Metro to outline safety improvements

Family members and the community gather to remember the nine people who perished last year near the Fort Totten Metro.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 12:48 PM

Metro's interim general manager is scheduled to appear before a House subcommittee Thursday to explain how the agency is fulfilling 15 recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board after it investigated the fatal June 2009 Red Line crash.

Richard Sarles is expected to testify before the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia Subcommittee at 2 p.m. Other witnesses include NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman, Metro Board First Vice Chair Catherine Hudgins and Matt Bassett, chair of the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which oversees Metro safety issues.

The NTSB's report, issued in July, found that Metro had a lax safety culture and that more than 1,400 track circuit modules had the potential to malfunction, which the board cited as the probable cause of the Red Line crash. The safety board found that faulty track circuits led Metro's automatic train control system to miss a train that had stopped north of the Fort Totten station and instruct an oncoming train to speed forward, leading it to crash into the stopped train.

The NTSB also found that Metro's oldest rail cars, about a quarter of its fleet, pose an "unacceptable risk to Metrorail users" because they offer little protection in a crash. The board's recommendations included removing the faulty track circuit equipment and old rail cars as soon as possible.

Metro officials have told other panels that they have begun replacing track switches throughout the system and that Metro is examining the "service and safety impacts" of taking the oldest 100 series rail cars out of service more quickly than planned.

Sarles has said the agency will act on all 15 recommendations. Metro has dedicated more than $30 million in capital spending over the next three years to carry out the recommended safety improvements.

The June 2009 Red Line collision killed nine people and injured dozens of others.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company