Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, Please

We've all seen it happen, but when the doors closed on a Boxborough man at State station Monday, it wasn't due to the guard's quick flips of the door control.

According to multiple sources, the doors of an Orange Line train closed unexpectedly, without warning, trapping the man between the doors, with his briefcase and laptop outside the train. When the train's brakes released, he handed it to a good samaritan on the platform, who promised to meet him at Back Bay with his bag (and he did - kudos to him!). But this wasn't the end.

When the train rumbled in to Downtown Crossing, the doors didn't open at all. Passengers began to panic, pressing the emergency boxes in the cabin, but getting no response. Eventually, an alert employee noticed the passengers banging on the doors and came into the car from the next one to open the doors manually. The MBTA has since taken the entire trainset out of service for investigation.

Two key issues arise with this incident: Why did the doors close without warning, and how was the train able to move with the door still ajar; and Why were the emergency calls ignored? (The MBTA says all of the boxes on the train were working properly).

This may come down to operator error, but what bothers me about this is, if all accounts are accurate, the train began to move with the man trapped in the door, meaning the door was not fully closed and locked. The train should not be able to move when the doors are not all closed and locked, and the guard should get some sort of indication that they are not all closed. My guess here is, given the lack of warning and quick closing of the doors, some sort of malfunction caused this whole incident, giving no indication to the crew or the train itself that the doors were not all closed. At Downtown Crossing, there may not have been any indication that the doors hadn't opened.

As far as the emergency intercoms, passengers are told repeatedly to report anything suspicious or problematic, and to use the emergency intercoms to do so, but if these calls don't go through, or if they are ignored, then the boxes are completely pointless and leave passengers disconnected from vital help in a dangerous situation. This issue may be resolved with either employee re-training, or closer inspection and testing of the boxes across all lines (they are rather old, and maybe it is time to replace them with more modern equipment).

This is an issue that needs to be addressed quickly by the T, and action needs to be taken based on their findings. My best guess would be that this leads to a fleet-wide inspection of door-related equipment, ensuring that all failsafes and systems are working properly. This incident could have easily been more serious than it was, and I hope that all of the press that it managed to receive will mean a prompt response from the T.

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