Metro to scrap automode, run Red Line at 35mph

Metro General Manager John Catoe announced two new safety provisions today. First, trains will be running in manual mode indefinitely, and second the Red Line will run at 35 m.p.h. until the cause of the fatal crash is determined.

This is in addition to putting Series 1000 cars in the middle of trains, and having all trains berth at the very end of the platform regardless of length.

First off, a personal observation. My commute involves the Red Line. On a normal day, my commute takes a little under 30 minutes. Today I attempted to take the Red Line, after using bus alternatives last week. Big mistake. When I arrived, the platform was already packed (this was at around 8:45 am) and the information display was not showing the next arrival. I waited about 12 minutes before deciding that even if a train arrived, I wouldn't be able to get on, and the display only showed a "-- Train" arriving in 12 more minutes.

Running the entire Red Line at 35 m.p.h. could indicate a few things. The first is that Metro has absolutely no idea why the accident occurred (perhaps the real cause has nothing to do with a faulty sensor), or they are aware of a problem that is limited only to the Red Line. What is that problem? It must be a pretty big problem because running an entire line at such a low speed makes me think they are very afraid that there will be another crash. The other alternative is that they have absolutely no idea what happened, but feel it would be too much of a burden to run the entire system at 35 m.p.h.

Is this an overreaction of caution in the face of nine deaths and what will surely be hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits? Or, are our greatest fears perhaps warranted and the entire system is vulnerable to a terrible crash? This excellent post over at Greater Greater Washington outlines the various safety systems Metro uses. From that post, we learn "Metro tracks don't have signals in the same way that older subways like New York do. Visible wayside signals only exist at switches." Question for Metro, does this make running in manual mode more difficult? The system will always limit speed to prevent crashes (even in manual mode), but what about the fear that the safety system is broken. Without signals, do the drivers just have to "watch out" for other trains? In 2005, there was nearly a horrific accident in the tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom, but operators hit the emergency brake in time. Metro has been silent on what may have caused that to happen. Imagine a crash in the blue/orange tunnel under the Potomac. I don't even want to think about that.

Metro has had problems training their operators--e.g. they don't always remember how long their trains are. There have been concerns about attentiveness after years of running trains in automatic mode. We know operator error was not the cause of the crash last week, but i don't really want my train operator to be playing a game of (reverse?) chicken in a twisting dark tunnel (of doom).

So again, I'll state some questions for WMATA:

1. Why is it only the Red Line operating at 35 m.p.h?
2. Is the risk of another crash more likely on the Red Line? If so, why would that be the case?
3. What were the results of the investigation into the 2005 incident?

BUT, hey, we did get Nextbus.

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