First thoughts on Red Line crash

It's been less than 24 hours since the Red Line crash, and the NTSB is already pinning blame on WMATA. And honestly, it doesn't look good. At least nine people are dead, and WMATA ignored important safety recommendations from the NTSB.

Loose Lips is all over this story, combing through the reports from the crash at the Woodley Park station. Here's a back and forth between the NTSB and WMATA:
Either accelerate retirement of Rohr-built railcars, or if those railcars are not retired but instead rehabilitated, then the Rohr-built passenger railcars should incorporate a retrofit of crashworthiness collision protection that is comparable to the 6000-series railcars. (R-06-2)

WMATA does not plan to do a heavy overhaul on the 1000 Series, Rohr railcars. Instead WMATA plans to replace these railcars with the 7000 Series railcars on which design has already started. WMATA is constrained by tax advantage leases, which require that WMATA keep the 1000 Series cars in service at least until the end of 2014. The 296 Rohr railcars make up over a third of WMATA’s current rail fleet and have performed well for over thirty years. The railcars will be replaced around 2014. Current Situation: All WMATA rail cars are fitted with anti-climbers on the end of the cars. These are designed to engage during a collision and to reduce the tendency for one car to climb over the other. The newer 6000 design, while retaining the anti-climber feature, has included additional energy absorption in the front end of the car. That absorbs energy as its deforms and collapses in a higher speed collision. This type of design will be used on future procurements.

NTSB Conclusion:
In view of WMATA’s response to the Board’s recommendation, it appears that further dialogue on this issue would prove futile. Consequently, we have no choice but to classify Safety Recommendation R-06-2 Closed Unacceptable Action.
This morning NTSB spokesperson Debbie Hersman said "We recommended to WMATA to either retrofit those cars or phase them out of service. Those concerns were not addressed."

Of course this is all irrelevent to the fact that one train crashed into another. That, of course, should never have happened. However, the fact that WMATA had been warned about such horrific potential in the event of a crash is unbelievable.

From the NTSB back in 2006:
"The failure to have minimum crashworthiness standards for preventing telescoping of rail transit cars in collisions places an unnecessary risk on passengers and crew."

As of last night, WMATA Chief John Catoe found no reason to suspend the use of the Series 1000 railcars.

Bottom line:
Some type of system failure occurred to allow these two trains to collide. Operator error was most likely involved as well (witnesses say train did not attempt to stop before collision). HOWEVER, WMATA ignored NTSB suggestions for years that could have minimized the number of injuries and fatalities. Yes, Metro is low on funds and retrofitting cars is expensive. This is true. However, that's not a reason to run a system that is unsafe. Shut the damn thing down if it's not safe.

John Catoe should submit his resignation by the end of the day or be fired.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. To be honest, it's not really Catoe's fault that Metro doesn't have the funds to replace all of the older cars.

    It should be probably be a much higher priority to get the older cars out of service quicker, I agree, but shutting down the entire system?

    What a great idea: let's just put 700,000 additional people on the roads daily. Because nobody ever dies in a driving accident.

    And what about those people who can't afford cars? Well, they can just walk downtown from Silver Spring.

    The Metro is not a roller coaster. Shutting the entire system down because of one horrific accident will have much larger repercussions for the entire region. Especially if it only encourages more drivers.

  3. I don't know, that reasoning is hard for me to swallow. I find it hard to believe that the answer to 'it's too expensive' is to just run something that is known to be dangerous.

    If an airline knew there was a chance that their planes could say, catch on fire, but it was expensive to fix... would we accept that they should keep them flying?

    Perhaps there should be some sort of federal emergency fund to pay for things such as this, to provide for financial help in a crisis such as this.

    However, someone in WMATA said, "Ok, well NTSB is saying Series 1000 cars are dangerous. We can't do anything about it."

    The NTSB estimated at least 75 people would have died in the accident at Woodley Park had the telescoping train been full.

