Metro to upgrade electronics, repair doors on rail cars

The National Transportation Safety board conducts a three-day hearing Feb. 23-25 into the June 22 crash on Metro's Red Line that killed nine people.
By Lena H. Sun
Saturday, February 27, 2010

Metro is making two critical safety fixes to its rail cars: upgrading electronics on more cars in the fleet to prevent them from rolling backward and repairing door controls on about half the fleet so they open on the correct side of the tracks at station stops.

The Metro board approved funding for the repairs at its meeting Thursday. The rollback protection software will cost $813,000 and be installed on 182 cars by the end of summer, the transit agency said Friday in a news release. The software upgrade is designed to prevent trains from rolling backward while they are operating in manual mode.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued an urgent safety recommendation advising the transit agency to install the protection on all cars after a 2004 crash at the Woodley Park Station when a train carrying no passengers unexpectedly rolled backward for 78 seconds and rammed another one, injuring 20 people. Metro has retrofitted about half its fleet, but transit agency safety officials say financial and logistical challenges have slowed the work.

The latest announcement leaves 100 cars out of 1,134 without the protection. A fix for those cars "is still in the development stage," Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. Metro safety officials have said retrofitting the entire fleet will cost about $3 million and be completed by 2016.

The board's actions came as the NTSB concluded a three-day hearing this week into the Red Line crash in June that killed nine people. The hearing included tough questioning about Metro's failure to correct outstanding safety recommendations and oversight at the local, state and federal levels.

The transit agency will also repair door control units on three series of rail cars that have been malfunctioning, allowing doors to open on the wrong side when trains pull into stations. The board approved $2.6 million to repair 546 rail cars.

Currently, door openings are controlled by the train operators who are running the trains manually after the June crash. Metro officials have described the switch to manual mode as a safety precaution. The repairs for the doors affect automatic train operation.

The repairs are the result of three incidents in 2008 in which trains in automatic mode had doors open on the wrong side. Metro expects to complete the repairs in spring 2011.

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