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Manual Train Operation To Continue, Catoe Says

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr, looking tired and drawn, held a press conference at Metro headquarters in Washington this afternoon to report on the aftermath of the June 22 train wreck and what riders can expect.

Red Line: The speed limit on the entire line will remain at 35 mph until the National Transportation Safety Board has finished its work in the crash zone between Takoma and Fort Totten and Metro has done a complete review of safety conditions there. Catoe set no deadline for that, but Metro hopes to have trains operating at regular speeds by July 4.

Many of you have been asking why trains throughout the line must adhere to the speed limit. "The slower speed throughout the Red Line is to help us regulate the flow of trains," Catoe said.

All trains: Manual control throughout the Metrorail system is a much longer-term prospect. Answering a question, Catoe said it might continue for a month, a year, two years -- as long as it takes to be sure that the automatic train controls are safe.

"Without commenting on the NTSB investigation," Catoe said in his opening statement, "it is safe to say that the automatic train control system is designed to prevent collisions, yet the collision happened. I felt that it was wise to place the trains in manual mode, while we investigate each of the 3,000 track circuits installedon our rail system. To date, we have checked 65 percent of those circuits and they have all passed inspection."

Catoe said later that it should take a few more days to check the rest of them.

Continuing with his statement: "In addition, as an added precaution, we will not put our trains back into automatic mode until we have a group of train signal experts from outside Metro come and evaluate our system and our procedures for using it."

Deputy General Manager Gerald Francis will be responsible for the implementation of the safety team's recommendations, Catoe said.

Many riders already have been through a long period of manual control. This occurred a few years back when Metro discovered a problem in the track relays that are essential to safe train operations. That period of operator control lasted two years.

The 1000 Series cars: Catoe spoke at length about what Metro is doing concerning the oldest rail cars in the fleet, the ones that made up the train that hit the other train last week.

"I have been given no indication that any of the root causes of this accident were due to the use of the 1000 Series rail cars," he said in his statement. These cars are the oldest part of our fleet, but they are safe to operate, and they have been maintained and rehabilitated throughout their 30 to 35 years of use."

Still, he said, the transit authority has decided to place those cars in the center of trains, with the fleets newer cars on each end. He said that about 80 percent of that shuffling project has been completed, and the rest of it should be done in a few days.

That will cause some problems, but not safety problems, he said. For example, the electronic displays in the newest cars that show the next stop will not function properly with the older cars in the middle of the train set. As a result, the signs will not show the next stop.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 30, 2009; 4:43 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Safety  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail, Red Line crash, delays  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Live Blogging the Metro Press Conference
Next: Red Line Trains Not Doing Normal Turnbacks


I notice all trains now pull up to the end of the platform; what's the reason for this?

I've assumed it's because w/o the automatic system, it's harder for the operator to know where to center a 6 car train in the middle of the platform, but that's just a guess on my that the real reason?

Posted by: JackTrade | June 30, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

"I notice all trains now pull up to the end of the platform; what's the reason for this?"

It's because the train operators that Metro hires are so ridiculously stupid and/or inattentive that they can't remember whether they're driving a 6-car or 8-car train. When they stop an 8-car train where a 6-car train would stop, and then open the doors, the passengers in the last cars could fall onto the tracks.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | June 30, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

The fact of the matter is, even though these trains aren’t operating in “Mode-1” full automation. The same safety features that failed on June -22 are still protecting the trains regardless, whether it’s in manual mode or automatic mode. Again every time there is a reduction in cab-signals (speed-commands) the operator has so many seconds to acknowledge and to reduce the speed of the train in accordance, to the regulated speed. Or the train will go into emergency, this is what’s known or called Automatic Train Control, “ATC”. It doesn’t matter if the automated equipment accelerates the train or the operator accelerates the train in manual. It is a question of whether the train will and can stop in time if need be, when it runs out of head-way as a result of another train being in its way, bottom line. That is what ATC is all about, stopping the train automatically. This was the issue, on June-22, the train DID NOT STOP, ATC DID NOT WORK.

