- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

Metro officials said yesterday they plan to build a $13 million parking garage at the West Falls Church station that will add 1,200 spaces by late next year.

Plans for the six-level garage were approved yesterday by the agency's planning committee but must receive approval from the budget committee and final approval March 20 from the board of directors, Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

Virginia lawmakers already have approved money for the project.

The station would lose about 350 spaces during construction, which is scheduled to begin this fall. Shuttle service would be provided to a temporary lot.

A Metro official also said yesterday that safety features in the system's subway cars would prevent a fire like the one in South Korea that killed 198 persons last month.

A 56-year-old truck driver with a history of mental illnesses is accused of lighting a container filled with flammable liquid on the train Feb. 18 in Daegu, the country's third-largest city. Many passengers were killed when the fire spread to a second car.

"Passengers need to be assured that it couldn't happen here," said Fred Goodine, Metro's assistant general manager for safety. He said the seats and carpeting on Metro trains are flame retardant, unlike the ones in Daegu, which he called "highly flammable."

Mr. Goodine cited a 1998 incident on the Red Line in which a 32-year-old mental patient emptied a gallon of gasoline in a Metro car approaching the Judiciary Square station, then set the gasoline on fire. The fire caused $10,000 in damage but did not spread beyond areas doused with gasoline and no injuries were reported.

However, on April 20, 2000, after a fire was reported in a Metro tunnel between the Farragut West and Foggy Bottom stations, a Blue Line train with 273 passengers was sent into the tunnel because the fire was described as "small." The train was stranded for three hours, and 13 passengers were treated for smoke inhalation.

Mr. Goodine also presented a final report yesterday on the Jan. 20 derailment of the last car on a six-car train near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. He blamed the accident on human error, saying that a 16-year veteran made the wrong decision on how to fix a loose track. After the repair, a curve in the Blue Line track was a sixteenth-of-an-inch too sharp, which resulted in the derailment.

Mr. Goodine also said that Metro suffers from systemwide deficiencies in reporting and tracking safety concerns that contributed to the incident.

Committee members acknowledged that the incident, which occurred on a rail bridge 30 feet above ground, could have been disastrous if the car had fallen off the bridge or if the train had kept moving, which could have resulted in a collision with a wall or another train.

"I think we should be grateful to our higher power here, because it could have been a lot worse," said Jim Graham, member of Metro's safety committee and the D.C. Council.

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