D.C. Metro investigates train collision cause

Posted on June 30, 2009

External experts in track signaling and circuitry from across the country are in discussions with Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) officials in an effort to help determine what may have caused last week’s train collision.


The experts were contacted by Metro to assist with the transit agency’s investigation into what caused two trains to collide on the Red Line at the start of the afternoon rush hour on June 22.


“We have been talking with subject-matter experts in the field of track signaling for the past few days. We have contacted the American Public Transportation Association to be part of this effort,” Metro GM John Catoe said. "The effort will include an independent review of critical components such as signals and circuitry. Final findings will be important to Metro, but also may eventually impact the rest of the transit industry as well."


Signals, circuits, relays and other components are located in the track bed and in special train control booths that enable trains and the Operations Control Center to communicate with each other to move trains and passengers safely.


In an effort to facilitate the internal review, Catoe also announced an immediate realignment of some staff from Metro’s Rail Department and Infrastructure and Renewal Dept., while the investigation is under way so that all staff who are affiliated with signal and track responsibilities, whether they are engineers or maintenance staff, are housed together in the Operations Department.


In addition, Metro has already implemented several other actions since last week’s accident, including inspections of all 3,000 track circuits; shifting the position of the 1000-series cars; restricting speeds on the Red Line and operating all trains manually.


Catoe said he would not consider returning trains to automatic mode until officials have evaluated the recommendations made by the team of outside experts.


Metro officials are in the process of shifting the 1000-series cars, — the oldest in the fleet — which were involved in last week’s accident, between the newer series of cars when a train is put into service. This is because the first car of the striking train in last Monday’s accident sustained the most damage, and officials believe that if those cars are relocated to the center of six- and eight-car trains the newer cars may absorb the majority of impact in the event of a collision.


A consequence of mixing 1000-series cars with newer models, such as the 6000-series cars, will mean that the interior next station stop signs, which are featured in the 6000-series vehicles, will not function. However all critical railcar operations and safety mechanisms will work.


“These railcars are safe,” Catoe said. There are no plans to remove the nearly 300 old rail cars from service. “We have no evidence that these 1000-series cars contributed to the cause of the accident. But I understand that the public perception may be different. Removing them from service is not practical, nor is it necessary,” Catoe explained.


Metro also has reduced speeds to a maximum of 35 mph throughout the Red Line while the investigation continues between the Fort Totten and Takoma Metrorail stations.


Metro’s Board of Directors voted last week on June 23 to establish an emergency hardship relief fund of $250,000 to provide financial relief to the families of the victims of the collision to assist with medical, funeral and other immediate expenses.

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