Latest Metro crash not such a surprise
It's still early in the investigation, but there are a few important issues to note regarding 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 several railcars were extensively damaged. The price tag for the crash could reach upwards of $36 million.
So far, no one is talking. 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.
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 suggests that moving the series 1000 cars to the center of the train may have made little difference. On the other hand, that change was specifically designed to prevent "telescoping," where one car crushes the passenger space of the other. While the cars were severely damaged, we don't know how the crash affected the passenger space in the cars. Hopefully the NTSB's investigation will look at this, and provide some scientific analysis.
The operator of the striking train was also finishing up a 10½ 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 New York Times ran an editorial Monday, "Commuters Beware," calling for more federal oversight. Federal oversight is an important subject to discuss, and stronger oversight may have prevented some accidents. However, at this point this is beyond the question of federal oversight. The NTSB has repeatedly identified problems with safety at Metro. These flaws have been discussed at length. Between insufficient funding and organizational weakness, Metro is headed down a path that could very well lead to more tragedy.
The time for accountability is now. Since the June 22 crash, there have been multiple more incidents involving Metro employees. Time and again we hear of Metro's commitment to safety. Time and again managers who have failed the public and their fellow employees continue to serve in their roles, and Metro doesn't reveal what, if anything, they are doing to change their culture or their management to address the organizational causes of these incidents. It is time for the Metro board to demand more transparency and more action. It's clear the status quo is not working, and staying the course no longer appears to be an acceptable option.
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