Thursday, January 18, 2007

Metro’s incoming general manager yesterday said he is confident that the transit agency is prepared to handle large and small emergencies in the wake of a train derailment in the District that injured 20 earlier this month.

“You don’t know when, if, how [an emergency] is going to happen. But [Metro] is an organization that’s prepared,” said John B. Catoe, who takes over the reins at the transit agency on Jan. 29.

Mr. Catoe, who served as deputy chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said he expects to arrive in the District today and will begin studying the issues surrounding the derailment immediately.

Tapes released yesterday of emergency communications made after a Metro train derailment in the District supported reports that the response was delayed because of communications difficulties between rescue workers and Metro officials.

The D.C. Office of Unified Communications released the tapes from the Green Line derailment, which occurred at about 3:45 p.m. Jan. 7. The fifth car of a six-car train moving northbound crossed a rail switch and left the tracks before entering the Mount Vernon Square/Seventh Street-Convention Center station. The tapes were available on the WTOP-103.5 FM Web site,

The first 911 call was from a Metro employee, who told the operator of the derailment and said he was unaware of any injuries.

A male firefighter is later heard saying Metro Transit Police informed firefighters that the doors on a car in the tunnel were jammed, preventing rescuers from accessing the car. He asked a commander for confirmation from Metro’s Operations Control Center (OCC) that power had been shut down.

“We’re going to force entry through the doors without going in the track area to get the victims,” the firefighter says on the tape. “I need you to confirm from the deputy at the OCC that the power is shut down on both tracks.”

The commander tells the firefighter to wait until fire officials can reach the command center because a conference line used to communicate during emergencies was not working.

“You’re going to have to wait until the firefight deputy gains entrance into the OCC,” the commander says. “Metro’s conference line is down.”

Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato said the transit agency will not talk about the derailment because it is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

NTSB officials did not return a phone call seeking comment.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and a member of Metro’s Board of Directors, said yesterday that he had not heard any new information about the investigation.

“I’m convinced there is an exhaustive investigation going on from every angle,” Mr. Graham said.

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