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Accident on Green Line leaves 3 injured

Riders evacuated after 2-train crash

Maintenance personnel descended into an escape portal at Berkeley and Boylston streets yesterday following an MBTA train collision.
Maintenance personnel descended into an escape portal at Berkeley and Boylston streets yesterday following an MBTA train collision. (Globe Staff Photo / Jonathan Wiggs)

Denise Teti, a saleswoman at Louis Boston, was standing on the steps of the venerable Back Bay clothier about 9:30 a.m. yesterday when she saw people suddenly coming out of the ground.

MBTA passengers were escaping out of the subway through a little-used emergency escape portal just steps from the front door of Louis.

''They were just, like, coming up from underground," Teti said.

Many in the Back Bay worried that Boston was under attack, given the terrorist bombings on the London transit system hours earlier. But the evacuation was the result of a Green Line trolley crash underground between Copley and Arlington stations.

Passengers on the two trains -- a B line train with about 150 riders aboard and an E line train carrying about 100, both traveling inbound -- described the accident as a jarring jolt.

The trains were about 350 feet west of Arlington Station when the E line train, which had two cars, struck the three-car B line train from behind. The crash caused the E line train to slightly derail.

''We were riding out of the Copley station and somewhere between Copley and Arlington there is this big boom and the whole car shakes," said Mary Skonicki, 22, a law student at Boston College.

Three train operators suffered minor injuries and were taken to hospitals; no passengers were hurt.

The cause of the accident remained under investigation yesterday evening. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said tests of the signal system revealed no problems, leaving investigators to focus on whether one of the trains malfunctioned or if operator error is to blame. Both trains were removed to a rail yard for examination.

Pesaturo said the T has not determined how fast the trains were traveling at the time of the accident.

Unlike the T's three other subway lines, the Green light-rail line -- which runs at surface level for most of its route -- has no automated control system. It's solely up to the operator to accelerate and brake.

Like automobiles, Green Line trains have red lights in the rear to alert approaching trains or other traffic of their presence.

Steve Nutter of Boston, riding in the front of the E line train, said he didn't sense any effort was made to stop as his car plowed into the B line train. ''It was kind of strange because there was no braking involved," Nutter said. ''At least that's what it felt like."

Passengers on the B line train were let off at Arlington Station. Stunned riders on the E line train sat for about 15 minutes before a conductor said they would try to back up to Copley Station, said Daniel Miller, a Northeastern University law student who was among those stranded. About five minutes later, Miller said, passengers were ordered off the train and told to walk single-file in the dark, narrow gap between the train and tunnel wall.

With firefighters leading the way with flashlights, the hundred or so riders stood against the wall. Then the escape hatch, one of seven in that stretch of Green Line tunnel, was opened. The evacuees climbed to the surface via an old cement stairway that led to a metal ladder.

Miller had read news accounts of the London bombings before he left for his summer internship. But until he saw the emergency vehicles surrounding Arlington station, he said, he never gave terrorism a second thought.

''Everyone just seemed to be irritated," he said. ''It just seemed like another delay on the Green Line."

Though this was only the second collision between trains in the past two years -- the last, also a rear-end crash, occurred in November -- the Green Line has been plagued by other problems. Heavy rain that created a fear of flooding closed a subway tunnel used by the Green Line's D branch during Wednesday's peak commute, forcing thousands to wait for shuttle buses. Other incidents included faulty new cars that have derailed nine times in recent years. Yesterday's crash did not involve those Breda cars.

The MBTA would not identify the operators driving the two trains involved in the accident. Pesaturo said the driver of the B line train has six years of service while the E line train driver has 19 years of experience.

''Having known this motor person for his whole career, I find it highly unlikely that it's operator error," Steve MacDougall, president of the Carmen's Union Local 589, said of the E train driver.

Green Line service was disrupted between Kenmore and Park Street stations until 1:05 p.m., Pesaturo said. Numerous buses were dispatched to ferry stranded passengers along the route.

The second service interruption in as many days left some commuters exasperated. At Park Street, confused passengers were sitting on an outbound train for a half-hour, until they figured out they needed to exit and find a shuttle bus outside.

''It was crazy," said David Dow. ''All the trains were open, we were just waiting, but no one told us what was going on."

Lucas Wall can be reached at Mac Daniel and John Ellement of the Globe staff and correspondent April Simpson contributed to this report.

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