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Older Washington D.C. Metro Cars Never Replaced

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 10:56 AM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: NTSB, Rail Road, Mass Transit, Commuters, Washington D.C. Metro Line, Red Line, Railroad Safety

Aging cars, brake problems and an inexperienced operator may have all contributed to Monday's Red Line crash.  

Brakes, Inexperience, Aging Cars



IMAGE SOURCE:  Wikimedia Commons/ Red Line New York Avenue Metro Station, Washington D.C. / author: Ben Schumin, November 2004

The subway cars involved in a deadly crash in the nation’s capital Monday were cited as unsafe three years ago, but were never replaced because of the cost.

That information is emerging as investigators search for clues into the cause of the rush hour wreck that killed nine people and injured 70.  Washington D.C. Metro train 112 plowed into the back of train 214 in the above-ground section of the Red Line during the beginning of the rush hour.

Preliminary information shows that the operator of the train, 42-year-old Jeanice McMillan had been on the job for three months. She received six weeks of training.

McMillan died in the crash which caused one metal car to peel apart and land on top of the car ahead, flattening it in the process. 

The striking train was reported to be in “automatic mode” with the emergency brake depressed. 

A Metro train collision in the Los Angeles area earlier this year determined the operator had been text messaging on his mobile phone seconds before the collision that killed 25 people.  

The NTSB has asked for McMillan’s mobile phone records in this case. 

Data Recorders

19 investigators from the federal agency are on the accident site. Finding the nine data recorders on the newer train which was hit may give some clue as to what happened. The older train appears to have no data recorders.      

Washington’s Metro carries about 800,000 commuters daily through Washington and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. 

NTSB Questioned Safety of 1000-series Cars

The cars involved, the Series 1000 rail cars, were delivered about 30 years ago. One-third of the nation’s subway fleet is made up of cars similar to the ones involved in the wreck.

NTSB spokeswoman Debbie Hersman told reporters, “We made recommendations in 2006 about the crash-worthiness of the 1000-series cars.”  Metro has about 300 of the 1000-series trains.

The cost to replace them was estimated to be $888 million.

The Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said in a February 2008 online chat that the 1000-series cars had brake problems, reports the Washington Times.  The Washington Post is reporting that train 112 was two months late for a brake inspection

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) provided records that go back seven years about the 1000-series crashworthiness.

Three years ago the NTSB raised concerns about the aging cars that tend to accordion in upon impact and leave little “survival space”.

Seven years ago, in referring to the cars, Metro officials said increasing stability is “neither desirable or practical.”

The NTSB then urged the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to develop crash standards and reinforce the aging trains, or replace them.  

Since then, the FTA has not set goals for a safety program and is not able to track state performances.  Replacing the cars with the latest 7000-series was deemed too expensive. The 1000 cars were expected to remain on the tracks until 2014, because of leases the Washington Times reports. 

Washington is the seventh largest transit system, and with older cars among their fleet. Other cities with a preponderance of older, unsafe cars include San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, suburban New Jersey and New York.

It is largely up to states to set their own standards, while AP reports that for decades transportation officials have considered federal oversight of local rail systems. 

A spokesman for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, rail division, points out that improving train signals and operators should be the first line of defense. 

An estimated $50 billion price tag will bring commuter trains up to good repair, says the federal report. President Obama’s stimulus program provides more than $8 billion for public transportation, which some states are using to buy new rail cars.    # 

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