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Doors Open in Tunnel on Six-Car Train

The transit authority confirms that the doors on a six-car Blue Line train opened while the train was stopped in the tunnel outside Smithsonian Station last Wednesday. While no one was hurt, this is the latest in a string of disturbing incidents involving doors opening in tunnels.

Wesley D. Wilson, a passenger on the train, had reported the latest incident to me this way:

"I was riding in a six-car Franconia-Springfield-bound Blue Line train [Wednesday] morning (car number 4017) at approximately 8:45 a.m., when the train stopped short of the platform at the Smithsonian Station, and opened its doors into the tunnel.

"There is no reason this should be happening, and someone is going to get hurt."

Until now, all the reports had involved eight-car trains. Metro's internal investigations indicate the operators forgot they had eight cars behind them, thinking they had the usual six. They stopped too short on the platform, so doors on the last car opened in the tunnel.

Metro managers have tried to correct this through various reminders to the operators about how long their trains are. The transit authority has not taken the further step of having all trains stop at the same point on the platform -- so operators don't have to remember how long the trains are.

But this latest incident was the first reported that involves a six-car train. Could the operator have thought it was a four-car train? This does not inspire confidence.

The operator has been placed on leave pending the outcome of Metro's investigation, Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

Wilson described the scene in car 4017 this way:
"The doors were open for about 15 seconds, so no one (including me) had the presence of mind to jump for the intercom -- which would have been the smart thing to do in case some one had stepped out. The operator closed the doors and moved on up to the platform, and resumed business as normal. The my car happened not to be very full ... but if it was, or had kids, tourists, etc., someone easily could have stepped out."

Passengers on the other trains where the doors opened said almost exactly the same thing about their responses. And it's easy to picture: The train is stopped. You hear the sound of the doors opening as usual. And it only gradually sinks in that you're still in the tunnel.

Rarely do the passengers go to the train intercom. But as Wilson suggests, somebody could get left behind in one of these incidents. And so far, there's no reason to believe there won't be a repeat. Make sure somebody gets to the intercom to report what happened. Or should we leash ourselves together to ensure eveyone's accounted for when the train reaches the platform?

By Robert Thomson  |  July 1, 2008; 6:31 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Next: Summertime, And the Letters Are Local


Wow...I wonder what the excuse is this time. These situations really scare me when I think of the visually-impaired train riders.

Posted by: Metro Man | July 1, 2008 7:54 AM | Report abuse

By the way, they should really consider deactivating the portal URL,


Posted by: Metro Man | July 1, 2008 7:59 AM | Report abuse

The really obvious solution (in most of these cases anyway) is to have all trains pull up to the same platform position regardless of length. What lame excuse does Metro have for not doing this?

Posted by: Bill | July 1, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Actually they have a very good excuse.

They're MORONS!!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 1, 2008 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Excuse? Washingtonians will complain that trains in some stations won't be strategically placed on the platform. I say to it just to hear people whine.

Posted by: Steve | July 1, 2008 9:06 AM | Report abuse

A 4 car train properly centered on the platform should have room for 2 full cars ahead of it and behind it (8 cars total). This is a case where it is pure human error and the operator shouldn't be allowed to drive trains in the future. Also is there a reason that the trains can't automatically pull into the station? We all know the operators suck at driving in manual.

Posted by: Craig | July 1, 2008 9:06 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Bill, What Metro GM John Catoe told me was that he's very concerned about the problem and wants it fixed, knows that pulling all trains to the same point is a solution, but sees that as a last resort. The reason is that it would be an inconvenience to riders and an admission that Metro can't do something really basic: Stop the trains where they're supposed to stop.
What do you think? Is it time to go for the inconvenient solution for the sake of safety?

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 1, 2008 9:07 AM | Report abuse

They're going to adopt the inconvenient solution eventually. The only question is whether they'll do at no cost to the system, or wait until they get sued. Given the constant money troubles, the smart decision would be to do it now.

Posted by: DrBubbles | July 1, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I think Metro should post warning signs so that tourists know to expect Metro to open the doors while the train is still in the tunnel. Someone who is not from around here might not expect Metro to be run by idiots.

Obviously Washingtonians know how inept Metro is, but a tourist might have higher expectations.

