(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
A commuter rail train hit a bumper at the end of a track this morning at South Station, bringing the train to an abrupt stop and causing at least 18 minor injuries.
The engineer told his supervisors that he misjudged the stopping distance and hit the metal bumper post at the end of the track while traveling less than 5 miles per hour. A preliminary investigation has ruled out problems with signals, dispatching, and equipment and appears to point to operator error.
"What I've heard is that there was judgment error on the part of the engineer, but we haven't gotten anything definitive," said William Mitchell, acting general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
Riders described a lurching stop at 9:08 a.m. that knocked some people off their feet just as they were standing to get off the train.
"It just stopped short as it was coming in very slowly into the station," said Sam Wood, one of about 300 passengers on the train. "It hit hard, it stopped suddenly. A bunch of people went flying."
An elderly woman stumbled backward and hit her head on the arm of the seat, Wood said, adding, "It was obvious she was hurt."
The impact knocked Shaw Lively off his feet and left him on all fours. "It was a very sudden stop. The momentum just flew you through the air," Lively said.
At total of 13 people were taken to hospitals, including nine passengers who were carried from the scene on backboards. Another five people at the scene with minor injuries refused medical treatment.
"Most of the injuries were cuts and bruises," said Deputy Chief Timothy Holland of Boston Emergency Medical Services. No one appeared to be seriously hurt, but some people did report feeling neck and back pain, he said.
Investigators from the Federal Railroad Administration have responded to the scene. There does not appear to be signal or equipment problems, according to John D. Ray, director of MBTA railroad operations. Engineers control when and where trains stop.
"They know what the track looks like, they know where they have to stop," Ray said.
The mishap appears to be unrelated to a dispatching problem Monday night in an area of track overseen by CSX, where two trains nearly collided near Back Bay Station. The dispatching in South Station is handled by Amtrak, Ray said.
Outside South Station on Atlantic Avenue, 10 people held ice packs on their head, knees, elbows, and necks. Medics attended to three people on stretchers, including a man who appeared to be a train conductor, wearing a uniform and holding his hat on his stomach. Firefighters helped fit other riders with neck braces and tied them to backboards.
The engineer operating train number 512 from Worcester will be tested for drugs and alcohol, as is standard, Pesaturo said.
At a brief news conference at Boston Medical Center, Jonathan Olshaker, chief and chairman of emergency medicine, said the hospital had treated five patients involved in the accident for cuts, bruises, and possibly broken bones. Of the five patients, four would likely be released, and one would be admitted for observation.
"At this time there's no evidence of serious or life-threatening injuries," he said.
The hospital activated its emergency response plan in preparation for large numbers of patients with serious injuries.
Peter Schworm of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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