- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended three years ago that Metro replace or refurbish the type of train car involved in Monday’s fatal crash - a suggestion that the District’s heralded transit agency failed to aggressively follow.

The day after the deadliest crash in Metro’s 33-year-history was filled with more questions about what caused one Red Line train to slam into a stopped train Monday evening near the Fort Totten station, killing at least nine people and injuring about 80.

Mourners held a prayer service outside the transit agency’s headquarters in Northwest, and federal investigators briefed Metro’s board of directors on details of the horrific accident.

D.C. fire officials turned over control of the crash scene in Northeast to the National Transportation Safety Board at 1 p.m. Board member Debbie Hersman said investigators already had determined that the moving train had been in automatic mode at the time of the crash and that the train’s emergency brake was engaged, although it was not clear whether it was depressed prior to the crash by operator Jeanice McMillan, who was killed in the accident.

Ms. Hersman said that the crash occurred on a curved portion of the track where speed was restricted and that maintenance had been performed on the train-control system - a computerized sensor system that can alert a train that other trains are stopped on a track - between Fort Totten station and New Hampshire Avenue overpass earlier this month.

She said investigators also planned to study Ms. McMillan’s work history, medical records and toxicology reports, along with cell phone records and nine recorders pulled from the stopped train.

“We’re going to leave no stone unturned,” she said.

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. likened the computerized sensor system to an air-traffic-control system and said it can stop trains when a problem occurs on a track. He said the system also has a mechanical override that did not engage during the afternoon rush-hour crash Monday, but he declined to speculate on why it did not engage.

Mr. Catoe also discounted reports that the moving train that caused the crash was overdue for scheduled maintenance, saying all documentation had been handed over to NTSB investigators.

“There’s no documentation that this particular car was scheduled to receive maintenance,” he said.

However, the train was made up of Series 1000 rail cars, which were described in a 2006 NTSB report as “subject to a catastrophic compromise.” A record of recommendations made by the NTSB to the transit agency - provided by the safety board Tuesday - detail concerns about the rail car model since at least 2002.

Metro officials that year cited a study performed by Booz Allen Hamilton that found adding reinforcement to the existing Metrorail cars - including the Series 1000 model - “is neither desirable nor practical.” The study said measures needed to strengthen the cars could lead to more severe injuries, and other measures to improve their crash resistance would be extremely difficult and impractical.

The safety board said in May 2002 that the agency’s position on the existing fleet was “reasonable.”

But 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 subject to a catastrophic compromise of the occupant survival space.”

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