I am indeed still out of town--this is what happens when you only take vacation time once a year. However, I do feel compelled to write about Sunday's crash on the Orange Line.
First off, the facts. We don't know much. A collision occurred at the West Falls Church railyard, three employees were injured, and extensive damage was done to several railcars. The price tag for the crash could reach upwards of $36 million.
The key fact here, though, is we do not know much. Metro isn't releasing very much information. This all comes, of course, amid discussion of how to improve transit safety oversight. This also comes along with the NTSB's continued investigation of the June 22 crash on the Red Line.
In Sunday's incident, there is speculation that a power surge caused the striking train to speed up, causing the collision. There are a number of documented problems with the series 5000 cars, including power surges.
This incident brings up a few issues, which I'll briefly address:
1. The striking train consisted of series 5000 and series 1000 cars. The series 1000 cars were in the middle of the train, as part of Metro's safety public relations campaign. It appears as though these cars suffered extensive damage, despite being "protected" by stronger cars on each end. This likely proves that moving the series 1000 cars to the center of the train makes little difference. Hopefully the NTSB's investigation will look at this, and provide some scientific analysis.
2. It's unclear how fast the striking train was moving. Metro won't say. I'll guess the train was not moving very fast, likely 10 or 15mph (at most). Any faster and we'd have seen much more serious injuries.
3. The NTSB will investigate this accident, so Metro gets another try at cooperating with investigators. This is an extremely serious issue, workers were injured and the price tag for this accident is very high. 12 railcars are now out of service, which isn't trivial.
4. The operator of the striking train was finishing up a 10 1/2 hour shift. I have personally heard from Metro employees who are concerned about Metro's work schedules not allowing for enough time for rest. Thankfully the operator did not suffer serious injury--it will be important to determine if fatigue played a role in this crash.
The real question here, is how much is too much. The New York Times ran an editorial yesterday, "Commuters Beware," calling for more federal oversight. The stickler in me also needs to point out that the New York Times should invest in at least one fact checker. Nine people died on 6/22, but only eight were commuters. In any event, at this point it's not only about federal oversight, it's painfully clear that Metro leadership needs to change.
The Metro board refuses to change horses here, continuing to stick with John Catoe despite numerous preventable tragedies. Catoe, in return, sticks with his safety chief, even after she denied track access to independent observers. It's time for some accountability. I don't know how many more times I can type this. It started as a few blog posts, it grew into a petition, I went on television, and I'm writing a series of posts about it. I'm doing all I can, but at the end of the day the story is still the same. General Manager John Catoe and Safety Chief Alexa Dupigny-Samuels need to go.
This is very important so I'm going to say it as clearly as possible: If the Metro leadership does not change, there will be more accidents. There will be more accidents and there will be more casualties. This is not the case of a single isolated incident. This is institutional failure. The warning signs are here, and any further bloodshed on the Metro will squarely be on the hands of the Metro board.