Metro staff members, concluding their investigation of the Jan. 13 subway derailment that killed three people, recommended Thursday that Metrorail cars contain instructions on how to open the center sliding doors for emergency escape.
The cars now contain no instructions. Providing them would reverse Metro's longstanding policy that passengers remain inside a disabled car until rescue workers arrive because of the danger of touching the lethal third rail.
Carlton Sickles, head of a Metro board committee on safety, said the board would reserve the right of final decision on this recommendation, contained in a report released Thursday. In March, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a similar call for safety instructions.
Rescue workers responding to the derailment between the Smithsonian and Federal Triangle stations took over an hour to evacuate passengers from an Orange Line car that had been crushed against a concrete pillar. This has raised concern that more lives would have been lost if fire had broken out.
Metro's current safety policy is based on the belief that providing escape instructions might prove to be a safety hazard in itself. Pranksters might open the doors, it is argued, or passengers might panic if a train stopped routinely and jump out onto the hot rail, which contains 750 volts.
Other rail systems have rejected this policy. After one of its trains was caught in a 1979 tunnel fire, killing one firefighter, San Francisco's Bay Area Rapit Transit system began a media campaign to give passengers detailed information of what to do in a wide range of emergencies.
Sickles said it is unclear whether Metro will be able to make its decision on the basis of safety statistics. "It may end up being a judgment call," he said.
Thursday's report, the third and last from Metro's internal investigating team, also called for better tunnel graphics to mark such things as power lines and exits, creation of emergency response teams, walkie-talkies for operators, more emergency equipment in stations, clarification of when trains can be run manually, door keys for Metro personel and other steps.
Earlier reports by the panel of inquiry said the train's operator, a supervisor on the scene, and control room personel committed numerous errors in the derailment, Metrorail's first fatal accident. The panel also found fault with Metro's operational procedures and training programs.
General Manager Richard S. Page has said Metro has already moved to correct shortcomings uncovered by its investigation and two others by the American Public Transit Association and the safety board.