HOWEVER FLEETING THE public interest

in any one disaster may prove, the events of January 13 in Washington--Flight 90 and that Orange Line train to New Carrollton--still linger grimly in the news. Yesterday, it was a report on Metro's investigation of itself in the wake of the derailment that killed three people on that awful afternoon here--and the response has been a serious one. Rather than try to paper over its own highly disturbing mistakes before and during the accident --or to point blame in other directions--Metro, under the direct supervision of General Manager Richard S. Page, has accepted responsibility, moved to punish employees severely and taken steps to prevent future disasters.

Both the supervisor and the train operator involved in the accident have been suspended without pay and barred from ever returning to any jobs involving train operations. That does fall short of outright dismissal but is nevertheless severe; and, given contributing factors cited in this decision, it seems justified. Mr. Page notes that 1) both men had good records before the accident occurred; 2) they had received "ambiguous instruction" from the control room; 3) the training program had been inadequate; and 4) there was a "human factor" involved.

"What happened that night will be on the minds of those two men," Mr. Page has said, "and in some ways the easy course would have been to make them the scapegoats and to say goodbye. We didn't want to do that." Instead, and in addition to investigations still being conducted of other employees' roles, Metro is moving to change and clarify many of its procedures.

For example, the agency has reissued basic instructions to operators telling them to stop when there is a red light--regardless of any other instructions they may receive. Rules for running trains in reverse also have been re-emphasized. Other moves include designating a single supervisor to be in charge of the control room; instructing employees to assume the worst possible case if anything unusual occurs; requiring that failing switches be reported in writing, with a checkoff procedure for noting repairs, and instituting procedures to prevent electric power from coming on in areas where there are any abnormal operations evident.

These actions by Metro, coupled with new attention to the business of informing and directing all potentially panicky riders in an emergency, should serve to diminish the chance of another tragedy similar to this one. But attention to all these details should not be allowed to flag simply because the likelihood of a repeat seems remote. Emergencies are just that-- and no lesson of January 13 should be lost or even momentarily forgotten at Metro.