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Doors Opening: Metro Must Solve This Problem

We have our constant concerns: Riders don't like the seeing more people eating on the trains, they struggle to hear station announcements and they want the doors open longer at certain stations. We've survived those conditions for years. But there is a longtime problem that could result in a fatality, and Metro has failed to stop it. Riders should demand an immediate solution on this one.

Staff writer Lena H. Sun reports today that during the first five months of 2009 there were 22 incidents in which train doors opened where they should not have, putting the transit authority on a course to exceed the number of such incidents last year, when the doors opened improperly 42 times.

Opening improperly usually means the doors opened in the tunnel. That most often happens when an operator forgets that the train is eight cars long. You thought the Metrorail system was automated so the trains were supposed to stop in about the same place every time? Yes, and no.

The platforms are built to handle a maximum length of eight cars. They have to fit exactly. The automated system isn't up to that, as anyone knows who has tried to wait at the precise spot where the doors would open. So the train operator must take control of an eight car train.

Any rider who listens to the operator's announcements during a routine trip knows the operator can forget what direction the train is traveling in, the name of the next station and the names of the transfer lines.

Too often, they also forget how long the train is, stopping it where a six-car train would normally stop. That leaves cars in the tunnel, during peak periods, with their doors open. It's only by amazing luck that we haven't lost passengers in the tunnels.

General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. is committed to safety, but has been reluctant to solve this problem by ordering that all trains stop in the same spot, at the front end of the platform. That would eliminate the problem of tunnel stops, but would inconvenience many passengers standing farther down the platform. If the train were six cars long, they'd have to move up quickly.

That's nothing compared to the inconvenience of falling through a train door onto the tracks. So let's deal with the minor inconvenience for the sake of safety. Metro has known about this problem for more than a year, and no other fix has worked. This one has to stop now.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 8, 2009; 7:40 AM ET
Categories:  Metro , Safety  | Tags: Washington transit authority, rail safety  
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Why cant the conductors operate the rail cars more consistently? Why can't all rails pull up the the front edge? I don't understand why this is not policy.
I am on the redline every week day and i am aware that metro's policy for trains arriving to a platform differs between 8 and 6 car trains but dont you think it would benefit everyone if all trains pulled up to one location regardless of number of cars?
That way, all the riders will be better equipped to board the trains in a prudent fashion.
Just this past friday, like every other day, the conductor stopped in the middle of the station in metro center but then for the next 5 stops he pulled up to the very front edge of the platform.
They have no consistencies and this contributes to trains unloading slower and boarding slower. Do they not understand this logic? How many decades do you have to operate to understand these minor details?

Posted by: luvdc808 | June 8, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

The trains should just stop at the same place every time. That is the simple, efficient, and effective solution.

So what if people have to move up for shorter trains. The Metro signage should accurately reflect the length of arriving trains so riders can move accordingly.

This ain't rocket science people. Why does Metro drag their feet on issues like this?

Posted by: zizzy | June 8, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

How do the train operators forget how many cars their train has? If it was an 8-car in Vienna, it will be an 8-car in Dunn Loring, and an 8-car in West Falls Church and an 8-car in East Falls Church and....

I mean, DUH.

I think Metro needs to hire some train operators who aren't so stupid.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | June 8, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Metro's management needs to listen to their employees on this one. I agree that this must stop and it would be a minor inconveinence for riders used to boarding at a spot where six cars trains have traditionally stopped -- but only for a short period -- people will adjust readily and soon forget the issue.

Since the arriving train information signage displays what the length of the train is, I would suggest that Metro could mark the platforms for the riders to show where the last door of a six car train would stop and savvy passengers reading the display would adjust their platform position to minimize the need to move from a position where the 7th and 8th cars stop on longer trains.

Posted by: jkpeterson | June 8, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

At train stations on the Long Island Railroad, there are numbered signs that correspond to how many cars there are in each train. There is nothing that tells the passengers how many cars there will be like there is here, but at least the train's operator knows exactly where he/she has to stop at every station, every time.

Posted by: jcepler1 | June 8, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Solve this problem? How about let ME become a Metrorail operator and I'll show you how it's done!

Posted by: cbmuzik | June 8, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

jcepler1, WMATA has similar signs to the ones you describe on the LIRR. Walk over to the edge of a platform sometime and look down underneath and you'll see some white-on-green signs that look a little like the milemarkers you see on highways in the US, each with a number. These tell the train operators where to stop depending on the length of the train.

I think pulling up to the end at all times seems to make the most sense. Would it actually pose an inconvenience to passengers? I say "no." People might forget about the change for the first few days, but they'll quickly adjust such that any inconvenience would be a short-term thing.

Posted by: 1995hoo | June 8, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Why can't you put a photoeye at one end of the tunnel - when the train trips it pulling into the platform, it triggers an amber light at the opposite end that the conductor can see. When the train moves out of the way (i.e., clears the tunnel), the circuit is restored, the light turns off, and the operator knows it's safe to open the door.

Posted by: JoeSchmoe06 | June 8, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

It wasn't too many years ago that 4-car and 6-car trains alternated, and people adjusted where they stood as needed. People can adjust to changes where the trains stop- period.

Posted by: kawena | June 8, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

The length of the train varies by the time of day. In rush hour, there are both six car and eight car trains operating. After rush hour, cars are often cut off the ends of the trains to save mainteance costs and then added back again for the pm rush. An operator may begin his day with an eight car train and operate several different "consists" throughout the day. It seems that junior operators are more inclined to make this mistake while senior operators have learned to keep their mind on the job at all times. Perhaps more rigorous training standards would help weed out those less attentive.

Posted by: kreeggo | June 8, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

The problem with pulling all the way to the end of the station is that it would leave a 2-car-length gap at the other end of the station, which is a pretty big distance to cover (not to mention large number of people) when the train pulls in.

This is even more problematic in stations like Gallery Place and Stadium-Armory where the entrance is all the way to one end of the station. There are lots of people that would be in the wrong place.

Posted by: nashpaul | June 8, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Also, the article suggests that there have been problems with 6-car trains and doors opening on the wrong side of the train. The problems with some train operators are quite serious if they're making these kinds of mistakes too.

Posted by: nashpaul | June 8, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Should Metro rethink using the web address

Posted by: DelRayVA1 | June 8, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

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