Metro Finds Malfunctions on Every Line

Anomalies found in six more circuits

WASHINGTON -- The track circuit likely to blame for last month's fatal train crash is failing throughout the rail system, according to Metro officials.

Metro's train detection system did fail on June 22, which is believed to be why a moving train didn't stop for a standing train, resulting in a crash that killed nine people and injured dozens of others.

Subsequent testing has uncovered other anomalies in six circuits along the Green Line in Greenbelt, Md., the Red Line at Grosvenor and the Orange and Blue lines at Foggy Bottom, according to a Washington Post report.

In some instances, workers troubleshooting the problematic circuits have taken the unusual step of turning off those which could not be immediately fixed.  ... When crews disable track circuits, they create "dark" stretches. That means trains have to proceed one at a time through the affected section of track at a maximum speed of 15 mph, which is creating delays. It also means that controllers in Metro's downtown operations center can't "see" the train as it moves through the affected area and that the safe operation of the train is entirely in the hands of the operator.

Metro General Manager John Catoe said the Post report is erroneous. He confirmed that some circuits have been "taken down," but it was from an abundance of caution, not because they displayed "anomalies" similar to the one being looked at in connection with the fatal crash.

Metro insisted the problems on these other circuits are not as serious as the problem in the area of the crash, which occurred near the Fort Totten station on the Red Line.

"We have not found anything that resembles the magnitude of the track circuit problem at Fort Totten," the agency said in a statement.

The signaling equipment in the crash area failed periodically in the days leading up to the accident. Federal investigators have not determined what caused the crash but have urged Metro to upgrade its train control system with continuous backup protections.

Metro also issued a response to the Post article on its Web site Tuesday night.

"The rail system is safe. The Washington Post's speculation that we have a widespread problem is a gross exaggeration.

"Since last month's accident we began running a computerized report twice a day to take a closer look at track circuitry. We now run the test after each rush hour. We had been doing that test once a month. So basically we went from once every 30 days to 14 times a week or 56 times a month.

"During these times, any little thing that we see, we follow up on immediately. In some instances all that we have needed to do was make a simple adjustment. In other instances we took the circuits down to take a deeper look. In many instances the National Transportation Safety Board has accompanied us to these other few sites as well."

Catoe has said a physical inspection of all 3,000 track circuits did not reveal any problems.

Since the crash, Metro has been running all trains in manual mode. However, if one train gets too close to another, the track circuits should still force it to stop.

In some of the recent cases when malfunctions were noted, Metro has turned off the problem circuit entirely, the Post reported. When that happens, trains must proceed one at a time at a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour because the train is invisible to Metro's central control center, the paper said. That may continue for some time, Catoe said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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