- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An automated alert system to stop Metro trains or restrict their speeds to prevent crashes does not exist and needs to be created, Metro officials said Monday.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended the system to the Federal Transit Administration and Metro authorities in response to the June 22 crash that killed nine people — including a train operator — and injured about 80.

It is still unknown what caused the accident on the Red Line between the Fort Totten and Takoma stops.

“It is important to know that there are currently no systems available commercially that could provide the Metro with the kind of alerts that the NTSB has recommended, and that such a system must be invented,” Metro officials said in a statement Monday. “… As a result, we will be developing a new system that will be specifically tailored to Metro. Metro is in the process of contacting vendors who have the expertise needed to help us develop this service, and we are preparing cost estimates on this application.”

FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff sent a letter to all rail transit operators, safety oversight agencies and other interested parties asking that train operators who have control systems capable of monitoring train movements “determine whether their systems have adequate safety redundancy if losses in train detection occur.”

The letter further supports the NTSB recommendations to improve train technology and suggests checkups on whether operators have complied and what compensating systems will be developed. It does not suggests what the consequences will be for failing to comply with the recommendations.

Bridget Serchak, NTSB spokeswoman, said the automated alert should prompt actions that include immediately stopping train movement and speed restrictions to prevent collisions in real time.

Before June’s accident, Metro tested the track monthly, but now workers test daily. Maintenance records show the device that communicates speed and distance among trains, the operations center and the tracks were replaced June 17 — five days before the accident.

“We will continue to operate in manual mode until a suitable backup, designed specifically for our rail system is developed,” Metro officials said.

There will be an independent review of signals and circuitry as well as all 3,000 track circuits will be inspected. Trains on the Red Line will not exceed 35 mph. Over the weekend, investigators will conduct sight-distance test to establish when the struck train would have been visible before the crash.

Tuesday marks the first congressional hearing on last month’s crash and will focus on the ongoing NTSB investigation, safety measures taken since the accident, the system’s aging infrastructure and funding challenges.

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