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The Price of Safety

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.

Photo by Dsade.

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.
Dave Stroup is an online organizer and progressive activist. He enjoys public transit, Democratic politics, and rabble-rousing. 


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Welcome new author. I look forward to this series. Can you look into how Metro investigates accidents, determines root causes, and sets short term/long term corrective actions?

by Michael Perkins on Sep 29, 2009 11:14 am • linkreport

I look forward to this series too.

by James on Sep 29, 2009 11:57 am • linkreport

looking forward to what you find, dave!

by IMGoph on Sep 29, 2009 12:07 pm • linkreport

Thanks. I'm going to do my best to dig up/put together what's available about Metro's internal practices. Unfortunately, that's where the biggest information gap remains. While the series is still fluid and much in the works, I have a feeling one of the ultimate conclusions will involve improving transparency within Metro.

by Dave Stroup on Sep 29, 2009 12:39 pm • linkreport

Glad to see a former Voicer posting on GGW. Good luck with your investigation.

by wmata on Sep 29, 2009 9:49 pm • linkreport

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