NTSB cited Metro car problems in 2006

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National Transportation Safety Board officials told Metro officials three years ago the type of subway car involved in Monday’s fatal crash needed to be updated or replaced.

The Red Line train that slammed into another during the Monday-afternoon commute and killed at least nine people was made up of Series 1000 rail cars, which were described in a 2006 NTSB report as “subject to a catastrophic compromise.”

The NTSB also provided a record Tuesday of recommendations about the cars that go back seven years.

In 2002, Metro officials cited a study performed by Booz-Allen and Hamilton Inc. that found enhancing the stability of existing Metrorail cars, including the Series 1000 model, “is neither desirable or practical.”

The study said measures needed to strengthen the car could lead to more severe injuries and that other measures to improve their “crash-worthiness” would be impractical and the cost prohibitive.

The NTSB said in May 2002 that Metro’s position was “reasonable.”

However, an NTSB report on a 2004 Red Line crash that injured 20 said the failure of the underframe end structure on the 1000-series cars “may make them susceptible to ‘telescoping’ and potentially [result in] a catastrophic compromise of the occupant-survival space.”

The NTSB then issued a recommendation that Metro speed up the retirement of the rail cars or retrofit them with better collision protection.

But in 2007, Metro officials said they did not plan to overhaul the cars but instead would replace them with a 7000-series car, and that the older cars were expected to remain in service until late 2014 because the agency was constrained by leases.

“In view of [Metro’s] response to the board’s recommendation, it appears that further dialogue on this issue would prove futile,” NTSB records state.

NTSB member Debbie Hersman said Tuesday the agency recommended in 2006 that such cars be retrofitted or phased out, but Metro has failed to do that.

“The case was closed in an unacceptable status,” she said.

In a February 2008 online chat, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said the 1000-series cars had brake problems. He vowed a thorough investigation Monday aimed at preventing such crashes in the future.

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