Boston transit agency fires operator of driverless train

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BOSTON (AP) — The operator of a driverless train that rumbled through several stations before transit workers stopped it by cutting power to the rails has been fired.

A lawyer for the train's operator, 53-year-old David Vazquez, said Wednesday he plans to appeal the decision by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The move comes one day after investigators looking into the incident recommended Vazquez be fired.

The driverless train left a suburban Boston station last Thursday morning. None of the passengers were injured.

Transit officials have said the operator, identified as Vazquez, got off the train to put it into "bypass mode" after receiving permission to override a signal problem. He suffered a minor injury when he was brushed by the train as it moved away from the station without him on board.

Transportation officials said the train's emergency brake hadn't been engaged and that investigators were also looking at whether the train's throttle had been tied back with a cord — meaning the train would start moving as soon as it was placed in bypass mode.

Philip Gordon, a lawyer representing Vazquez, said his client denies tying a cord around the throttle.

Gordon also faulted the MBTA, saying he doesn't understand the decision to fire Vazquez less than a week after the incident.

"Why the rush to terminate? He's a 21-year employee, a well-regarded operator who's been doing this for a long time with a good record," Gordon said in a phone interview. "He's already suspended. He's not behind the wheel."

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation would only confirm that Vazquez no longer works for the MBTA and declined further comment.

The train carrying about 50 passengers left the Braintree station Dec. 10 shortly after 6 a.m. and passed through several stops before the power was gradually cut to the electrified third rail. Transit workers first had to make sure that other trains were safely out of the way.

Transportation officials said train operators will no longer be allowed to use the bypass procedure without a second senior MBTA official present.

Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said last week that the only way a train could move on its own after being placed in bypass mode — absent a mechanical failure — was if the hand brake hadn't been engaged and the throttle deliberately forced into the position needed to accelerate the train.

Pollack said the incident appeared to be the result of a "series of irresponsible actions" by a single employee. Engaging in such prohibited acts is a cause for firing, she added.

Gov. Charlie Baker has said the operator appeared to violate several safety procedures.

Baker said Tuesday that he hadn't yet read the investigative report but was glad that the inquiry was moving swiftly.

"For me the most important thing was that they move quickly on this to create some closure and some clarity so I'm glad that they did," the governor said.

Gordon said he hopes the MBTA will continue its investigation into what happened, including looking carefully at the train itself.

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