Investigators are working hard to determine the cause of Monday’s deadly DC Metro train accident that officials are calling the worst in Metrolink’s history. The death toll has risen to 9 fatalities—although Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty says emergency officials don’t believe any more bodies will be found in the wreckage from the Red Line collision. More than 70 people were sent to hospitals for their injuries following the rush hour train crash.
According to officials, Train 112, the train that hit another train close to the Fort Totten Station, contained six of the oldest rail cars in the fleet. The train cars belonged to the Series 1000 models from the 1970’s. Several years ago, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration replace these cars because their ability to withstand a train crash was uncertain. The transit agency, however, refused to retire the trains or strengthen their frames (which could have decreased the risk that they would collapse during a collision) because of cost concerns. Also, the trains were going to be retired in 2014.
The 290 1000 series cars comprise over 25% of Metro’s 1,126-car fleet. During Monday’s train crash, part of train 112’s lead car ended up on the roof of Train 214’s trailing car. The impact of the crash crushed 2/3rds of Train 112’s lead car.
Train 112 was operating automatically at the time of Monday’s train collision and evidence indicates that train operator Jeanice McMillan, who was among the fatalities, activated the emergency break before the train accident happened. McMillan, 42, had only three months’ experience as a train operator prior to Monday’s devastating wreck. National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman says that investigators are examining whether McMillan was tired, having health issues, or was talking on a cell phone or text messaging when the DC train accident happened.
Based on the current information and evidence that is available, experts say that the train crash may have occurred because of operator error, a faltering computer system, brake failure, or a combination of these factors. The Washington Post is reporting that Train 112 may have been two months past due for brake maintenance.
Unfortunately, because train 112 is an older train, it does not have a “black box.” The train that was struck is a newer train that was carrying a data recording device. Hersman says that the NTSB is examining a number of other issues, including system maintenance, personnel training, and the train tracks’ condition. Search, recovery, and investigation efforts are seriously affecting travel from the Maryland suburbs to downtown Washington DC.
Toll rises to 9 in D.C. rail crash, The Baltimore Sun, June 24, 2009
Train Operator Apparently Hit Brakes Before Crash, Washington Post, June 24, 2009
Related Web Resources:
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
National Transportation Safety Board