NTSB Chairman Talks About 2009 Metro Tragedy And The Progress Transit System Has Made

5:55 PM, Jun 22, 2012   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- "That was a very real experience for us, like everyone else in the community, trying to understand what happened," says Deborah Hersman.

She was not the National Transportation Safety Board chairman, yet.  But on the day of Metro's deadliest crash, hers was the voice leading the change to find out why train 112 barreled into the back of of a stopped train numbered 214.

"We saw that they had many opportunities to catch this failure, on this particular track circuit," Chairman Hersman says.

The NTSB determined the crash occured because the automatic train control failed to detect train 214 as it sat on the tracks near Fort Totten and directed train 112 to move ahead of with full speed.

Since then, the National Safety Transportation Board has issued a list of recommendations for the transit agency.

Among them:

  1. To develop a system to monitor those track circuits in real time
  2. To replace the oldest trains in the fleet that offer little protection in a crash
  3. And, conduct a top to bottom safety analysis

They are all things Metro has done or is in the process of doing right now.

NTSB Chairman Hersman says, "They are responding in a way that they hadn't responded in the past to NTSB recommendations."

Since the accident, Metro has a new general manager and it's started to replace the cars that have been in the system from the beginning.

The Chairman says it will go a long way toward rebuilding their culture.

"We say changes in their management structure.  We saw improvements made as far as their staffing and their safety department.  We saw the Board take a more hands on role with respect to safety and oversight," Hersman says.

But the Chairman says Metro still has work to do to help avoid the kind of tragedy that struck the system on June 22, 2009.

Of the 19 recommendations that the NTSB made to the agency, only four have been completed. 

Still, the NTSB Chairman says the agency once scolded for being too las, is no longer tone deaf.

"I have to say, I think they've gotten a brand new hearing aide and it's working better.  And they are listening.

To read the complete NTSB report and recommendations, click here.

Right now, the NTSB can only hope Metro is listening.  It does not have the authority to make the transit agency do anything.

That falls to Metro's Board which NTSB Chairman Hersman says is now making safety and oversight a part of their mission.

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