Metro Steps Up Effort to Stop Early Train Door Openings

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Some Metro operators are still opening the doors of eight-car trains before all cars reach station platforms. There were eight such incidents over 12 weekdays despite recent measures that were supposed to avert the safety hazard, officials said.

Metro Deputy General Manager Gerald Francis said the agency is stepping up efforts to have supervisors remind train operators throughout their shifts that they are on longer trains. Metro might ask supervisors to ride a few stops in the operator's cab or stand by markers at certain stations.

Metro is also making markers to be placed prominently in the tracks to signal where eight-car trains should stop. Current markers hang below the platform edge. Operators say some are rusted and not visible.

Another option, Francis said, would be to require trains during rush hour to stop at the end of the platform, regardless of length. Although that might inconvenience riders accustomed to boarding at specific spots, Francis said, the agency needs to do everything possible to limit doors being opened before all cars reach the platform.

"It is a real serious safety issue," Francis said this week. Metro officials said they are not aware of passenger injuries resulting from the errors.

Metro typically runs a mix of six- and eight-car trains during peak periods. Because eight-car trains are 600 feet long, the same length as the platform, there is no room for error.

About 18 percent of the trains running during peak periods are eight-car trains, Metro's primary means of easing crowding. Virtually all the premature openings occur because operators forget they are not on six-car trains.

The most recent incident was on the Red Line at Dupont Circle at 9:08 a.m. Tuesday, when the doors of an eight-car train opened while the last car was in the tunnel.

Although the train was crowded, the last car was not, riders said.

"There was a moment of shock," said Niels Lesniewski, a rider on his way to work at Roll Call's legislative tracking Web site, GalleryWatch. Another rider pushed the emergency intercom and alerted the train operator. The train pulled forward until all cars were at the platform. Within five minutes, the operator was removed and a new operator came aboard, Lesniewski said.

From January to April, at least 13 incidents were reported in which eight-car trains were not stopped properly, officials said. In an interview May 1, rail chief Dave Kubicek said Metro was putting placards in cab consoles and having supervisors remind operators they had longer trains. There were no reported incidents for a week.

But on May 9, three incidents occurred within two hours: at 3:10 p.m. on the Red Line at the Rockville station, 3:35 p.m. on the Orange Line at Clarendon and 5:09 p.m. on the Green Line at L'Enfant Plaza, spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

Metro officials said the most recent incidents were on the Red, Green and Orange lines, where the longer trains are used during rush hour. No information was available about what disciplinary action, if any, had been taken against the operators involved.

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