The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Metro to return Red Line to automatic train operation

Nine people were killed and after one Metro train rear-ended another on the Red Line, north of Fort Totten in 2009. (James M. Thresher/For The Washington Post)

Metro officials said Thursday that the Red Line will return to automatic train operation (ATO) on Monday.

Bringing back computer-driven trains means a return to the money-saving, smooth-ride feature that was part of the Metro system since its inception, but failed catastrophically in a 2009 crash, causing nine deaths.

The crash — in which a computer-driven train near the Fort Totten station plowed into a stationary train at an estimated 49 mph — was a watershed event for Metro, exposing what federal investigators said was a lax safety culture in the agency and prompting the resignation of then-General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.

“The return of automatic train operation on the Red Line is a significant safety milestone for Metro,” said Metro Deputy General Manager Rob Troup. “I want to thank our riders for their forbearance through years of work, often on weekends, to allow us the track access necessary to perform essential signal upgrades.”

Only eight-car trains will run in automatic mode initially; six-car trains will continue to operate in manual mode. A future software upgrade on Metro’s existing railcar fleet will allow six-car trains to return to automatic mode at a later date, the agency said in a news release.

Metro’s Orange, Silver, Blue, Yellow and Green lines are expected to return to ATO in late 2017.