Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Metro trains could continue running manually for a year or more while the transit agency makes sure its automatic control system works properly after a deadly crash, Metro’s general manager said Tuesday.

Nine people were killed and more than 70 injured June 22 when a moving train slammed into another train stopped on the tracks on the Red Line between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations. Metro’s train control system is supposed to prevent crashes, and investigators are trying to determine what went wrong.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said Metro’s signaling system failed to detect a test train stopped in the same place as one struck during the crash.

General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said Tuesday that it was not clear how long trains will be operated manually, but when pressed he replied: “It could a month, a year or two years.”

Mr. Catoe said crews have inspected 65 percent of Metrorail’s 3,000 track signals to make sure there aren’t similar problems elsewhere. He said that, so far, none has been found.

As an added precaution, he said a group of independent experts was being brought in to examine the rail system’s signals and other equipment.

Metro also is reconfiguring its trains by putting older rail cars in the middle. The striking train, which sustained most of the damage, was made up of the 1000-series cars dating to the 1970s.

The cars make up about a quarter of Metrorail’s fleet, but are not as good at withstanding crashes as later models.

The NTSB has criticized Metro for failing to revamp or replace the 1000-series rail cars after previous warnings. Metro has said it lacks the money.

“We have no evidence that these 1000-series cars contributed to the cause of the accident,” Mr. Catoe said. “But I understand that the public perception may be different. Removing them from service is not practical, nor is it necessary.”

All Metro trains should be reconfigured in the next few days, Mr. Catoe said.

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