New series about Metro: The Price of Safety

This is a series that will be running over at Greater Greater Washington. I will repost them here a few days later, for those of you that don't read GGW. This is a more 'in depth' look at safety within Metro, and will be more detail-oriented.

The Price of Safety: Introduction

Following the June 22 crash on Metro's Red Line, numerous questions have arisen regarding safety on Metro. Most of these questions focused on the immediate cause of the crash that killed 9 and left scores injured. At this point, the National Transportation Safety Board has still not completed their investigation, so much of the information available is, at best, informed speculation.

What is not simply speculation, however, is the history of Metro's safety challenges and their efforts to address them. In the more than ninety days that have passed since the June 22 crash, much has come to light regarding Metro's past and present safety record. Some instances have been well-publicized, such as Metro's action and lack of action on NTSB recommendations. Other examples have received less attention, such as safety concerns following a series of derailments in 2003-2004. In some cases, problems have persisted for much of Metro's 33-year history.

Some of these problems stem from Metro's chronically underfunded state. Others do not. Metro has to carefully balance safety against other priorities. Sometimes they have been successful, sometimes not. Some of these issues are ingrained in the organization's culture.

The goal of this series, The Price of Safety, is shine a light on Metro's safety record and attempt to identify ways that Metro can improve safety given limited resources. By identifying current and historical shortcomings, it is possible to lay out a roadmap for reform. This is not a series about the June 22 crash, but rather a bigger picture look at Metro's self-proclaimed "culture of safety." This is also not an attempt to blame Metro for circumstances beyond their control, but to identify positive steps to address the issues that they can control and avoid future problems where possible.

Metro is at a crossroads, suffering budgetary problems and the consequences of the organization's worst rail disaster. There is never an easy or convenient time for an organization to undertake significant and ground shaking changes. For Metro, however, many needed changes are ripe or even overdue.

The following is a brief sketch of where this series will go, and what will be covered. I will break the sections up as logically as possible, with the goal of a new post each week. I will try to present as much objective information as possible in order to draw a reasonable and honest summary of the current state of safety.

Previous incidents
  • Struck workers: Fatal incidents involving track workers
  • Derailments: From the 1982 fatal derailment to present
  • Collisions: The 1996, 2004 and 2009 crashes
  • Near-misses: Focusing on the 2005 incident outside Foggy Bottom, but looking at others, including the 2009 near-miss at Potomac Avenue

Metro's safety priorities and response to crises
  • Communication with NTSB and the Tri-State Oversight Committee
  • Safety management structure and institutional memory. Is there a true "culture of safety" within Metro?

Looking ahead, the potential for reform
  • The next steps: Immediate changes
  • Bigger picture: 'Creative destruction' to Metro's organizational chart
  • Financial and political considerations versus passenger safety: A life or death struggle
I hope you'll join me in taking a critical look at a vital part of our region's infrastructure.


  1. Keep plugging away Dave. I bet Metro will be safe, cost effective, and efficient by the time you're nearing your 40th birthday. The over-arching DC-centric culture of mediocrity, incompetence, insouciance, and entitlement will begin to wane once DC stops being a transient city. That is: once people move here and stay here for the rest of their lives.

  2. my friend works for metro.
    he blows big coke.
    he got caught.
    he's on temporary leave.
    he still sniffs coke.
    he'll be back working for them again soon.
    enjoy the ride.