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Statement From Metro Chief John Catoe on NTSB Investigation

First and foremost, I want to assure our riders that the Metrorail system is as safe as it can be. We have been working with the NTSB to find the root cause of this tragic accident. And riders will continue to experience delays on the Red Line until we find the cause. We apologize for the inconvenience, but this is critical to gaining a full understanding of why this happened and then taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure that this kind of tragedy doesn't happen again.

Our testing has resulted in our being able to replicate the problem, but not isolate the specific cause. We know the problem is in a track circuit. We could just replace the parts, but we need to understand what caused it. You don't just change the parts. We must find the cause.

We have conducted computerized analytical tests, which the NTSB has referenced as "track circuit data." The data establishes a profile of what's taking place electronically in the rail system. These tests are normally conducted monthly. What we found during a special review of the data after the accident was that the track circuit periodically lost its ability to detect trains. This is not an issue that would have been easily detectable to controllers in our operations control center. What the analytical profile showed was that the track circuit would fail to detect a train only for a few seconds and then it appeared to be working again. This happened after we had replaced an "impedence" or "weezie bond" for the track circuit for where the accident occurred. The device communicates information such as speed and distance between the tracks, trains and operations control center. The device was replaced as part of Metro's normal track rehabilitation program. We are now running analytical reports on the rail system daily instead of monthly and system wide. We have found no other similar issues with track circuits in the system.

Again, I want to stress that we will do everything we can to find the cause of this accident, and from what we have discovered so far it appears to be a freak occurrence.

-- John Catoe

See full statement from NTSB.

By Mike McPhate  |  July 1, 2009; 5:22 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail delays, Red Line crash, john catoe  
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Next: NTSB's Second Update on Metro Crash Probe


What I've never understood is how the train warning system could "lose" a train. If the computers are receiving sensor information indicating that a train is going down a track, and then the train disappears because the sensors or circuit is failing, why isn't the computer programmed to warn everyone that it has lost a train and that all nearby trains need to go slow? Even if the computer thought the train was in the next block, presumably it would not have brought the last train in so close and at such a high speed. One gets the feeling that this system does not have sophisticated real-time computer monitoring, and that it is in fact possible for the system to think that a train has simply vanished. Would love to know more about how this is designed.

Posted by: MyPostYourPostLetsCallTheWholeThingOff | July 1, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

You only need to know when it was the 1970's.

I probably have more computing power in my digital photo frame than Metro has.

Posted by: thetan | July 1, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

When I grew up in Philadelphia, 60 years ago, when a red stop light went on on the elevated/subway system indicating a train in the next block a mechanical arm came up on the trackbed. If a train crossed the device, that device hit a switch on the train undercarriage and the train stopped. At that time PTC/SEPTA trains were also built like tanks. Is it possible Metro is just over-engineered?

Posted by: bmcclos325 | July 1, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Catoe says, "You just don't change parts" without knowing the cause of the signal failure. Fair enough. But Metro's board can change the General Manager without knowing the cause of the failure. We riders and taxpayers have had enough of Metro mismanagement and sloth.

Posted by: axolotl | July 1, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse


1. The whole track circuit lost track of a train because of one device that failed? Aren't there multiple devices to track one train?

2. GPS? how about GPS transmitters/receivers which also track train positions?

3. Maybe the system should be ran on manual all the time, and the automatic system only kicks in when it sees a problem?

Posted by: dezlboy1 | July 1, 2009 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Catoe,

We understand that this is a difficult time for you, and for all of the employees and customers at Metro. Most of those that I know do not fault you for the crash, nor for the investigation that is ongoing, and the delays it causes. We may question a few numbers (why running trains at 35 mph also means 8 minute headways at rush hour, and why there are fewer, instead of more trains running over what has become a two-hour route from Shady Grove to Glenmont). What truly has caused the consternation of riders has been the contingency plan, or lack thereof. Our trains turning around at Rhode Island Avenue today? I don't know. I heard Takoma was closing tonight at 10pm, but will it tomorrow? I don't know. You did a nice job getting shuttle buses out of Silver Spring to Takoma & Ft Totten, even with big signs, but they run empty much of the day because the route takes so long. This is not metro's fault, but why not divert a some of that rolling stock to the desperately crowded S4, S9, 70 and 79 buses? We had the S9 augmented for a few days, but the Red Line hasn't gotten any better, and you took that way. Why? In the week following the tragic events of June 22, tons of people commented on this very blog that Metro was the absolute last place they could get information. The Get There blog, TV news, and text messages from friends were ten times more efficient, and accurate. Did Metro not have a crisis communications plan that consisted of more than an e-mail about a train experiencing mechanical difficulties?
We realize (and hope) that the tragedy last Monday was a freak occurrence, and applaud your tireless efforts to find the cause, so Lord willing, it won't happen again. But at the same time, the communication and utter lack of "outside the box" thinking has been an issue that has been noted time and again by local commentators, government leaders, and most importantly, your customers. We realize that the investigation is taking up the majority of your time now, but it is time to delegate to your #2 or #3, or perhaps a board appointed outside expert, to take care of the above issues, which, while less severe than a fatal crash, have the same potential to alienate ridership for years to come.

Best wishes,
Joe in Silver Spring

Posted by: vtavgjoe | July 1, 2009 10:26 PM | Report abuse

Resign Mr. Catoe. You are no leader. You have failed the region and more importantly your customers. We have no faith in your ability to lead Metro. Step down.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | July 2, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

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