    This accident could happen again today, or tomorrow, and if it happened underground 9 fatalities would be nothing. If this had happened on Glenmont-bound train underground, you'd be looking at hundreds dead.

  4. and how many hundreds of people die on the roads each year? can we get some safer roads, please?

  5. also, perhaps your proposal should be to remove all of the old cars and only run the newers ones, instead of shutting the entire thing down?

  6. "Shut the damn thing down if it's not safe" is not an actual policy suggestion. It's merely an expression of frustration at the fact that safety concerns appear to be routinely ignored.

    When I get in a car, I know perfectly well that I could get into an accident.

    When I get on the Metro, on a Series 1000 Car, I don't see a sign that says "DANGER: IN THE EVENT OF A CRASH, THIS CAR IS NOT CONSIDERED SAFE BY THE NTSB. HUNDREDS MAY DIE. RIDE AT OWN RISK"

    I'm sorry, but are you honestly telling me this doesn't bother you anymore than hearing about a car accident?

  7. Dave,

    WaPo just noted that crashing train car was 2 months overdue for brake maitenance. http://tinyurl.com/nzxy97

  8. Yeah, I agree with Dave. Comparing this to a car accident is way off. When someone gets in a car to drive, they're taking on a responsibility. When someone gets on the metro, they're just a passenger. There's a whole organization that's in charge of keeping the cars, tracks and everything else safe. You don't have an organization like WMATA hiring drivers for people's cars, or maintaining peoples cars. It's totally different. And while money is an issue, it shouldn't be a bigger issue than the safety of people. Also, when you consider the amount of money it must cost to clean up after an accident like this, and settle lawsuits from victim's families, it might even SAVE money for them to just do the right thing and make things safer in the first place.

  9. I'm (unironically) shocked to see this kind of shortsightedness in a publicly funded service provider. Hopefully the scandal leads to increased transparency and oversight. And while they're at it, I want a pony and google maps support.

  10. Hey guys, just a quick note from Seattle to say my thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy. The crash was in my nightmares last night... just horrible, and it could have been a lot worse if it had happened underground.

    The electronic failsafes to prevent cars from colliding malfunctioned again, as they did once near Rosslyn when I lived there in 2005. That time everyone was fortunate the drivers responded in time and hit the brakes. If the problem wasn't investigated or fixed properly, heads seriously need to roll. I always respected the NTSB, because while some of the other government agencies might get lazy and miss things, NTSB will not let your shit off the hook... they'll get down to business and find out why this happened, and it won't be pretty, nor should it be.

  11. AnonymousJune 23, 2009

    "John Catoe should submit his resignation by the end of the day or be fired."

    That's the dumbest statement ever posted on the internet. You admit that the exact cause(s) of the crash are not yet known. If you don't know what caused the crash, how do you know that catoe could have done anything to prevent it?

  12. Because WMATA ignored important NTSB recommendations that were directly relevant to this incident.

    It doesn't matter what caused the crash, the series 1000 car is dangerous and should have been retrofitted or removed from service.

  13. AnonymousJune 23, 2009

    so dangerous railcars should have replaced with dangerous overcrowding. how is that a solution?

  14. I'd be curious to hear about all of those mass casualty crashes caused by overcrowding or people having to wait on the platform.

    That's right, because that doesn't happen.

    Somewhere there is a solution that is better than ignoring the problem and hoping a crash doesn't happen.

  15. I thought this was just going to come down to some negligent operator. Turns out she hit the emergency brake but it never engaged. What a horrible way to die. With this revelation Catoe should be gone...soon.

  16. AnonymousJune 24, 2009

    i didn't say that overcrowding would cause mass casualty crashes. there are lots of ways overcrowding could be dangerous. and no, there is no solution to the problem without several billion dollars of additional funding.

  17. I don't know why these accidents are happening. If they drived carefully i hope it might not happen.
    Most of the accidents are happening due to OVERSPEED. Life is in our hands.

    los angeles auto accident attorneys