Posted by: Bob | July 1, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse

It would also be an inconvenience to riders to have a passenger accidentally walk out into a tunnel, doubtlessly shutting Metro down for the remainder of the day for the resulting "investigation" into why the trains are being driven by incompetent morons.

For once, they should be proactive, instead of reactive.

Maybe they need to hang a tennis ball on string from the station roof - pull train up to tennis ball, stop train.

Posted by: Stop at the same place already! | July 1, 2008 10:25 AM | Report abuse

"pulling all trains to the same point is a solution, but sees that as a last resort. The reason is that it would be an inconvenience to riders and an admission that Metro can't do something really basic:"

I think *not* making all the trains stop in a uniform place is 'an admission that Metro can't do something really basic'.

How is it inconvenient for riders to know where the train is going to stop every time? Seems to me like that's the most convenient...

Posted by: mccxxiii | July 1, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Wow, I'm surprised everyone who's posted thinks it's fine for the trains to pull up to the very front edge of the platform at every single stop - regular commuters would get used to it and adjust, but it would create mayhem at a lot of stations that get heavy tourist ridership.

For example: what if the southbound trains at Smithsonian always pulled to the very front of the platform? The crowds of tourists pouring off the escalators at the back would be running two car-lengths to get on a 6-car train. Or Gallery Place, the Shady Grove-bound trains - most people wait at the back end of the platform, close to two of three entrances and the green line. I've seen a 6-car train pull up to the front, and it was not pretty.

I don't know what the solution is, but I sure hope it's not that.

Posted by: h3 | July 1, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

In BART in California, there are yellow blocks on the platforms that line up with the train doors when the train comes into the station. I always wondered why Metro does not have the same system? Also, I've noticed small signs saying "6" and "4" in the stations near the tracks. I always assumed that those were to tell a driver where a six or four-car train should stop.

Posted by: Dan | July 1, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Do we really need doors at all? Most people know to stay in the car when it's moving.

Posted by: Tom T. | July 1, 2008 11:06 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Dan, Metro's automatic train controls have not been able to bring trains in for the precise landings you see at BART stations. It's a good system they have out in California and seems to limit crowding on the platforms. It would be great if we could have that, too.
And you're right about those small signs near the tracks indicating stopping points for different size trains. But if the operator can't remember how long the train is -- and that's been the case in all the internal reviews so far -- then the markers are useless.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 1, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

What about a minimum IQ for train operators? I know 100 is asking too much, but perhaps 90 or 95?

Posted by: IQ Test? | July 1, 2008 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Pulling all trains to the same point may be the worst possible solution. We'll just get more of the 2-feet-at-a-time lurches that already injure passengers.

Posted by: wtf | July 1, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Yes pulling trains all the way up to a particular point in the platform would be the easiest solution, but metro must take into account the crowding that may occur as passengers try to board that last car.

For example, last night I boarded (or attempted at least) a Red Line train towards Shady Grove at around 10:30 pm. The platform was pretty full (with the majority of people standing towards the end of the train as this is where the green line transfer is as well as the entrance for the verizon center).

I always get on the last car of the train heading in that direction because I get off at White Flint whose station exit is at the end of the platform. Unfortunately the train that pulled up was a 6 car one and so the huge mass of people that would have filled 2 cars all smushed onto the last car. The train operator did not hold the train at the station for very long however and started to close the doors very quickly, resulting in bags being caught in many doors.

Especially at that time of night when headways are pretty long between each train, I have no idea why the heck they would not allow extra time for people to disembark and get on the train. Metro really needs to allow more time for this at transfer stations and crowded platforms unless there is another train directly behind.

Posted by: Laura | July 1, 2008 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Oh Dear God how AWFUL, why, if you had to sit in car 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, you might have to spend a whole extra MINUTE walking!

Metro really should call you a cab like you clearly deserve.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 1, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

In a perfect world, Metro train operators would be smart enough and alert enough to remember whether they're driving a 4, 6, or 8-car train. In the real world, I think Catoe should start having all the trains stop on the front of the station as if they were all 8-car trains. Then, put signs up directing passengers to "Board forward of this sign." That would be a lot safer than the inevitable multi-million dollar settlement when some poor person is killed in the tunnel.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 1, 2008 3:37 PM | Report abuse

I really like the suggestion about the tennis ball on a string. It's ingenious and it won't (hopefully) cause our fares to rise again. Also, it can't kill a person to walk a few extra feet to the nearest car, walking's good for us!

