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Signals, cell phone focuses of Boston train crash
Train Accident MABT 5662771
An unidentified official from National Transportation Safety Board talks on his cell phone near a commuter train, Thursday, May 29, 2008, that was collided with another train, not photographed, that killed one of the operators and injured more than a dozen passengers on Wednesday, in Newton, Mass. - photo by Associated Press
    BOSTON — Federal investigators at the site of a fatal commuter train crash checked trackside signals Thursday, as well as reports that the trolley driver who was killed may have been on a cell phone.
    Terrese Edmonds was killed and more than a dozen passengers were hurt Wednesday when the two-car train Edmonds was operating rammed the back of another train in suburban Newton.
    National Transportation Safety Board member Kitty Higgins said the signals were being examined because the trains are run manually and guided by so-called ‘‘wayside’’ signals. The train that was rammed Wednesday night had just begun to move after being stopped at a red light on an outbound track just outside the Woodland station.
    Passengers, meanwhile, reported seeing Edmonds on the phone in the moments before the collision.
    ‘‘I heard something about that but we don’t know yet,’’ Higgins told reporters during the NTSB’s first on-site briefing. ‘‘We’re just beginning to look at this; we’ll look at everything.’’
    Higgins said rail investigator Wayne Workman and his team would assess equipment, human performance and safety systems. A full report is not expected for up to 18 months.
    Edmonds, 24, was a relatively inexperienced trolley operator who began commanding a train in October. She was a part-time employee like most new hires.
    ‘‘She waited for a long time, a couple of years, for the job and she finally got it. She was so happy,’’ said her brother Leon.
    Operators must be high school graduates, hold a driver’s license, complete background checks and undergo a seven-week training program that includes classroom work and trolley driving.
    The train that was rammed was removed from the scene, but the one that caused the collision remained so it could be examined, according to Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Passengers were bused around the site on Thursday.
    More than one-third of the roof was bent downward over the cab where Edmonds had been working. For roughly seven hours, firefighters struggled to free her from the mangled wreckage before her body was extricated early Thursday morning.
    ‘‘I was able to look at the damage to the car; it was very severe,’’ Higgins said.
    The collision seriously injured a passenger who was flown by helicopter to the Boston Medical Center. Nine others were treated at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and about five were treated at the scene, Pesaturo said.
    The crash came hours after an elevated train derailed in Chicago, sending 14 people to hospitals. Officials there quickly blamed human error by the operator.
    The operator failed to heed a red signal ordering him to stop, Chicago Transit Authority spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said. After the four-car train went through the signal, it automatically activated a trip, which stopped the train.
    But the operator moved the train forward again to a spot where the tracks weren’t aligned, causing the rear end of the front car and the second car to derail but remain standing, with the other two cars still on the tracks, Gaffney said.
    ‘‘He was going on the wrong tracks, or started to,’’ she said.
    Gaffney said there was still a possibility the aging transit system played a role in the derailment.
    The operator, who has 31 years’ experience, was cooperating with the investigation and will not be allowed to return to work until the probe is done, she said.
    A total of 25 people were on the train, including one CTA employee. Some of the injured were put in ladder baskets and lowered to the ground, where they were put in ambulances. Others were led off the tracks via a nearby stairwell, officials said.
    Associated Press writer Don Babwin and AP videographer Mark Carlson in Chicago contributed to this report.

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