WashPo vs. Metro: Car Sandwiching Move PR Driven?

Older car shift "not undertaken because these railcars.. pose a hazard"

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    Metro documents show a decision to sandwich older cars between newer ones following the deadly June accident was not supported by an engineering analysis.

    Remember when Metro took their older rail cars -- the "uncrushworthy" 1000 Series ones like the one that smooshed like an accordian in the June 22 Red Line accident -- and stuck 'em in-between newer, sturdier cars?

    The move was allegedly one aimed at better safety. But it looks like there were no engineers behind the decision... or, were there?

    We thought the transit agency had been foiled once again by the intrepid investigative reporters at The Washington Post, who reported:

    Metro took the action "as a means to address public perception," Metro safety chief Alexa Dupigny-Samuels told a safety panel in July in a previously undisclosed letter.

    Shifting the cars "was not undertaken because these railcars are 'unsafe' or [because they] pose a hazard," she wrote in the letter to the Tri-State Oversight Committee, a regional safety panel. Officials repositioned the cars, she said, "to provide an added level of reassurance." Dupigny-Samuels did not cite any scientific support for the move.

    Committee members concluded that Dupigny-Samuels viewed the measure as "purely a public relations effort," records show.

    But when it comes to The Washington Post, Metro -- and its PR arm -- never rest. The transit agency "has issued a line-by-line list of corrections, clarifications and commentary on the article," including this:

    There has been analysis done by experts in the field who were looking at the benefits of shifting the location of trains within a train set, although they were not specifically studying Metrorail cars in the analysis that they conducted.
    The U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) has compiled a great deal of research relevant to crashworthiness. It is posted online at http://www.volpe.dot.gov/sdd/pubs-crash.html.
    Officials on Metro's staff believe that under current operating conditions, if the oldest cars are in the center of six- and eight-car trains that the newer cars may act as a buffer and absorb the majority of impact in the event of a collision.

    In the statement, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe, Jr., adds: “Under current operating conditions, the 1000 Series rail cars are safe, and they are needed to move close to 800,000 people each weekday.”

    "Replacing the 1000 Series cars would be done when replacement cars are available and not as an immediate measure. So there are no current plans to remove them from service. That is not practical or necessary, given that there is no evidence that the 1000 Series cars contributed to the accident. Scientific studies and common sense both tell us that removing these cars from the lead and trail positions on trains will lessen damage to these, our oldest cars," Catoe said in the statement. 

    No evidence that the 1000 Series cars contributed to the accident? What about the 1000 series cars that crumpled during a 2004 crash at Woodley Park? Or that the lead car in the June 22 crash was a 1000 series car?

    Or how about the fact that the National Transportation and Safety Board -- the agency that is still investigating the Red Line crash in June -- declined to endorse Metro's "bellying" plan in testimony July 14 before the House? 

    And we haven't even gotten to the whole additional expense and overtime for re-shuffling the cars every night stuff either.

    So good try, Metro. But we're going with Why.I.Hate.DC on this one. There are only so many PR tricks we can take.