D.C. Metro begins inspecting signaling circuits

Posted on June 25, 2009

An estimated 3,000 signaling circuits in D.C.'s Metro system are being inspected in the wake of Monday's deadly Red Line collision, Metro general manager John Catoe told board members today, June 25, at their monthly meeting.

“We do not know if the circuits had anything to do with this accident, but we won’t just sit back and wait for someone to tell us,” said Catoe. “We’re going to be proactive and get out there to test all of them.”

Metro safety and operations officials are working hand-in-hand with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate the cause of the accident. The NTSB is the lead agency investigating the cause of the accident. Federal investigators yesterday announced that they found “anomalies’”' in a 740-foot-long circuit near the crash site that is part of the electronic control system. They are looking into whether a circuit malfunction might have sent one Red Line train crashing into another north of the Fort Totten station, killing nine and injuring about 80.

Track circuits are part of a signal system that sends information, authorization and speed commands to trains. The circuits are located beneath the tracks and in train control rooms.

Catoe told the Metro Board this morning that Metro workers began inspecting the circuits throughout the system Tuesday, as a safety precaution. The inspection process is expected to take a few weeks.

Metro trains, which can operate on an automated system also have been operated manually system-wide since Monday as Metro examines the automated train control system. Metrorail trains have been operated by an automatic train control system since the rail system opened in 1976. Automatic train control rooms assist in the movement of trains. The control rooms send electronic signals to the tracks, which in turn, route those signals into devices located between the tracks. When a train operates over one of these devices, the device relays that signal to the train in the lead car, and provides critical information to the train. These signals are also routed to the train even when the train is in manual operation.

“For those customers who ride on trains in manual mode, the ride will not be as smooth, but this precaution is necessary until the investigation and our review of the system operation provide us more information,” Catoe said the operation also is evaluating and working on the logistics to place its oldest rail cars in the middle of six-and-eight-car trains as an additional safety precaution. The strik ing train in the accident was a 1000 series rail car.

The railcars are about 35 years old. In 2006, the NTSB recommended Metro rehabilitate or accelerate the retirement of the cars after a Red Line train collision. An earlier study found rehabilitation was not practical because the modification could result in more injuries. Metro chose to replace the nearly 300 rail cars. A new procurement is under way to do so. The transit agency would need nearly $1 billion to replace all of the 1000 series rail cars. The railcars have been rehabilitated once and are routinely inspected and maintained.

“We have planned for the replacement of these railcars and are in pursuit of the funding to make that happen,” Catoe said. The region’s congressional delegation has been trying to get dedicated funding for the transit agency in the President’s budget. Catoe also announced he had spoken with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood earlier today and received assurances of the department’s support for the transit agency.

“We have a safe system,” Catoe said. “We have suffered a tragic accident and it renews and intensifies our commitment to the safety of Metro’s customers and employees. We will not rest until we have the answers. We will take action to improve safety and ensure the confidence of our customers.”

METRO TV: For video coverage of the investigation, click here.

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