Authorities are investigating whether someone tampered with safety equipment on a Red Line train in Massachusetts, causing the Boston-bound train to depart Thursday morning without an operator and with passengers on board.
The operator of the train has been placed on administrative leave while authorities investigate. MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the focus of the investigation is operator error, but Gov. Charlie Baker said earlier Thursday the train's controls may have been manipulated.
The MBTA released a statement saying the incident happened shortly after 6 a.m., when the train departed Braintree Station. The train made no stops and continued past North Quincy Station, when workers were able to cut power to the third rail, bringing the train to a stop.
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According to MassDOT, the operator, identified to necn as 51-year-old David Vazquez, had been unable to start the train and was cleared to put the train in emergency bypass mode, which includes engaging two brakes before toggling a switch on the front of the train.
State officials Vazquez was also cleared to get off the train, which took off without him. In emergency bypass mode, a train is not supposed to exceed 25 mph. Investigators are not sure how fast the train was going.
Passengers were asked to get off when the train finally ground to a halt. Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials said the operator suffered non-life threatening injuries. Vazquez was treated at the hospital and released.
"Passenger safety is the highest priority for the MBTA and this highly troubling incident is under investigation by Transit Police detectives," MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola said in a statement Thursday.
Gov. Charlie Baker said in a press conference Thursday some of the train's safety controls appear to have been manipulated. He said the incident appears to be isolated.
"It's pretty clear the main control that drives the train was tampered with," Baker said. "I think the big issue on this is whether it was a negligence issue or something else."
The Boston Carmen's Union Local 589, which represents thousands of transit professionals in the area, issued a statement Thursday emphasizing its focus on safety.
"We are extremely grateful that there were no serious injuries in today's accident to either the employees we represent or the riding public, which we serve," the statement said. "We are cooperating with the ongoing investigation of this incident and look forward to working with the MBTA to put in place measures to ensure nothing like this happens again."
Meanwhile, FBI officials in Boston said they're aware of the incident. MBTA Transit Police are investigating, along with MassDOT and public saftety officials.
According to the MBTA, the Red Line accommodates more than 250,000 riders every day during the week.