Posted by: MissLady72 | July 1, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Are we going to get a report everytime a door opens in the tunnel?

By now we know Metro has a problem either mechanical or human. I'm sure they know it's not a good thing for these doors to open in the tunnel and are doing everything in their (albeit limited) powers to put an end to this.

These reports are getting tedious and really don't provide much value except for providing another opportunity for people to complain.

Posted by: Tom | July 1, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

The suggestion of hanging a tennis ball on a string so Metro drivers will know where to stop is hilarious!

I laughed out loud!

Posted by: DouginDC | July 1, 2008 6:28 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me that it would be fairly easy to institute a system where the driver would have, or would place, a large numeral 4, 6, 8 etc. in his control booth indicating the number of cars on the train.

Posted by: Gudrun | July 1, 2008 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Why would anyone ever think that it would be possible for these drivers to get a train to exactly the end of the platform?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 1, 2008 8:48 PM | Report abuse

The catchall solution of having every train pull to the same (forward) spot is not the best. Far better is to balance the position of the train stop with BOTH the "waiting" passenger load and the "departing" passenger load, esp. at transfer & busy stations. Transportation is a customer service business that happens to use trains, buses, trolleys or airplanes!

I am a retired passenger locomotive engineer, worked a busy commuter line (NYC) using trains varying from 2 to 12 cars (MU) or 2 to 8 cars (diesel-hauled). We made stops at platforms from 1 to 10 car lengths long, & picked appropriate stopping points for each station based on ridership needs. Some stations tended to have heavy discharge/loading at forward end, others more at the rear end. We just learned it, & did it! As a full size railroad, not light rail, we had at least an engineer AND a conductor at minimum, with additional assistants on longer trains. This "pair of people" in charge may be part of the reason we seldom had "doors open at wrong spot" errors. While train spotting was occasionally off, it was corrected before doors were opened.

I am not suggesting that Metro add another crew member, but rather that the training be extended to properly infuse the operators with the responsibility that they have to insure safety. Deciding where to stop a 6 car vs. 8 car train on standard length platforms seems to be a really basic skill to one of my background.

Use a "6" or "8" card in the operator's cab, & assign specific stop points for 6 & 8 car trains, then monitor compliance.

Posted by: L. Buck | July 1, 2008 10:33 PM | Report abuse

I just wanted to second Dan's comment. I know, Dr. Gridlock, that Metro "can't" or "won't" install the precision braking that BART has in the SF Bay Area, but come on, this technology to do so has been around for decades. At BART stations, riders line up in an orderly fashion at the black tiles where the doors will be when a train stops. If it's not their train, riders step aside and let others board. I find it to be just proof of Metro's incompetence that they cannot find a way to install this precision braking technology. Metro needs to answer why they can't, and if they need the money to do it, come up with a careful plan and ask for it. Rider safety is a stake here.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | July 2, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Arlington, VA: Metro has lots of "careful plans" to improve safety and has been asking Congress for the money for several years now.

A Senator from Oklahoma has been single-handedly blocking that money, when clear majorities of both houses support it.

The best thing you can do for Metro safety is call your relatives in Oklahoma and get them to write Tom Coburn. We who actually use Metro have no way to hold him accountable. Welcome to taxation without representation.

Posted by: dal20402 | July 2, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse

dal20402, get over your love affair with Senator Coburn, you look more and more like an idiot every time you post that drivel.

Posted by: Pete | July 2, 2008 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Pete, I will continue to object to Senator Coburn until he stops singlehandedly endangering the safety of the DC-area public because he wants us all to live in some fantasyland where everyone drives to work and parking and freeway lanes grow on trees.

Like I said, it really is just him. The Metro capital funding would be easily approved by both houses if not for his hold.

Posted by: dal20402 | July 2, 2008 5:25 PM | Report abuse

dal20402, get over the Coburn fetish, nobody singlehandedly endangers the safety of the DC-area public, except maybe WMATA.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2008 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Wow, a Senator who controls the House? This man should be President... or maybe he already is!

dal20402 is a douche.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

are you talking about Senator Coburn or Chancellor Palpatine?

Posted by: wait | July 8, 2008 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Trains already overshoot the platform when they aren't trying to stop at the exact end. You're just trading one failure for another.

Posted by: Metro Can't | July 8, 2008 5:21 PM | Report abuse

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