“The good news is Metro did pay attention,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “They listened and they’re committed to taking action to address the deficiencies. They’ve done what we asked for, and they’re still making progress.”
Last June, the first anniversary of the accident, Metro was struggling with a host of problems.
The agency had a huge budget shortfall. The NTSB’s final report on the crash between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations still loomed. Riders faced a complex fare increase, and the transit system was in the middle of a search for a permanent general manager. Plus, Metro was criticized when it was late inviting the victims’ families to a memorial to mark the deadliest accident in the transit system’s 35-year history.
The past year has brought a multitude of changes. In January, the agency hired Richard Sarles as its permanent general manager. Ten of 14 seats on its board have new members. (Two positions remain vacant.) The transit agency has beefed up its safety department, and it has a new public relations message for its riders: Metro is moving forward.
“The system is absolutely safer than it was a year ago,” said Sarles, who was brought in on an interim basis in spring 2010. “We’ve adopted an attitude of we’re going to change the safety culture to one that’s going to prevent accidents.”
Since the June 22, 2009, accident, Metro has installed new safety equipment and done more training to help prevent accidents. It has resolved more than 100 “corrective action items” from the NTSB, the Federal Transit Administration and other watchdog groups. It hopes to resolve 10 others soon.
Metro has also worked to solve some of the technical problems the NTSB identified as the cause of the Red Line crash. It is improving its train detection systems, replacing more than 1,500 track circuit modules and operating its trains in manual instead of automatic mode as a safety precaution.
At a recent roundtable discussion with the national capital region’s congressional delegation, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) — who was one of Metro’s harshest critics — said the transit agency has started to show “substantial improvement.” Mikulski said Metro had a “culture of cover-up of the problems and denial of the problems, and this is changing.”
Sarles said Metro is spending $1 billion to make repairs and improve its safety operations. The work includes:
• Installing rollback protection on rail cars.
• Replacing 148 switches, which guide trains from one track to another. (Metro plans to replace 30 more by summer 2012.)
• Spending $689 million to replace its oldest rail cars, the 1000 series, which make up about 25 percent of the fleet and which the NTSB has criticized as offering little protection in a crash.