Thursday, June 25, 2009

Metro Train Crash Update: Doubletalk From Metro?

Washington DC. As was previously reported, Metro (WMATA) continues to insist that the system and its trains are safe, despite its failure to act on a 2006 NTSB finding that the 1000 Series cars are not crashworthy and should be replaced or retrofitted, and its 2007 report calling Metro's failure to do so "unacceptable." Today, Metro Board of Directors Chairman Jim Graham, in an interview on WTOP Radio, clarified Metro's safety argument by saying that the train cars in question "absent this type of impact, are safe." In other words, the system is totally safe, unless something goes wrong and a crash occurs. It now becomes clear why Mr. Graham is Metro Board Chairman; as a local politician and lawyer with long experience in the art of doubletalk and deceit, he is the perfect apologist and advocate for Metro's practice of honoring safety in word but not in deed, lulling tourists as well as local patrons into a false sense of security by telling them it's safe, but omitting to mention that "safe," to Metro, really means "safe unless there's an accident and people get killed or maimed."
Mr. Graham also stated that the train in question stopped and then started up again, and that "this is extremely perplexing to us." Well, if so, maybe the wrong people are running Metro, as from where we sit, it doesn't appear perplexing at all, based on preliminary findings. It is known that there were two trains ahead of the striking train, and that the train immediately ahead of it stopped to await clearance of the Fort Totten station by the train still further ahead. Obviously, at 5:02 pm, likely nearing the peak of rush hour traffic, the trains were waiting in line to service the Fort Totten platform. As such, after each successive train cleared the station, each respective following train could move up one position, thus creating a stop and go pattern down the line. The following train involved in the accident thus stopped behind the train ahead of it each time the line moved forward, until the train ahead of it stopped in the section with the apparently defective detection circuit, whereupon the computer system, detecting no train immediately ahead, caused the following train to move ahead, resulting in the crash into the rear of the stationary undetected train immediately ahead of it. Why did no previous train crash or fail to be detected? WBAL-TV reports that the operator of the struck train was operating in manual mode (whereas it has been reported that trains generally were in automatic operation mode during rush hours, that is, when trains would likely have backed up in a waiting pattern). If previous waiting trains all stopped in the same precise location due to computer control, perhaps that location was one which permitted detection by one of the properly functioning detector circuits, causing the computer to detect the presence of the train and slow following trains accordingly. If the manually operated train happened to stop in a position where no portion of the train was outside the coverage area of the defective detection circuit, as appears to have been the case, that train would have been rendered invisible to the detection system (the track circuit in question is reportedly 740 feet long, and an eight-car train would be about 600 feet long).
According to NTSB Investigator Debbie Hersman, there were three controls (toggle switch, dial, and master controller) in the cab of the striking train which were all set for automatic (computer controlled) operation. Perhaps the emergency brake had no chance to stop the train in such circumstances, on short notice coming around a blind curve at high speed.

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