“ATC”, is not unique to Metro, Amtrak has it in all of their Locomotives, and in fact many rail systems employ this vital safety feature. But in order for it to work it must be able to detect, an occupied track ahead of it. It has nothing to do with acceleration, only to STOP THE TRAIN.

It has nothing to do with manually operating the train either; true the operator might be a little more attentive. But if something malfunctions again, if a train in question gets another erroneous signal from up ahead, and the operator is in no position to see that far. Again leaving the operator not having a clear line of view ahead, allowing for reasonable time to react and stop the train. These conditions entail about 80% of the system, one blind curve or hill after another. Then you better hope that the ATC mechanism works as intended and halts\stops the train in time before they collide, like on June-22.

Posted by: Nighttrain | June 30, 2009 7:01 PM | Report abuse


You sound like you understand the system.

If the train that hit the other train was in fact moving at 59 mph, how distance would it need to fully stop if the operator had engaged the emergency brake?

Posted by: WashingtonDame | June 30, 2009 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Dame,

Obviously not far enough, they are allot of different factors to consider. The elevation, cross-level of the track, what degree of grade the track was on (up hill down hill). How many occupants were on the train, just like if you had a car load of people, or were pulling a boat with your truck, then it would take considerably more time and distance to stop, compared to running empty. Not too mention the actual speed of the train in question. Some trains have better braking characteristics, etc. But the main brakes on these trains are their traction-motors, when they reverse the polarity in the motors everything comes to a swift halt. It’s called the dynamic-brake, also you have to take into consideration, how much slippage you have in relation to the steel of the wheels and the steel of the rail, two very hard surfaces not allowing for the best of traction conditions, be it acceleration or in the dynamics of braking. These trains also have, friction brakes (disc-brakes) too which come into play as well, that are also used to hold the train stopped etc.

Metro runs a two block configuration, I believe each block is 1200 feet; a tenth of a mile is 528 feet, a mile being 5280 feet. These blocks, allowing for amble distance for “ATC” to work effectively to STOP THE TRAIN IN TIME, under normal circumstances, but remember what took place was not normal circumstances. So it’s very possible that for a portion of time and or distance, the train behind the stopped train might have actually gotten zero read-outs (speed commands), then all of a sudden took off, picking up speed-readouts, like the train was not there. In other words it could have been an intermittent problem.

But to answer your question it should be within one block, or portion of depending on the civil speeds set in stone, a safe distance I assure you, just as long as it stays that way.

Posted by: Nighttrain | June 30, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Metro's ATC was designed assuming a worst-case braking capability of 1.65 MPH per second. Under those worst-case circumstances, it would take a train 3,090 feet to decelerate to a stop from 59 MPH.

Posted by: DupontJay | June 30, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Dr. G,
If you speak with anyone at Metro, can you ask why, with the Red Line problems still persisting, they stopped running extra S9 & 79 buses? I see a lot of empty shuttle buses going from Silver Spring to Fort Totten, and a lot of people getting left behind at the S9 stops (I counted about 40-50 on my afternoon trip from McPherson to Silver Spring today) because the bus was full. Seems like there's a simple solution in here?

Posted by: vtavgjoe | June 30, 2009 8:30 PM | Report abuse

The only thing Metro needs to speed up is the removal of all senior Metro managers!

Posted by: bb67chev | June 30, 2009 10:41 PM | Report abuse

I assumed that the manual control was so that the train operators could be operating the train slow enough so they have enough distance to stop if they see another train ahead of them.

Posted by: thetan | June 30, 2009 11:07 PM | Report abuse

Is Metro taking steps to address the new safety issues that arise from overcrowded trains and platforms? There has now been an injury reported due to an altercation in which one person on the platform accused another of cutting in front of him to board the train.

Posted by: DOEJN | July 1, 2009 3:18 AM | Report abuse

In his best Obama straw-man mode, Catoe says, “I have been given no indication that any of the root causes of this accident were due to the use of the 1000 Series rail cars.” Of course, nobody has said any such thing. The issue is that, if an accident happens, the 1000 Series cars are far less likely to protect riders from serious injury. I’m sure Catoe understands the distinction. Why he is dissembling about it is less clear.

Posted by: DellC | July 1, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

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