Posts Tagged: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority


The National Transportation Safety Board has identified a cause of the Washington, D.C. Metro crash that killed nine people last month, reports the Washington Post’s Lena H. Sun:

Metro’s automatic train control system relies on track circuits to maintain a safe distance between trains. The circuit detects the presence of trains by using audio frequencies transmitted between the train and the steel rails. The system is supposed to automatically transmit signals to the next train down the line. If the following train gets too close, the system sends a "zero" speed signal that forces it to stop.

Federal investigators and Metro officials said the track circuit where the crash occurred intermittently lost its ability to detect a train after a key component was replaced five days before the crash. Shortly after that repair work, the circuit fluttered and flickered, reporting the presence of a train one moment but not the next, transit officials said.

Washington Metropoliant Area Transit Authority officials claim they will have to "invent" new back-up circuits and, besides, there’s not really the funding for additional safety measures.

Understanding Government did a full report on "WMATA" (just to the right and a little above this post) and found that while it’s a pastime to complain about the Metro trains, the system is usually safe and efficient. The Post has diligently documented the D.C. Metro’s problems since the June 22nd crash. But I think commuters in D.C. and cities with public transit across the country should keep in mind that riding mass transit remains far safer than driving a car.-MB


Just a few months ago, Understanding Government released an in-depth report, called America’s Best Ride? on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or WMATA, the agency that runs the Metrorail trains involved in yesterday’s tragic commuter train accident in suburban Maryland. 

In preparing that report, Ellen Ramachandran and I had the opportunity to talk to dozens of WMATA employees, from engineers and economists up to General Manager John Catoe.  The agency that emerged from our reporting was one that, in our view, was holding its own in the daily struggle to move more and more people more efficiently and safely.  Yesterday’s disastrous collision, however, sheds light on one problem our report mentioned — that of aging equipment, and in particular, the thirty-year old signalling system that may be at the root of yesterday’s collision.  

Our report highlighted the efforts of WMATA’s leadership to improve communication with customers, changing an aloof corporate culture to a service-oriented one.  That transition will be tested in the weeks to come, if the white-knuckled riders I saw on Metro this morning are any indication.  WMATA’s first public communication is a good start.  But the system’s antiquated signalling system — and overall safety regimen — needs a thorough and open review.  GM Catoe, who recently won a national transit award for his work at WMATA, will have to take his game to the next level if he is reassure a skeptical public.

Ned Hodgman