The Washington Post

Metro officials report progress on safety

Metro officials said Thursday that they have moved closer to resolving safety recommendations issued by the National Transportation Safety Board, including two directly related to the fatal Red Line crash in 2009.

After the crash, which killed nine people and injured scores of others, the NTSB pushed Metro to deal more aggressively with safety issues and to develop tools to better monitor trains as they moved through the system.

Metro officials said two recommendations they recently addressed are significant steps toward allowing the subway system to return to automatic train operation. Since the crash, Metro trains have operated in manual mode as a safety precaution, which can mean slower and sometime jerkier rides for passengers. But officials noted that there is no timeline for a return to automatic train operation.

One tool developed in response to the NTSB’s recommendations monitors trains in real time as they move through the system and alerts officials if there are signal anomalies. It was the inability to detect the presence of a train that led to the crash at Fort Totten.

“We have been testing for many months,” said Richard Sarles, Metro’s general manager. “It really watches the system to see that a train that is moving along suddenly doesn’t disappear from the system, and if it sees that, then it will detect those little problems.”

Officials also have a plan in place to replace a series of track circuit modules that could potentially cause the system to lose track of trains as they move along the tracks — although full replacement could take years. A malfunction in this system contributed to the crash, and the NTSB has recommended that they be removed.

Three years after the crash, Metro has stepped up its efforts to ensure passenger safety. Still, the transit agency was dogged by a events this summer that raised questions about safety practices. After a problematic train evacuation in College Park, Metro revised its procedures for such a situation.

Even with yesterday’s announcement, 22 NTSB recommendations remain unresolved. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said Metro officials have provided the NTSB with details of how the transit agency has addressed 12 of those recommendations. There are 10 others, including the replacement of the system’s 1000 series of cars and installing rollback protection on all trains, that will take more time to be resolved, Stessel said. Of those 10, seven are related to the Red Line crash.

Mort Downey, chairman of the Metro board’s safety committee, said the news was “a big step forward.”

“This is real progress and I think it shows that we are paying attention and we are getting results,” he said.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.

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