- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2004

Federal investigators looking into the crash of two Metro trains told the transit agency yesterday to change its instructions for how subway drivers should handle a train rolling backward.

“Immediately revise the directions to train operators contained in your memorandums of November 7 and 9, 2004, to include specific written instructions for identifying and responding to an emergency rollback situation, and provide training to operators on the procedures to follow if such a rollback event occurs,” reads a letter sent by the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to Metro Chief Executive Officer Richard A. White.

Twenty persons were hurt Nov. 3 when an out-of-control train with just the driver aboard rolled backward and slammed into a passenger train at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Red Line Metro station in Northwest.

Metro sent memos to drivers just days after the crash. But NTSB Chairwoman Ellen Engleman Conners thinks the instructions in those notes may be “too broad to prepare train operators to respond appropriately to this type of emergency.”

The NTSB said Metro trains operated in automatic mode have a rollback protection feature that automatically applies the brakes. But only 70 upgraded cars in Metro’s fleet have that feature in manual mode, and investigators said that once the rollback speed is more than 2 mph, applying power will not correct the situation. The out-of-control train was going more than 30 mph.

“In that case, either the service or emergency brakes must be used,” Mrs. Conners wrote. But that apparently was not known to many Metro employees.

“The train operators, the training instructor for train operations, and the operations control center supervisors interviewed by investigators all said they believed that the rollback protection feature would automatically prevent excessive rollback,” Mrs. Conners wrote.

Metro said late yesterday that it would not only send another note to drivers, but also have supervisors talk face to face with them.

“That bulletin will provide them with specific procedures to re-clarify proper braking procedures,” said Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. “It’ll be more detailed than the first two memos,” she said, adding that drivers will have to sign to acknowledge receipt of the bulletin.

The transit agency has said it lacks money to maintain its rail and bus fleet, and has put off repairs and upgrades.

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