attendant in the fifth car, who cycles the doors at stations, announces stops, and oversees the safety of passengers both on the train and on the platform. 
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.
The MBTA cites that OPTO is becoming the industry standard for subway operations around the globe along with the conversion of the Blue Line in 1996 and the Orange Line in 2010 as the reason for converting the Red Line. Former MBTA General Manager, and current Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey said “We remain focused on identifying cost savings measures that helps us operate more efficiently.  The expansion of Single Person Train Operation… allows us to contain costs while maintaining quality service.”
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.


  1. What a fantastic post! Thank you, Scott!

    I agree most about the safety aspect of removing the Train Attendant, not to mention their help packing in people on a rush hour train.

    I rode with a very helpful TA a few weeks ago who got out of his cab at every downtown stop to fit more people in each car: "Move in, make some space! There's room down at the end, please fill it up." Absolutely fantastic customer service.

    It's also nice to have an MBTA employee within a short sprint of anywhere in the train in case of trouble. When the two ladies right next to me started fighting over some perceived bump, I went right to the TA for help. Having to run the length of the train or hope for an Inspector/Transit PD officer is going to make quite a difference.

    All in all, I believe the tradeoff is worth the financial benefits. I am going to miss the TA's though. If any one of you are reading this, thank you for your service and good luck in your reassignment!


  2. You mean 100 years. The Red line opened in March of 1912.

    And I'm still waiting for OPTO on the Green Line, where it is desperately needed to save costs.

  3. Hi Tyler thank you for your kind words. Glad you liked the article.

    Matthew, I meant 110 years. The Washington Street/Charlestown Elevated - Boston's first Rapid Transit line which has morphed into today's Orange Line - opened on June 10th, 1901. Boston has used a system of Motorpersons and Conductors/Door Guards/Train Attendants every day since. The elimination of Train Attendants from the Red Line on March 24th, 2012 will bring an end to a 110 year old tradition. Thank you for the feedback though. ;)

  4. 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.

  5. I personally enjoyed reading the article. It must've been hard if there is only one person handling the T. It better be two of them for if in times of breakdown, one can help the other in repairing the T. Fred of screwdriver torque.


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