THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

MBTA driver: No warning in 2009 Green Line crash

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / November 10, 2010

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BOSTON—Transit workers said they had no warning of an impending accident at the moment a fellow driver allegedly distracted by text messaging smashed his trolley into theirs in the tunnel outside a station.

Jimmy Zhu said his trolley was stopped outside the Government Center station at about 7:15 p.m. when the other trolley barreled into his, shutting down the trolley's lights and sending passengers into a panic. Dozens of people were injured.

"All of a sudden, there was an impact. The lights -- the lighting on my train went out, and people were yelling and screaming," Zhu said in an interview with investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board.

His interview was among dozens of documents related to the crash that the agency released Wednesday. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has blamed the crash on the driver's inattentiveness. The NTSB has yet to reach its own conclusion about the probable cause, and its final report isn't expected for months.

Zhu was the operator in charge of the rear part of the train that was hit.

"I went back into the passenger compartment, I guess, to assess the injuries. There were several injuries, head lacerations or lacerations in general, and orthopedic injuries," Zhu said. "People were in a panic state. I tried to keep my composure to see however I could help."

The accident occurred as a 24-year-old Green Line operator, Aiden Quinn, was typing a text message on his cell phone, according to an MBTA review of phone records, transportation documents and witness testimony.

As Quinn was texting, MBTA officials said, he ran through yellow and red warning lights and into the two-car train ahead of him between the Government Center and Park Street stations. He was fired and indicted on a felony charge of grossly negligent operation.

An interview with Quinn was not included in the documents released Wednesday, though Zhu's testimony and other field reports released by the NTSB provide some eyewitness accounts and additional details.

The second operator in the train driven by Quinn said he was knocked out of his seat.

Charles Hanna, stationed halfway back in the train, said it felt like there were two impacts, "like the train hit something and then kept going." He said he radioed in that there had been accident and then saw Quinn.

"I said, 'What happened?' He says he hit the train in front," Hanna told investigators. "I asked him, 'What did we hit,' and he says, 'We hit a train. We hit the train in front.'"

He then said Quinn "disappeared."

The operator of Zhu's trolley, Cindy Gillespie, was in the front of the trolley car, which stopped at a red light. She said two trains were stopped ahead of hers waiting to get into the next station.

Like Zhu, she said she had no warning before the crash.

"He hit me pretty hard. My whole body jerked. It threw my eyeglasses off," she said. "I was, like, thunderstruck. I didn't know what happened."

Gillespie, who said her back and neck ached after the crash, said the lights were still on in the front part of the trolley. She said she got up to check on the passengers.

"There was a lady behind me with two small children that was saying 'Oh, my back, my back,'" Gillespie said. "So I went over to them to make sure they were all right. I said, 'I don't know what happened, but somebody will be here.'"

Zhu, who wasn't hurt, said it took about five minutes for rescue officials to arrive and begin treating the injured.

After the accident, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority enacted a strict policy requiring any operator caught using a cell phone on the job to be suspended for 30 days, with a recommendation that they be fired.

An operator caught carrying a cell phone while working is suspended for 10 days. If caught carrying one again, the penalty is the same as if they had been using it.

At least 22 drivers have been disciplined since the new regulations went into effect.

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