Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Red Line Metro Pile Up Kills 9

By now you've heard of it: the deadliest Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) accident ever.

A head-on ramming of one Red Line train into the back of another has killed 9 people and sent 70 more to the hospital in varying levels of injury. The accident happened near the Fort Totten station.

[Miami Herald] Jeter said the trains run in automatic mode during rush hour, and have sensors that should keep them from getting closer than 1,200 feet from each other.

Investigators, who are still in the early stages of their inquiry, said Tuesday that the operator of the striking train, who died in the crash, likely applied the emergency brake, but they cautioned against drawing early conclusions on what caused the crash. Also under scrutiny are the train's signaling system and potential human error.

Passengers on the striking train said it stopped momentarily before the Fort Totten station in Northeast Washington. Then, the train began to move forward at a moderate speed on a curved track before plowing into a stopped train. Several passengers said they didn't feel any braking.

A shade of color saved my life. I ride Metro every day into the city and back again, but on the Orange Line, not Red. Washington, DC has the second largest subway system in the United States; it is also decently clean and safe.

Riding the Metro is one of the dullest, safest experiences you could have. Some of the platforms near the escalators are unnervingly narrow, but the train itself is Dulls-ville Central. So to have a catastrophic accident like this is truly shocking. Our hearts and prayers are with our fellow Washingtonians and their grieving families.

Do you know what happened today? Nothing; everybody got back on the train and went to work.

Sure, everybody avoided the front car today, but by next week even that precaution will be forgotten. Metro took extra long to get anywhere today, but that's because everybody was being extra, extra cautious.

I can't decide whether I prefer that the train was in "automatic mode" or "manual mode". I've seen the automatic mode (normal for rush hour) in action with the driver hanging out the window. Amazing bit of technology. 99% of the time, that is.

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