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Parts maker says it warned Metro

ntsb Family members of victims attend Wednesday's hearing. From left: Sherry Pate, Steve Cochran, Calvin Williams, Carolyn Jenkins, and Kim Alexander. (Bill O'Leary/Post)

Live Web cast | Transcript of interview with operator of stopped train

Signal investigation report | Passenger statements on Red Line crash

Transcripts of 911 calls | Post investigation of Metro safety

Transcripts of Metro maintenance crew interviews:

Safety and budget woes threaten to consume Metro

Emotions flow at NTSB hearing
[Post journalist Anna Uhls interviews victims' family members]

Report from Day One: Previous signs pointed to Metro problem


5:30 p.m. Update: Some additional key points from Wednesday:

Metro officials acknowledged that their highly publicized decision to sandwich the system's oldest rail cars -- like the ones involved in the June crash -- between newer ones to improve safety was not supported by an engineering analysis or physical tests.

A board report made public this week documents numerous lapses in the way Metro crews tested, maintained and installed key components of the automated crash-avoidance system, which is designed to detect trains and prevent collisions.

The Thursday session of the hearing, which is scheduled to be the last one, will start at 8 a.m., unless there is a two-hour delay for government employees due to the expected snow.

1:10 p.m. Update: The hearing is currently recessed until 2 p.m. The session this morning has included a grilling by the safety board panel of the Tri-State Oversight Committee and its lack of authority. An official with an equipment manufacturer for Metro also said that the company had warned the transit agency about mixing its parts with those from other companies.

"ALSTOM believes that the use of third-party components presents, ... not only a customer quality issue, but also constitutes a serious and increasing risk to overall signaling system safety," ALSTOM said in a Sept. 7, 2004 letter that Neal Illenberg, the site safety officer of ALSTOM Signaling, said was distributed to all of its customers, including Metro and its then-assistant chief engineer, Harry Heilmann. Heilmann retired on Feb. 1.

Heilmann said he was unaware of the 2004 letter from ALSTOM. "I am not familiar with that correspondence," he said.

Update, 11 a.m.: Members of the Tri-State Oversight Committee are now about to testify. An official is currently explaining the origins of the committee and its role as an oversight body.

Original post: The National Transportation Safety Board hearing into the June 22 Red Line crash kicked off Wednesday with an examination of technical problems that may have been a factor in the accident.

Metro rail chief Dave Kubichek and other officials are fielding questions from the safety board about the crashworthiness of rail cars and about problems with signals in the automatic crash-avoidance system, which is designed to prevent two trains from occupying the same section of track. That panel had been expected to complete its testimony Tuesday, but questioning of Metro's senior leadership extended longer than planned, which also prompted the safety board to start Wednesday's session at 8 a.m., an hour earlier than originally planned.

Later Wednesday, members of the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which monitors Metro safety, are scheduled to testify. The committee has no employees, no office and no phone number, and has no direct regulatory authority over Metro.

Another panel on the agenda for Wednesday will consist of transportation officials from across the country, who are scheduled to talk about operations and oversight at their own agencies.

The three-day hearing into the crash that killed nine and injured 80 is examining issues broader than the accident. The safety board is probing how Metro identifies and corrects safety problems, and the adequacy of state and federal oversight.

By Michael Bolden  |  February 24, 2010; 10:11 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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