Friday, June 26, 2009

Metro officials have ordered the 3,000 signal circuits on all 106 miles of the system’s tracks to be inspected and nearly 300 older model cars to be relocated from the fronts and backs of trains, as part of the agency’s response to Monday’s deadly crash.

Also, further investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board showed that Metro’s computer control system failed to identify a test train that was placed at the crash site. The tests suggest the system used to relay signals and commands may have contributed to the crash, which killed nine people and injured almost 80.

“The train control system is complex and will require a thorough investigation of all components. Investigators are continuing to examine trackside circuits and train control system data to understand how the train control system functioned on the day of the accident,” NTSB officials said in a news release.

The NTSB also said investigators found about 125 feet of metal-to-metal streak marks on the tracks leading to the crash site, indicating “heavy braking.”

The accident, the worst in Metro’s 33-year history, occurred about 5 p.m. when a moving train slammed into a stationary train near the Fort Totten Metro station in Northeast.

On Wednesday night, NTSB member Debbie Hersman said an automated circuit near the crash scene showed an “anomaly” after being tested by investigators. The circuit, a 740-foot section of track, is designed to relay signals to Metro trains - including commands to stop in case another train is stationary.

On Thursday morning, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. ordered every circuit be inspected.

Mr. Catoe said Metro train operators will control speed and braking systems until the investigation of the circuits is complete. During rush hours, trains are typically operated in automatic mode, in which computers send signals that automatically set speed and stop a train when they arrive at a station.

“We will not operate this system in automatic until we are 100 percent sure that every control unit is working perfectly,” he said. “This investigation is still under way, but we will not wait for a report to take action.”

In addition, Mr. Catoe said that the investigators confirmed that the operator of the striking train, 42-year-old Jeanice McMillan, was not using her cell phone at the time of the crash.

“We know where her cell phone was,” he said. “It was in her backpack.”

Metro officials also ordered that the older model cars that made up the striking train, known as 1000-Series cars, be removed from the front or back of all Metro trains and placed in the middle, to reduce their vulnerability during crashes.

Gerald Francis, Metro’s deputy general manager, said it could take a few weeks for the agency to relocate each of the roughly 300 1000-Series cars, which make up about a third of Metro’s rail-based fleet. Mr. Francis reiterated that Metro trains are safe regardless of where the cars are located.

In 2006, NTSB issued a recommendation that all 1000-Series cars be either refurbished or replaced, after a 2004 collision in Woodley Park. Metro officials say they have ordered that all the 1000-Series cars be replaced, but the cost has been prohibitive. Jim Graham, chairman of the Metro board of directors, said the cost to replace the cars could exceed $1 billion.

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