Monday, June 26, 2006

Big Town Trouble on the Tracks

Seemingly a suburban phenomenon, death on the MBTA tracks makes commuters reflect. That was Green Street on the Orange Line this morning. I saw neither blood nor corpse -- I was biking.

The potential for accidental, criminal or suicidal subway or trolley collisions are in Boston hundreds of thousands of times a weekday. Yet the inattentive, dull-witted or crazy events are more likely to happen in Natick or Beverly at commuter-rail crossings or tracks. The drunk lying on the line, the iPod-wearing teen struck from behind, the SUV-deluded hausfrau trying to sneak around a crossing arm, and of course, the ever popular despondent business failure are best suited to theater on long runs of rail.

Today though, I was at sixes and sevens myself. The insidious rain saturated my bike, clothes, road shoes and gloves Friday. I was aware of drizzle throughout the night. I woke wondering whether I took the 30% forecast of rain as a sunny day and accepted the muddy, filthy road track up my back (no fenders). That was a yes at 6:40 a.m.

The alternative was a 15-minute walk to Forest Hills $1.25 Charlie and a walk into South Boston from Downtown Crossing. Bike good. Subway only okay.

When I pedaled the nearly two miles to Green Street, I figured it was a body. Perhaps five city police cruisers, two or three MBTA ones and an ambulance filled Green Street in front of the station, and in typical city cop fashion, straddled all available sidewalk and bike-path space. [Safety? We don't need no stinkin' public safety. We're cops.]

Cyclists could just barely maneuver the crack between cruisers. Amory Street is not a viable option. It has been stripped for paving for over a week, and is a field of tire-cutting ridges and broken glass.

So the dueling thoughts played on the way to work. Someone was likely dead in the station, and yet, I had made the right decision to bike.

At work, the Net had sketchy mentions. The Globe was the lightest. It reported at the top of
MBTA ALERT: Orange Line passengers are being bused in both directions between Forest Hills and Ruggles stations, due to an incident at the Green Street station.
In a half-hour, this became:
MBTA ALERT: Orange Line travel is delayed in both directions due to a previous operational problem. reported that there was a body found on the tracks. The other stations didn't cover it.

Apparently the Globe runs what they're told. The MBTA reported only:
Due to previous operational difficulties, the Orange Line is now running with moderate delays in both directions.
So perhaps it is something more benign. Someone stumbled and broke a bone. All trains stopped until it cleared.

Only a week or so ago, I left the building at the same time as the FedEx guy picking up. He looked at the bike and said how dangerous it must be to cycle in town.

Well, it can be, but he has a much higher chance of getting in a wreck -- albeit with a lot more metal protecting him -- than I. You also have to wonder about slipping by the track or getting shoved or any of a number of other paranoid possibilities.

Or maybe you just go about your business.

I know I'll have to check to see when the local Websites bother to get and put out the story. I'll add the outcome.

What would Perry White do? Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the century with cell phones, TV, radio, the Internet, and an allegedly highly competitive mass media. So, there's a body on the Orange Line tracks, a dozen or so cops and a couple of EMTs handling it. Yet, in Internet time, we have squat. Didn't newspapers and broadcast used to race to news scenes to get the proverbial scoop? Didn't the Herald used to have great police reporting? When did the major daily rely on the there's-nothing-to-see-here MBTA office? After the initial newsflashes, aren't the media going to clarify their extreme teasers? Where are Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen when you need them?

Unfortunate Update: It was in fact death underground. Four and one-half hours later, the Globe covers it here. Apparently some unidentified guy was walking on the tracks for an unknown reason and a Northbound Orange Line train stuck and killed him. Witnesses said he walked off the platform and onto the tracks, going about 200 feet. He may have died from being thrown on the electrified third rail. The MBTA closed the line until 8:20 and will test the driver for drugs, as required by policy and regulations.

That's grim enough. Note that the MBTA site reads only, "All Orange Line service is on or near schedule." Move along. Move along.

Tags: , , ,


Anonymous said...

You must not ride the Red Line. Suicides happen there with alarming frequency.

massmarrier said...

Intriguing...I don't commute by Red Line, but have taken it for many years with no such stoppage. This may require some research. I wonder whether the T talks numbers on its deaths.

I see from February 2005, that two BU students struck on the commuter-rail tracks were ruled neither suicide nor drug related. A 2002 Harvard Square subway death of a 17-year-old was either accident or suicide. Last year, a 20-year-old Ipswich guy apparently killed himself by lying on the tracks and letting a commuter rail train run over him. It seems these deaths are odd enough to be noteworthy -- when the press gets around to it.

As part of the BU-student story the Globe reports 56 commuter-rail related deaths in the previous five years. It claims 20 folk died by subway car and eight by bus, walking on or falling on tracks. Also, two T workers died during repairs.

So, is it four a year by subway and 11 by commuter train on average? Compared with our murder rate, that's small beer, but it freaks us out, from commuters to train engineers. Certainly the idea of being crushed by a massive train does not appeal to me.

massmarrier said...

I see that BadTransit has its own take on MBTA deaths.

Anonymous said...

try to imagine the guy driving the train. he probably gets a lot of grief, when he was just doing his job in the wrong place at the wrong time........just a thought

Anonymous said...

what about the driver? trains probably just don't stop on a dime. the driver may get a bad rap and years of therapy, yet, he seems to come out a bad guy......just a thought